Do you feel like you’ve lost some of your sizzle in the constant routine of work, cooking and kids? Then why not pop the cork on your feminine fizz with a bit of burlesque dancing?
The weeks are a constant juggling act for me as for many other women. I’m a working mother, the (I like to think) better half of a healthy relationship, and I’m studying for a degree. It’s satisfying yet sometimes it’s difficult to remember that we all need to let go and have a little fun. When a friend suggested we have a go at burlesque dancing I almost choked on my tea. Prancing around in my underwear didn’t sound like fun. All I could think of was how, in fish nets, my thighs would resemble ham hocks tied with butcher’s string.
It’s not a good look at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon but thanks to the persuasive nature of my friend I’m here, scurrying down the road in higher heels than I’ve not worn in years, a tutu over my plain black stockings and a red satin corset which, my only consolation, actually makes my cleavage look good. It’s only when we steal into the dance studio in Nottingham that we realise you can change into your finery once you arrive.
I am immediately self conscious and glancing around, I find others feeling the same. We’re women in our thirties and forties, dressed in underwear we save for the odd special occasion, trying, and, for the most part failing, to cover our own perceived worst bits. A vain attempt for me; I quickly ran out of hands.
One lady stands out. She’s wearing pink and blue bra and knickers with matching stockings and huge pink platform shoes. She isn’t a beanpole and despite the healthy tan, I can see cellulite at the sides of her thighs, yet she oozes the confidence of a swimwear model. I’m drawn to her and join the group where she is talking animatedly about burlesque. I learn that she is our instructor and that she been teaching burlesque for three years. “I encourage women who come to the class to wear heels and sexy clothes,” she says. “It’s not essential but getting dressed up for the occasion will make you feel in the mood to learn. It’s all about looking sexy, confident, flirtatious and feminine.”
Burlesque, taken from the Italian word burla, meaning ridicule or joke, has been around from as early as the 16th century. It was extremely popular in Victorian London, gradually making its way across the pond where it flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with stars such as Gypsy Rose Lee and Margie Hart. It’s an offshoot of Victorian pantomime, satirical comedy generally written to popular music and peppered with bad puns. Women would carry out a risqué strip tease to end the show. In the 21st century revival of burlesque the tongue in cheek nature of the strip tease has survived, championed by the likes of Dita Von Teese and Christina Aguilera. Think Lady Marmalade!
As we get into formation next to the chairs we use as props, there’s a lot of fiddling of clothing, nervous giggles and worried glances at friends. Carol, a thirty-eight-year-old housewife, is standing next to me. “My friend talked me into coming here,” she reveals, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I feel an inexplicable need to laugh as the soundtrack Welcome to Burlesque begins, but I bite down the urge and try to concentrate on rotating my hips for the warm up.
Before I know it the hour is over and I’m feeling more liberated than I can remember. I now know moves such as “The Swan”, “The Quiver” and “The Wink”. I’ve sashayed and shimmied, enticed and denied my audience and put my stomach muscles through a workout they haven’t felt in years. Not once was I anxious or embarrassed about my wobbles. From the huge smiles and amount of laughter going on, it’s the same for the others. As we mingle at the end, putting on coats and collecting bags, the atmosphere has changed. There’s a feeling of sisterhood, girl power. People are agreeing to meet up the following week and some even exchange numbers. Annie, thirty two, tells me she has decided to book a burlesque dancing lesson for her hen night in July. “I can’t believe how much fun we just had. It’s empowering to embrace your femininity like that.”
The instructor admits it’s the same reaction every time. “Women are always concerned when they first arrive. The media portrayal of the perfect body leaves most of us feeling insecure about ourselves but we’re all in the same boat; nobody is perfect. Burlesque is about having fun in a seductive and suggestive way. Girls leave laughing as they’ve pushed their boundaries.”
As I rush home to pick the kids up on time I realise why I feel such a natural high. I’ve made time to reacquaint myself with a part of me that was buried under other priorities. I’ve had some quality girl time, cut loose some hang ups and recharged my batteries ready to continue with my hectic life. The routine of work and home can sometimes feel like a chore but for an hour I was funny, flirty and sexy. And it felt great.
Dita Von Teese Fan