By May Hemmer
I am a wife, a mother, a costumer and … a burlesque dancer.
That’s right. I am a burlesque dancer. The shock! The scandal!
But I am proud of what I am. I am also what I call a wonderful concoction of Puerto Rican, African American and Native American. I am proud of my profession of being a performer, proud of being a stay-at-home mom and proud of my heritage. It’s funny that others have a problem with it or think I should not be proud of what I do or what I am.
Since moving to Sanford two years ago from New Orleans, Louisiana, I have experienced a whirlwind of emotions, to say the least. Being told that my husband got his dream job was so exciting, but when I realized that the place that I was moving to wasn’t a town I had heard of … it was scary. My mother and father had been stationed at Camp Lejeune for a long time, and all I really knew about North Carolina was the larger cities.
You can imagine the adjustment when I moved from a city where there was always something happening — meet-ups, festivals, concerts.
However, I was hopeful.
And two years later, I’m still hopeful. But I won’t lie, I don’t put myself forward as I did when I first arrived. As a woman of color, I’ve seen a mix of greetings in this town. On one hand, I have met a few wonderful people whom I consider friends. On the other hand, I have had people ask me if I am the nanny to my children, and my children have been called derogatory names in regards to their complexion. I have also been treated by some as someone who should be ashamed of my profession.
All their attitudes tell me is these people lack knowledge of what burlesque is and have a closed mindset in regards to other ethnicities.
That brings me to the comment made recently by a local man running for office (article on Page 34). I was angry and shocked when I saw the comment and even shared the article from The Rant on my social media.
My first issue with this comment was that he was lumping all Hispanics and Latinos in a broad category. It is just one of the many reasons that when I tell people where I live, they are shocked and genuinely concerned about how I am doing. That is the perception that this town has outside of its community, and I feel that it needs to change.
There’s a lot of movement that has been made since I’ve moved here, but more needs to happen — especially if you want more diverse people to live here, work here and spend their money here. Learn about your multicultural neighbors to understand them.
Second, the halftime show was not burlesque. I’m curious if this person actually knows what burlesque is. The performances on that stage were a mixture of Latin dancing, pole art and other various forms of dances from other parts of the work.
Burlesque is the art of the strip tease that dates back further that most even know or care to learn about. It is a very expressive and empowering art form that is for all genders. I use it to reclaim my feelings about my body and my feelings as a woman and to express either my emotions or to comment on the current state of affairs in our country.
This has been going on for decades and will continue to grow; I can only hope. It is a main reason that I decide to go for it and teach classes in the community to not only educate people on what my performance style is, but to help others empower themselves.
I’ll end with this: I hope that this town grows more socially conscious, so that I will feel comfortable to raise my family here. I’ve heard people say that people don’t spend time here in town, but I can tell you from my personal experience as a woman of color that a lot of it has to do with a lot of stigmas that still exist here.
Don’t get me wrong — it is not the entire community, but just like with anything, a few bad experiences can cause people to have their guard up. Especially in the political climate we are in today.
As for the half time show that you refer to , let me put it this way . I have seen less suggestive acts in actual strip clubs . And yes I am quite familiar with the art form of burlesque and to compare that skin show at half time to the art of burlesque is at the very least idiotic to say the least
I’m certain that the halftime performance was not more suggestive than a dance you’ve seen at a strip club, but sure whatever you have to tell yourself. Please explain to us some more about your deep knowledge of the art form. Also, you calling someone who has spent a copious amount of time learning, performing and teaching it idiotic, is truly idiotic. Thanks for your pointless, misinformed and ignorant opinion on the matter Bill… bless your heart… you re extremely close-minded heart
Thank you Leah! 🙏🏾
Bill might I suggest that you do the research. Closed-mindedness is a direct result of ignorance!
I actually remember meeting you when I worked at Libations a couple of years ago, I was very pleased to meet you then. I remember being in awe of what you do and hearing you talk about it. Obviously I was impressed by you since, I believe, I only met you once and remember it still.
I am still hoping to be able to go see a show, it would be amazing!
But yes, this town being so small, is very uncultured at times and very bigoted. (I am not from Sanford but have been here since 2006.)
I hope you continue to thrive and are past the hardest of the assumptions people make. And I will say I am reallly shocked that your children deal with such things. This town and area is so full of interracial families it’s 100% normal and beautiful!
Best of wishes!
Burlesque is for all adults, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and shape. 😘 So no such thing as too old.
Whoops my phone put it under the wrong comment. Trying to learn this new one. 😂
I enjoyed reading your article, Mrs. Hemmer! Like you, I am not an NC native, but have lived here for over twenty years. I noticed the same things you have and I am hoping to contribute to a more inclusive community. I am raising my kids to be the same way. I thought the half-time show was excellent and empowering! I never felt the need to clutch at my pearls the way so many here have. Shine on, you crazy diamond ❤️ Keep making Sanford great!
Thank you for your heartfelt letter about your experiences and impressions of Sanford since you moved here. I recently retired and relocated here from Washington DC two years ago as well, and can relate to your feelings.
I had been coming here for years to visit my daughter and family, who have lived here for the past 20 or so years, but since I moved here, I do notice some changes in attitudes as Sanford grows and more diverse newcomers move here. However, racism, regional and ethnic biases are still present to an uncomfortable degree, so I am not surprised to hear some of the things you have experienced.
Being a white female with a “northern” (New England) accent, I have occasionally been subject to derogatory comments when some people hear me speak, for example: “so you’re one of those Yankees coming down here to live because it’s cheaper than up North.” What some local folks don’t understand is that a main reason that many areas of NC are “cheaper” is due to a lack of many amenities like really good schools, mass transportation, to name two categories. Taxes are lower here as a result of fewer large businesses and high-paying jobs, so that affording better schools and mass transport cannot happen. But that is changing, too, as Raleigh-Durham keeps growing and moving further south, and Fayetteville expands northward.
I wish you success with your classes (wish I were young enough to take a class!), and sincerely hope you and your family can thrive here.
Age is not a factor! 😊 It’s also great cardio!
I’m not sure that other Bill was trying to call May an idiot. I interpreted his statement differently. Perhaps he will clarify.
Regardless, May is a terrific person, artist and mother. Proud to be her friend.
Hi May- thank you for providing educational and beneficial comments about a topic that very few of us know about. I find your comments to be very interesting and it is always nice to know the historical significance of anything.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the comments made by the person running for political office here in Sanford. He still thinks peanut butter and jelly should not be mixed together. You know…the whole supremacy thing.
Thanks again for contributing to and educating us about the growing diversity of our town.