Modified Bodies: Piercings and Tattoos in Dance

by Cat
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pierced and tattooed modern dancers

Dance is about grace and how one moves and presents their body. Dancers with tattoos and piercings are revolutionizing the way we look at dance. Even in dance performances, where the beauty of the human body is fully on display, piercings and ink have become much more noticeable. Body modification is very important to contemporary dance and entertainment.

Burlesque and cabaret dancers are the epitome of old-fashioned glamour and pin-up couture. Burlesque has always been about the celebration of the human body in all of its glory. It is about confidence, grace, and individuality. That perfect glove pull, the graceful unzip, those bumps and grinds, and of course the final reveal. The combination of piercings and body art with classic costume and fashion is truly a site to behold. Body modification has led to the reinvention of burlesque into the neo-burlesque movement. Tattooed and pierced performers are now very common in the scene. Neo burlesque performers come in all shapes and sizes. Tattoos and piercings have become a pivotal staple of the new burlesque culture and revival.

modified burlesque and cabaret artists

Burlesque dancers focus on sensuality; they’re on the forefront of many feminist and body love movements. It is more than just a dance; it’s singing, comedy, magic, and other performances that are reminiscent of their Vaudeville variety show roots. Sideshow circus acts are also revisited in this modern dance form. Some performers go to the extreme and use their piercings, suspension, or the play piercing fetish in their actual performances or costumes.

famous cabaret artists of the pastlegendary burlesque artists Gypsy Rose Lee and Dixie Evans

Corset training with steel boned corsets modifies the physical shape of one’s body. Ethel Granger used corset training to get the smallest waist on earth. Corset piercings on the back or the legs gives the look of classic burlesque and Victorian costume. A corset piercing consists of multiple side to side piercings that are filled with captive ball rings and laced to look like an actual corset being laced up the body. These are temporary surface piercings that are generally only worn for the length of a photo shoot or performance.

corsetry, tight-lacing, and corset piercings

Other performers will make more permanent glamour related modifications to their bodies. It is common to want to mimic the beauty marks of famous starlets. The most common of these mole modifications is the Monroe (or Madonna) piercing. It is a piercing that is placed in the same spot that Marilyn’s mole was, to the left over the top lip. This piercing has gained mainstream popularity in the last few years. Although Dita Von Teese does not have any piercings, she does have a subtle mole tattooed under her right eye. Microdermal implants in the same spot, under the right eye, are also gaining popularity. A simple small gem dermal top looks stunning on the face, like a fresh tear, love it! Elaborate, dangling belly rings are also commonly worn by dancers to provide drama and glitz.

Dita Von Teese and her tattooed beauty markDita Von Teese and her famous beauty mark

For those of us who want the perfect cat eye or eyebrow arch for every single show, permanent makeup can be tattooed on. One of my favorite tattoos I have seen is the illusion of stockings, a simple black line up the back of the leg looks like a back seam stocking. It is also popular to get bows on the back of the thigh, as if wearing vintage lingerie. Classic well placed piercings and tattoos complete this new retro look.

There is a lot of stigma around tattoos and piercings in most traditional dance. Some critics say they are distracting. Now it is harder to hide body modifications because more and more skin is being exposed in dance of all kinds. Women’s midriffs are now common on the ballet stage. This makes it difficult for many ballerinas with their belly buttons pierced. Ballet is less lenient about body modification than contemporary dance companies. Perhaps the most famous tattoo on a ballerina is that on the back of actress Mila Kunis, in Aronofsky’s provocative film Black Swan. Uniformity in movement and appearance is everything in most dance companies. That is why visible tattoos and piercings are still very much taboo. Many ballet dancers with tattoos have to invest in expensive cover up make up and wear clear retainers in their piercings while on stage.

Mila Kunis in Aronofsky's Black SwanMila Kunis in Aronofsky’s “Black Swan

Traditional Middle Eastern Belly Dancing also has strict rules about dress and costuming. While nose piercings are common, belly rings and tattoos are much less accepted in very strict traditional costuming. This has caused less strict forms of the dance to sprout up.  American Tribal Style Belly Dance was founded on the roots of freedom for body modification and the evolution of traditional dance in the modern world. Participants in this modern dance form are much more open and celebrate the beauty of the modified body.

modern belly dance and body mod

All kinds of people get tattooed and pierced. It makes sense that loving body modification is just the same as falling in love with burlesque, cabaret, ballet, and belly dance. People of every ethnicity, age, body type, or degree of body modification can find a welcoming community in their subculture. Even though many traditional forms of dance have very strict costumes, the world is changing; we are challenging the concept of beauty and revolutionizing self expression. Images on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr showcase the beauty and elegance of the new alternative pinup. Large stretched ear lobes, facial piercings, belly and other body piercing, large scale tattoos, and brightly colored hair are being seen on more stages and screens than I can count. Our culture is getting more and more accepting of body modification in all walks of life; it is infiltrating the mainstream. Because of their high profile visibility in dance and entertainment, emerging ideas of alternative beauty are finally being celebrated worldwide.

by Cat

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