In The Book of the Courtier, Baldassare Castiglione described sprezzatura as a “nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” It's an “easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them,” according to Wayne Rebhorn (1978). Harry Berger Jr. (2002) considers it a “form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance.”
Deep down, I think, we all have common fears: What if I show someone my fullest, most authentic self, and they reject me? What if that voice inside of me saying I’m not good enough, is right? What if I’m not lovable the way I am? Do I deserve to be here?These are questions that reflect vulnerability on a spiritual level. They require great courage to even ask. For me, burlesque is a way to find that intersection between sprezzatura and vulnerability.
Sprezzatura is about (the appearance of) confidence, while vulnerability is about revealing your authentic self. What I’ve learned from burlesque is that confidence and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive. Taking your clothes off on stage is one of the most vulnerable actions most of us can imagine. It is about putting yourself out there and being seen. However, it also requires incredible confidence, grit, and sprezzatura. For professional burlesque performers, the sweet spot lies in working hard to connect honestly with our audiences, while making it look graceful and effortless. Here are some examples from the burlesque world of how vulnerability and confidence can go hand in hand.
- Getting up in front of an audience is enough to deter a majority of the population. 74% of the population experience anxiety related to performance/public speaking.
- Secondly, dancing. I’m dancing, and people are watching me.
- Third, for those who choose it, an element of nudity. Most people I know aren’t comfortable with their body being seen in their own home with their most trusted partner. And, many times, they are not even comfortable witnessing their own body in the mirror, alone.
- Now add the element of high-powered stage lights!
- Finally, when I am performing, I am telling an intimate story – usually my story and my art. Sharing my art and telling the deep truths of my soul add the final layer of extreme vulnerability to the performance.
I believe what makes burlesque performers so courageous is that they are willing to be vulnerable and to practice radical self-acceptance. I don’t perform for attention, or to boost my self-esteem, or to win the approval of others. I perform to share my truths. I model vulnerability in way that inspires others to see vulnerability as strength and not weakness. In doing so, I hope I’m encouraging other women to show up as their full selves, and to be seen.