Stripped Down: How Burlesque Led Me Home
by Anna Brooke
published by The Unapologetic Voice House
I have to admit that my exposure to Burlesque thus far has been limited. A few movies, both classic and contemporary. A choreographic piece here and there that takes its inspiration from the dynamic artform. But really, that’s it. After reading Anna Brooke’s new book, Stripped Down: How Burlesque Led Me Home available from The Unapologetic Voice House, I hope to change that. Not only does Stripped Down relay a beautiful journey of discovery, expression, freedom and healing, but it inspires the reader to want to find that for themselves.
My favorite thing about Stripped Down is how it continuously upended my assumptions. Going in, I thought that the book was going to be an autobiographical account of a particular moment in Brooke’s life. One filled with disappointing and heartbreaking circumstances and how those difficult events eventually led her to find Burlesque. That thread was definitely present, especially in the introduction. And then, it was followed by a first chapter that provided important historical context about Burlesque and outlined its lineage, including nods to its ancestors. It talked about community kinship and how Burlesque is inherently tied to feminism and activism. I was gearing up for a certain path, but I should remember that good stories and good storytelling is never linear.
Stripped Down’s middle chapters take a decidedly and deeply philosophical turn, helping the reader understand that Brooke’s journey was far more than a singular set of circumstances, nor a specific period of time. It was fueled by the world around her throughout her entire life - ecosystems of divisiveness and unjust hierarchies; issues of gender, corporeal expectation and perfectionism. This was a journey of layers, textures and scope and Brooke communicated it in vulnerable, raw prose. And while I occasionally felt that the material could be a tad repetitive from time to time, this middle section also had an impressive outward energy and conversational approach. Its mild prescriptive tone (not at all heavy-handed) challenged the reader to consider, contemplate and examine their own inner self. That duality of Brooke’s internal personal story and the external audience engagement was special, making it a unique contribution to the memoir field.
Burlesque was certainly referenced in these middle chapters, though it factors more heavily in the discussion as one reaches the last portion of the book. Brooke shares its empowering, healing and revolutionary nature while at the same time acknowledging that it doesn’t speak to everyone. That balance was well done. And as we come to the very end of Stripped Down, I think the primary message (though informed by many other facets and themes) is one of self-acceptance. A message that needs to be heard.