Nerdlesque is a beautiful thing. While a tricky term to define (about as tricky as "burlesque" and "art"), it's distinctive enough to know it when you're seeing it. My personal definition is this: burlesque that is an homage to or exploration of media that was created by someone else. Nerdlesque can take the form of a tribute to characters from beloved film, comics, games and books, and it makes up the majority of what I've created and performed in these first few years of my burlesque career. Nerdlesque has brought me around the country to perform and speak at conventions, made me a great many smart and talented friends, and put me before some of the most loving and enthusiastic audiences a performer could ever hope for. I've written previously about burlesque's potential for feminist expression, curiously enough, I have found that nerdlesque in particular has unique possibilities as empowering art.
Nerd culture is notoriously toxic toward women. From sexual harassment horror stories at conventions, to the concept of "fake geek girls", or the endless harassment Anita Sarkeesian has received for daring to point out that video games may have a sexism problem (not to mention the games themselves), it's hard to escape the feeling that women and girls just aren't welcome as nerds. As a nerd who is a woman, there is a particular pressure one feels that they must prove themselves worthy, or that a nerd or geek must look (or not look) a certain way to gain entry to the community. I'm a nerd for the reason that most people, regardless of gender, are nerds: I was a lonely kid without many friends, and I found comfort, solace, and escape through science fiction, comic books, and video games. My burlesque is an extension of my interests- when I perform a striptease based off of my favorite video games and films, I am not only asserting my body and my sexuality, I am asserting my interest in the media I love. In a culture that pushes against me liking the things I like, a detailed and passionate tribute to, say, Bioshock, demonstrates that not only did I play the game, I thoroughly enjoyed it enough to recreate elements of it and explore its themes. And since it is in a mode of expression that is somewhat rare in these communities (although getting more common every day), I get to do it on no one's terms but my own. I am empowering myself not just as a person, but as a nerd. A devotedly nerdy audience who understands the media I explore with my work connects with it, and me, and it is immensely gratifying.
It's always worth pointing out that much of typically nerdy entertainment is written and designed by men. Comics, science fiction, video games, and the like are notoriously male-dominated fields, and when a female creator does step in, it's often on a character or story that was originally conceived by a male team. It's also worth noting that much of this media is filtered through a heavy male gaze, since the target audience is most often intended as males age 18-35. This results in not just a fan culture that is hostile to women, as explored above, but sometimes the media itself can be, well, uncomfortable. Since burlesque has the potential to offer the opportunities to "take back" our bodies from the male gaze, so too does nerdlesque, but with characters as well. Beloved, archetypal characters that are often used for cheesecake and fanservice make for great nerdlesque as those types can allows performers to exert their own power over the beloved character, and with their own unique voice. It's always a delight when I get to see fellow burlesquers portray Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Lara Croft and many more with their own personal ideas, messages and humor. Nerdy media deals in powerful archetypes, and it's intensely gratifying when we get to draw power from those archetypes for our own uses and for our own personal empowerment. We get to portray passionate homage to the gorgeous, strong, fictional women we know and love, and do it all on our own terms.