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vintage rockettes kick line I’m sure by now you’ve all seen the video of Sam’s Bar Mitzvah.

I had no idea what I was in for when I watched it last friday, and at first I was repulsed that parents of a 13-year-old boy would allow such blatant objectification of women at a boy’s coming of age celebration. But when you see Sam descend from that white lamp shade thing it becomes very clear that it’s not at all about sex. It’s about the thrill of performing with glitter and gusto. Seeing the sheer joy on Sam’s face made me really happy (yes, it’s still very lavish but I heard he donated his gift money to a charity in Israel). It was a dream come true for him and the sequins, spangles, and confetti made it all the more authentic. What a rush.

The next night I saw One Night With Janis Joplin, a musical at the Zach Theater here in Austin. (As a side note, I was pretty skeptical going into the show but thoroughly enjoyed myself. I really like how the playwright blended in her history and inspiration into the show.) Although she probably wouldn’t be thrilled that I am including her in a post called “The Art Of The Spectacle,” you have to admit that through her passion (and crazy outfits), she really knew how to put on a wild show. This quote really struck me:

When I sing, I feel like when you’re first in love. It’s more than sex. It’s that point two people can get to they call love, when you really touch someone for the first time, but it’s gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience. I feel chills.

This is all to say that something about performing, really doing it up, and pouring your heart into it really electrifies people like nothing else. And when I say performing I don’t mean roll onto stage in your plaid flannel shirt (sorry Kurt Cobain – still love you), but I mean doing it up right!

In fact, the French word for show or performance is le spectacle (I do have a funny story about my misunderstanding of the French usage). That is exactly what a good performance should be. Not a spectacle in the negative sense of the word, but as Merriam-Webster defines it:

spec·ta·cle noun \ˈspek-ti-kəl also -ˌti-kəl\
1. a : something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining; especially : an eye-catching or dramatic public display

So what is it about costumes, decadent uniforms, glitter, sequins, or a well-considered outfit that drives us so crazy? Why is it so damn exciting? This is not a new phenomenon and it dates back to whenever the first military uniform and ceremony was created. (Honestly I have new clue when this was and I’m too lazy to look it up. Any historians out there?)

queen and british guards in uniform

The Queen and her Guards – classic

performing fred astaire ginger janis joplin tina turner

Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers ∆ Janis Joplin ∆ Tina Turner

Aretha Franklin boa portrait

Aretha rocking the big hair and feather boa

boy bands the temptations and kiss

Boy Bands: The Temptations ∆ KISS

the supremes in sequined dresses

The Supremes always nailed it – what little girl (or boy) didn’t want to be a part of this?

fred astaire and ginger rogers dance step breakdown

Fred and Ginger step-by-step – gorgeous, elegant, classic

 Do you feel the same way I do about performance? Why do you think the spectacle of it is so enthralling?

images: Rockettes in the 1940s // Rockettes in 1962 ∆ The Queen presents the Grenadier GuardsFred & Ginger // Janis Joplin // Tina Turner ∆ Aretha’s portraitThe Temptations // KISS ∆ Supremes 1 // 2 // 3Fred & Ginger dance breakdown