It’s a good thing stage lighting makes it impossible to see an audience or I never would have been able to stand in front of a theatre full of people in nothing but booty shorts and pasties last month.
Wow. That was a hard thing to put down on “paper” for all the world to see because normally I feel that propriety is very important. But there it is. Whew! Have you ever seen a burlesque show? Have you ever thought about trying it? Well, I’m here to tell you to GO FOR IT and I’ll tell you how.
You did WHAT??
Several years ago, I saw an ad for a burlesque show in my area and bought tickets because I thought, “What the heck? It sounds like fun!” Little did I know how addicting burlesque can be! Years later, my husband Welly and I have now attended at least a dozen burlesque shows, and we love them! They’re so fun because they provide entertainment and laughs and it’s so fun to watch the incredible talent the performers possess. And the confidence to be up there–sometimes pretty darned undressed!
Last fall I saw an ad for classes through the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington and I proclaimed to Welly that I was going to sign up to take weekly burlesque classes! He wasn’t the least bit surprised. At the first class, our instructor, the founder of Green Mountain Cabaret, announced very casually that we would be performing on stage at the end of the class as part of the showcase of dance classes, but that bra removal was optional. Wait, WHAT??
Deep breath. And then I realized…I was A-okay with that! I may be in my late 40’s but my body has done some pretty incredible things (Bronwen and Oliver, for example!) and there’s nothing wrong with it. Nothing to be ashamed of. And you know what I discovered? That’s kind of what burlesque is all about.
A brief history of burlesque
Burlesque has a long and interesting history. In America, it began around the early- to mid-1800’s, in the early Victorian era. Content at the time was in response to clashes between the upper and lower classes, so that’s where you began to see the bawdy and lowbrow humor. Higher class entertainment forms such as Shakespeare, opera, and ballet were also parodied and comedy sketches and dance routines were used to entertain the audiences of men and women alike. Towards the end of the 19th century, we also began to see costumes that were considered inappropriate by polite society.
During the depression, theatre owners became desperate and this is when we began to see burlesque dancers starting to add some tease to their routines, with maybe a tiny bit of strip (they had to be careful how far the went, though, or they’d be arrested for corrupting the public’s morals!). It was an effort to bring in repeat customers, but it began a tradition.
Burlesque began to fade away in the mid-1900’s, but over the last two decades, we have seen a revival of burlesque. Performers all over the country are emulating and honoring burlesque’s history. Not only are more and more troupes and individual artists emerging, but we now have the benefit of learning and enjoying this art through festivals and conventions all over North America.
5 great reasons to start dancing burlesque
- Today’s burlesque is all about body positivity. Burlesque embraces all body sizes and shapes, all ages, even all genders and sexual identities.
- You don’t have to have any dance experience to get started in burlesque. I had absolutely NO dance experience when I signed up for my class.
- There is no requirement to remove everything in burlesque. You can take off as much or as little as you want.
- Burlesque is inclusive of all ages.
- Burlesque dancing is great exercise. As in any dance, movement, or toning class, you’ll start and sometimes also end with stretches. Burlesque moves themselves involve focusing on using specific muscle groups and also are great for improving your balance, and stamina, and flexibility.
How to get started dancing burlesque
- Do a Google search for burlesque classes in your area. If you don’t find any, try just searching for “burlesque” and your city or area. You’ll find something–they’re everywhere now. Contact the troupe(s) you find for recommendations of burlesque classes or teachers nearby.
- Most people will wear comfortable clothes they can move in, such as yoga pants and tops, but others will wear shorts or sweats and a t-shirt. It doesn’t matter what you wear, as long as you are comfortable. I like to wear clothes that are somewhat close fitting so that I can watch myself in the mirror and see that I’m moving my hips and rib cage correctly during some of the moves. You’ll probably also want to go barefoot, but footy socks with non-skids also work well.
- If you’re shy about starting a burlesque class, it helps to have a friend sign up with you. I guarantee she’ll thank you for talking her into it!
I had so much fun in my first class that I recently signed up for another 12 week session and this time my friend Karen is taking classes with me. I hope one day to do some dancing with a local troupe or even on my own. And not to worry–I’ll definitely keep you up to date on my progress!