In case you missed it, Tuesday is a Burner Holiday. It is celebrated across the Burnerverse by donning one of our culture’s most traditional and storied garments; the frothy and fabulous confection of frill known as the Tutu. Tutu Tuesday embodies some of the best things about Burning Man. Play, sparkles, butt cheeks and inclusivity.
Invented in 1881 to expose and display the previously hidden ankles of ballet dancers, the tutu was born scandalous. It grew up at the end of the stiff and proper Victorian age, it’s fine netting made possible by advancements of the industrial revolution, and it’s style by the decline of moral virtue in the west. The first tutu was worn by Marie Taglioni dancing as the lead in the Paris Opera ballet’s production of “La Sylphide”. This was one of the first times a dancer had performed an entire ballet on pointe, and her father, who choreographed the ballet and approved the shortened skirt, wanted everyone to be able to see Marie’s intricate and impressive footwork. Some were scandalized, some tantalized, but the cloud like vision Marie presented quickly became the favored look for all Prima Donna Ballerinas. Within a decade, the tutu’s ankle revelations had moved up and over the knee, and were headed for the hipbone, changing ballet and front row seating forever.
As with any new technology, the tutu was both wildly popular and unexpectedly perilous. By it’s nature it floated out and around the dancer, and was made of layers and layers of net and tulle which dancers often starched with water and flour and anything else they could think of to make the skirts stand out even more. At the time stage lights were actually gas lamps set up at the front of the stage. The flickering firelight was romantic and created a hypnotic shadow play of the dancers every move, something any burner who has seen a large art piece go up in flames can attest to. However, the fluttering dancers often brought their wick like skirts quite close to the audience, and from the mid to the late 1800’s, being a ballet dancer was one of the most dangerous professions available. There were so many tragic instances of ballerinas going up in flames that the King of France ordered dance costumes to be treated with flame retardant. Typical of most of the artists I know, many dancers refused the safety measures because the fire retardants of the time made the costumes dull and ugly. Beauty and Danger! Safety third.
Over time the tutu seemed to settle down. Electric lighting ended the worry of burning to death for one’s art, and a more open minded society accepted even the shortest of dancing skirts. The tutu began to be seen in children’s wardrobes as a part of their make believe costumes. It may have seemed that the tutu was finished making history. Not So. Pride was coming.
Some of my favorite moments in life have taken place at a Pride parade. My first was in 2012, 42 years after the first Pride was celebrated in New York City to commemorate the infamous Stonewall riots. I remember being astonished and delighted at the sheer volume of human creativity in the streets. The Colors! The Costumes! There were people on stilts, acrobats handspringing down the street! There were babies in rainbow flags, and glamorous elders in glitter and velvet wheelchairs. I saw a boy in gold glitter booty shorts down on one knee proposing to another on top of a Freddie Mercury Float. Everyone seemed to be high on love. And there were Tutus Everywhere. The Pride community liberated the Tutu from it’s traditional gender norms. There were still dancing girls in rainbow tutus, but there were also biker dudes and fabulous Queens, eight year old boys and pink haired grandaddies. In some fundamental way, the tutu had become a part of insisting on radical self expression. It had joined the ranks of the joyful subversive.
LQBTQ Activist Palav Patankar states “A pride march gets celebrated with colour, costumes, themes and sometimes dress codes that border on the bizarre. The idea is to highlight the fact that we as a human race have a natural tendency to judge and discriminate and hate people on the way people look, the colour of their skin, race and sexual orientation," he says. The Pride Parade is about challenging Culture, about opening the mind to how beautiful, hilarious, strange and ecstatic individual expression can be when it isn’t afraid. This is one of the fundamental pieces to Burning Man culture. On Playa, we get to see what we might be if we weren’t afraid.
And so of course, in the natural order of things, one fine day, someone looked at a tutu and thought “This thing is Perfect for Burning Man.” The tutu found itself riding along, in some overly stuffed suitcase bouncing down the track past Gerlach. Who can know who brought the first one into the dust? What we do know is that the Tutu met Burning Man and the rest is history. Today the tutu graces the hips of every kind of burner, showcasing hairy thighs, and bejewelled belly buttons alike, gleefully collaborating with each of us as we explore and celebrate the principles of participation, inclusion and radical self expression.
In honor of Tutu Tuesday, Today I present you with several images of my favorite tutus, and invite you to share your favorite images or tutu memories in the comments below.
Photo Credit Abby Youngs @organigirl
photo credit Mark Fromson@Autobiographica
photo credit Mark Fromson@Autobiographica