We noticed a lot of discussion on various forums about disabilities and health problems that various performers and models have, and often completely undetected or known of by those around them.
We let it be known that we were interested in speaking to anyone that would like to talk about their disabilities (or disaburlyties as we like to call them) and the response was amazing. The stories we read were so honest and uplifting – we have dedicated a large portion of this issue to these brave women and we hope you enjoy and take comfort from their stories…
This is Sweet Scarlet’s story…
I’m visually impaired, I have a degenerative disorder called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which means the cells in my retinas are deteriorated. This makes it very hard to see when there is a change in the light – like when you first go in to a cinema and can’t see for a few seconds. I’m like that all the time and sometimes if a venue is too dark I will be completely blind. I am also losing my peripheral vision, so can see very clearly, just not everything around me, and I am forever tripping over things around me and falling down stairs because I can’t see the edge of the steps.
Since started to perform, I have found a real sense of freedom in the way I can move. Theatre spaces and venues can be a complete nightmare as sometimes I can’t see anything, but as long as I have time to rehearse in the space I learn to get a sense of the space. There is always added nerves that I’m not going to be in the right spot or knock into the audience, but some how luckily that has never happened.
Performing is in a distinct space, and props or part of the set are in a certain place, so the best thing is that I can dance and move without hesitation, when in daily life just trying to get through a busy street wears me out. I do tend to love performing in bare feet even though it’s not seen as very glam. I think it may become my trademark in a way, but it helps me to feel what I’m performing on and adds to the freedom I feel of kicking off my shoes and dancing. When performing I am not the timid girl with the cane (or without my cane and people just think I’m clumsy) I’m anyone I want to be. In some ways when I’m performing is the only time I don’t have to worry about my sight.
I’ve been learning circus skills for about a year now and I’m really not the most graceful and fearless, but again it’s a place where I forget about my sight. The classes are well lit and when I’m on the trapeze, having bad peripheral vision can come in handy, as all I see are the ropes and the bar and it takes my mind off the sight of the floor below!
I have never come across any discrimination, but I have only been performing at friends events, or for college with people I know, so at least someone there knows about my sight. I have to admit that I am really nervous about approaching promoters and turning up at venues alone. And being an audience member at burlesque nights is hard because it’s usually too dark for me to see to move around easily, see my money when I’m at the bar or who I’m talking to etc. It has put me off going out a lot lately, but it’s only how I feel and my own embarrassment that stops me going out – no one has ever been rude to me about it.
I really want to start getting involved in more events and do more to promote disability in the performing arts. I still have a few confidence issues to get over, but once I’m on stage all the nerves go away…
Serendipity is an artist, theatre designer and aspiring performer currently devising performances with other theatre design graduates. She is also learning hula hoop and static trapeze.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.