Boulder Burlesque Joins NCAS-I in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking

Blog by Sue Wallingford

“We strive to make the profane sacred and to unveil the shadow of sexual taboo. We actively inspire and support the reclamation of ones own personal relationship to themselves and thereby the world through owning completely the heart of ones own sexuality.”

~Jenna Noah, Madame Mercy of Boulder Burlesque


It may seem odd that a burlesque troupe and a team of art therapy students about to work with girls victimized by sex trafficking would join forces to speak out against this horrible crime.  How could a dance troupe, whose purpose is to titillate an audience by striping down to the barest essentials while dancing in the most provocative ways, have any thing to say about sex trafficking, especially when victims of sex trafficking often start by dancing at strip clubs.  And why would a group of art therapists in training want to have an association with a group of women who might be considered as perpetuating the exploitation of women?  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms or at least just a really bad idea?  Would the public understand this collaboration? Would they get the wrong idea?

These are some of the considerations Jenna Noah, the creator of Boulder Burlesque, and I had before joining together in speaking out against the sex trafficking industry at a recent performance in Boulder.  Jenna, who supports various organizations in the boulder focusing on women’s issues and freedoms, feels a strong connection to what NCAS-I is doing.  She has been a strong advocate for us since the very beginning.  So when she asked me to come to a show and speak about what NCAS-I is doing and that fifteen percent of the proceeds would go toward our project, I was intrigued to see how this collaboration could happen, plus I had never been to a burlesque show and I was curious about what I would see.  Admittedly, I was also a little afraid I might feel embarrassed by the seductive nature of the dances.  I wondered if my own deep seeded feelings of shame around sexuality would surface.

To my surprise and pleasure though, what I saw did not elicit those responses at all, but instead brought up unexpected feelings of empowerment, ownership and a deep recognition of what sexual freedom looks like.  It was clear why this collaboration made so much sense.

I think it is very difficult for women to express their sexuality without the potential for exploitation or coming off as a slut.  It is scary business for so many women, particularly women with a sexual trauma history, like the girls my students and I will be working with in Cambodia, who live much if their lives sexually imprisoned; certainly not “empowered”.

After seeing the beautiful and profound artistic dances done by this troupe I was humbled, and in awe. I realized like I never have known before, the freedom that can come from full embodied, unabashed sexuality, like what this dance troupe is doing.  I also realized what a precious gift this is, and something most of us don’t have – certainly not girls whose bodies have only been a receptacle of abuse and torture.  They will likely never know this kind of freedom due to the depth of their trauma wounds. And this is where the shame lies, because sexual freedom is the right of every human being.

Thank you Jenna and Boulder Burlesque for your support, and bringing awareness to women who don’t have one of the most basic of human rights… and for dancing in your full-embodied, creative, sexual, unabashed selves! You are beautiful, every inch of you!

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