Friday, March 20, 2015

Riding Kali: Burlesque, Possession & The Destroyer

In my short experimental journey in burlesque I've been fairies, robots, flappers and mermaids--but this sacred cabaret adventure turned into something else entirely.

I was brushing my teeth when I recieved a message about participating in a goddess themed burlesque. I shouted at the phone,  "YES. ALL THE YES. KALI, OHMYGOD I WANT TO BE KALI." 

After I wiped the spit off the screen I excitedly responded to the message.

Gosh.  An opportunity to honor a living goddess on stage. I've waited my whole life for a show like this.

Then I began to panic. What was I doing? Why did I choose Kali? As a student of goddess mythology, I was embarrassed that not only was my knowledge of Kali limited and two dimensional--

But I was actually afraid of her. 

Kali is the untamed and complicated Hindu goddess of change, destruction, time and death. 

Image by One Deluge Photography

Despite using oracle cards and tarot as tools for personal development and not as a way to peer into the future, and an understanding that pictorial representations of death don't imply a physical demise, my heart still beats faster when she appears in a spread.

You know that endings and beginnings are natural, Molly. Relax. Get a grip. It's CARDBOARD.
That seems to work. For a little while. She is the exception to rationality.

There was also the anxiety of falling short telling the story of a complex living goddess. Despite the delightful and refreshing political incorrectness inherent in burlesque, I didn't want to present an ignorant appropriated halloween costume version of Her. That wasn't acceptable.

I wanted to venerate her.

Research began: collecting images, pulling from my personal library, watching documentaries, studying Bollywood homage works to the goddess and classical Indian dance performances. All of the stories and representations were rich and conflicting--

You'll find that with goddesses.

With the kittens as my audience, I began blocking out the number in my living room as usual. I normally record this process just in case something interesting happens in the amniotic muck of brainstorming. Upon reviewing the footage, I shook my head and made screwed up faces:

Make yourself bigger. Open up your mouth. Use your whole body. Be chaos. Just...Be Scarier.

Then something weird happened: I randomly decided to mimic a scream with the music. Teeth bared. Wide stance. Eyes closed. Fists tight. With intense broad diaphragm support like an animal.

Normally, this wouldn't be special as I actually scream all the time.

But in silently pantomiming the scream using my whole body-- I immediately started to cry.

While standing alone half dressed and crying in my living room three distinct thoughts entered in this order:

1) I get why people dance. I didn't before, but I do now. I have always appreciated dance, but had only a superficial understanding.

2) All that magicky talk about psychodrama and evocation is fucking real.

3) I am not nearly as brave, wild or confident as I tell myself I am. I am terrified of change and discomfort. You are a smallish bound up version of yourself. There is deep frustration and fear in here.
     "That was a scream heard in places you can't see."

Woah. Wait, What? Where the fuck did that come from?

"Alright, This isn't simply stripping. This is going to have to be something else isn't it? That, whatever that weird thing you just did was--that's what you're going to do."

Image by One Deluge Photography

It changed what I could explore with Burlesque. In the past the routines were developed to be comedic, clownish and formulaic cartoons of conventional feminine drag. 

In the past, when asked about burlesque I assured skeptical friends and family that "I do it because it's liberating." But when that moment in the living room subsided, I realized that the past stage experiences peeling were certainly fun, but I had I really felt liberated?

Nope. Probably not. But I certainly felt free now.

I never imagined that I would find Her here. I never anticipated stripping would bring me to this place. But isn't that where trippy epiphanies and cosmic sign posts appear? In places were the sacred and profane bump uglies? 

A few weeks later, I nervously stood behind the curtain at the theater preparing to take the stage. 

My body paint itching terribly.

Is this going to work? Is this going to flop? Can I pull her up again? Am I just insane? I'm probably insane. Are you with me? I would feel better if you were with me. 

I'm definitely insane.

I was foolish to think it would be perfect. It's Kali. 
I was foolish to think She would abandon me. It's Kali. 

She is chaos. Nothing is more certain.

The music started and my ostrich fans immediately exploded and fell to pieces in my hands. 

I started to sweat. 

Hold tight.  She's Here.