Culture  From the body’s mouth

The Daily in conversation about the work of the body through stripping, singing, and performance art

The stripper

McGill undergraduate who wishes to remain anonymous spoke with The Daily about her work as a stripper, and the role of the body in her job.

The McGill Daily: I was trying to think of a way to start, and I figured it might be interesting to begin with the basic concept of nudity. We normally think of nudity with connotations of intimacy, or maybe shame or sex, but for a stripper, nudity is kind of your work uniform. Was that jarring when you began?

Anonymous: Um, yeah. Definitely. With nudity, something jarring, or a paradigm you have to adjust to is you see women naked. Like, the women that I work with I see them naked all the time, many days a week, and some of them I’ve never even exchanged pleasantries with. So, it redefines intimacy, I guess, in this huge way.

MD: How has your relationship with your body changed since you began stripping?

A: Well, I’ve effectively become a vegan, because of maintaining my weight, and I’d say that I’ve become less self conscious – cause you have to do a lot of those things in the dressing room in front of people and get over it – but more self-aware. You know, cause like the club is filled with mirrors…and often a girl might be dancing for a man and just looking at herself the entire time. I’m aware of the way that the back of my hair looks, my posture, whether my stomach is sticking out, all of these things. My body, it’s a lean, healthy, student girl body, but it kind of outs me as the stripper dilettante because I haven’t invested in it the way the kind of, real contenders at the club have. You know, a significant amount of the money they’re making – all of it sometimes – is going into maintaining that person, that whole look.

MD: That’s funny, cause it’s sort of just this capitalist paradigm where you have a tool with which you produce things, and if you’re responsible you invest some of your profits back in the tool to improve it.

A: Yeah, and you can’t help it. The shaving, the working out, you have to have some gesture toward this ideal that they’ve been upholding for decades, really. Before I started working there I did some research into what sorts of things you should have to be prepared and stuff, and there was a real emphasis on having fake things, because fake things signify that you’re not a normal girl, you’re a special girl, you’re this wonder girl.

—Compiled by Ian Beattie


The opera singers

Rebecca Woodmass and Jana Miller are currently doing their Masters of Music in Opera Performance.

The McGill Daily: How does opera singing engage your body?

Rebecca Woodmass: It’s very physical. A lot of people think singing is just voice and it’s not. Especially in the past thirty years I would say, opera’s become [younger]. If I were overweight it would be difficult to get a role now, which is totally different from what it used to be. We have to stay in shape. But also the singing itself, what happens with the fat person, they have a natural grounding to the earth that makes them feel heavy and able to produce a beautiful, rich sound. Whereas with a smaller person like me, I really struggle with staying grounded, so that’s a huge issue for a lot of us small sopranos. All the sound and all the energy comes from the diaphragm and so if you don’t feel like you’re attached to the floor, you don’t feel like you’re supported by the earth, it’s really difficult to get your breath out of your chest. That’s the main physical part.

MD: Do you have a routine to keep your vocal cords healthy?

RW: I’m less kind of diva than most singers about that. I think that if we can’t live our life what’s the point, right? There’s singers that drink and there’s singers that don’t drink and I drink – a lot. I stay well hydrated, I do yoga all the time, and on warm-ups I focus almost only on the breath.

Jana Miller: It’s really important to take care of your body. Mostly staying hydrated. You need the constant mucus on the vocal chords.

MD: Do you have a routine to stay healthy?

JM: Not at the moment, it’s been a really busy year and I know it’s something you should make time for. There’s a lot of singers, especially in opera, who are amazing, and they’re not physically fit. It’s not a steadfast rule but it can also be beneficial to your mind and your spirit and that’s all tied together with singing voice because singing is so visceral and human. Connection with the emotion and the body are completely integrated.

MD: Do classes emphasize the need to pay attention to the body?

JM: There’s been some programs they’ve created in the past couple of years. They’ve given yoga classes for musicians and in Opera McGill we do tai chi and they’ve offered stage combat, which helps you protect your body during fight scenes properly.

MD: Does opera singing engage the body in ways other singing doesn’t?

JM: Most definitely, because you’re your own amplifier. You don’t have a microphone, you have to create your own resonance in your body and it has to project over an orchestra into a big hall. That’s what we train to do, which is quite different from other kinds of singing.

—Compiled by Carolina Millan Ronchetti


The performance artist

Sadaf Nava is a Montreal-based performance artist who incorporates installations, live music, and movement into her highly physical and often dramatic performance pieces.

The McGill Daily: How do you as an artist use your body in your work?

