The lights go down, and sultry music fills the theater as a performer struts onto the stage, adorned with sequins, feathers, and tassels—the embodiment of decadence. She confidently removes her costume, piece by piece, until she reveals her nearly naked body. This is the time-honored tradition of burlesque, and it is unexpectedly on the frontlines of resistance against racism, objectification, and gender injustice.
Burlesque is an art form with a rich history. Ecdysiasts, the formal name for striptease performers, like Josephine Baker, may come to mind. Most famously known for her provocative banana skirt performance in Paris, Baker was also an activist—she refused to perform for segregated audiences and spied against Axis powers during World War II. Many burlesque artists of color carry on the practice of performance art as advocacy today.