Sadaf Nava: I use my body in my work instead of creating an art object, which I have no storage space for, and no money in order to create, and no time or craftsmanship, and no interested collector to by it. So, therefore, working with a living, breathing, moving entity is more interesting to me and always more threatening to an audience, which instead of an inanimate object draws more attention to itself, and essentially I want as much attention as possible.

MD: Do you find that using your body in art is inherently more confrontational than using other mediums?

SN: Yes, because it’s unpredictable. It’s always unpredictable. Even for myself, and sometimes I am unsure as to what will happen during a performance. So, it’s even more threatening to myself as to where it will go. The boundaries are all open.

MD: How does the presence of your body effect the installations you have created?

SN: Sometimes I use several bodies in order to create an installation, and the choreography of people again is more interesting than photos on a wall, or presenting, organizing work in a space, the installations I create are disposable, and are created usually to be destroyed. They are just a complement to the art itself, and the art itself is elsewhere, and that is why documentation of it is the only artifact that’s left and that will survive.

MD: Do you think that your work as an artist changes your relationship with your own body?

SN: It removes the limits of the body completely. And the role and the title of artist, now I can see it as choreography, I can see it as dance, I can see it as theatre, and this is really important to me to broaden the idea of what is an artist, and the body itself, it removes any restriction in the body.

—Compiled by Fabien Maltais-Bayda


The sleep expert

McGill Professor Henry Olders is studies insomnia, mood disorders, and the psychiatry of sleep, depression, and fatigue.

MD: What would count as ideal sleep?

HO: There’s quite a bit of research; at least twenty-three studies have been identified looking at sleep deprivation and mortality, in other words, how likely people are to die.  And it turns out that 7 hours of self-reported sleep has the lowest mortality across many of these studies.

MD: What are some barriers that might keep the individual from receiving proper sleep?

HO: Well, these days, people spend a lot of time in front of the T.V., and in front of the computer, online, so that’s a major thing impacting our sleep. Many young people sleep quite late on the weekends – noon, one o’clock. Too much sleep actually seems to induce depressive symptoms.  So getting up really late saps people’s energy and motivation. The circadian rhythms have a very important influence.  And it turns out that if you get up late, then it delays our circadian rhythms. It helps if our life rhythms – sleep, social interaction, meals, and so on – are synchronized to our circadian rhythms because then we’re going to feel good.  But if our life rhythms, like sleep, get out of whack with our circadian rhythms this creates major problems. In fact the reality is that sleep deprivation makes many people a little manic.  Now, a little mania is not a bad thing because you have more energy, you feel good, your brain is working faster.  The downside is that people may be irritable and they may also have poor judgment when they’re manic.

MD: And interestingly you said that an excess of sleep would cause depression, so a nice polar relationship there?

HO: Well, see, I think so.  Now I may be a little bit in left field when it comes to this idea that too much sleep causes depression.  I think there’s a fair amount of evidence to support that, but people are not looking at that. Well, if people try and sleep too much, the first thing that happens is that they develop insomnia.

MD: Would you say that sleep patterns are related to socioeconomic status, and if so, how?

HO: They are actually. Insomnia is actually related to socioeconomic status.  And a major sleep disorder, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is significantly related to obesity, that’s also related to socioeconomic status.  You know, poor people tend to be more obese than well-off people.  It’s based more on what people eat than on how much money they have to spend on food, but the foods that contribute to weight gain are the starchy and sugary foods, and they’re also the cheaper foods, so there’s definitely a connection with things like sleep apnea, which causes daytimes sleepiness, cardiovascular disease, memory problems in some people, and depression.  So that’s related to obesity, obesity is related to socioeconomic status, so it’s a bit of a vicious circle here.

MD: What would you say that the first improvement would be that’s felt by someone that goes from a state of chronic sleep deprivation to a proper sleep schedule?

HO: Well, they’ll consistently feel better.  And the time of going to bed is much more important than the time of getting up.  Just getting up consistently at the same time every day is gonna improve your sleep quality and your functioning.  Those effects are almost immediate.  As I said, sleep deprivation tends to trigger manic symptoms. But the manic symptoms occur in many many people who are truly sleep deprived. Late sleep encourages more rapid eye movement sleep, which is the component of sleep that’s thought to produce depression, or depressive symptoms. So, get up early, get up early consistently, even if you haven’t had enough sleep.  To me, that’s key for feeling good and feeling good consistently, having good sleep patterns, avoiding depression and all of the health problems that go along with that too.

Compiled by Brendan Lewis