Here in Seattle we’ve had a few temptingly clear days. I tend to jump the gun on spring, baring skin long before it’s actually warm enough to put the coat in storage. While I will attempt this year to be more patient and mature in my early-spring fashion choices, we can at least start thinking about bare arms and legs.
How to peel off the sweater with confidence? My suggested form of warm-weather body preparation is not a weight machine or spinning class but something much more fun and also more unnerving: take a burlesque class.
I took a six-week course a few years back with Jo Boobs in New York. Jo wrote the definitive Burlesque Handbook and has taught many an aspiring tassel-twirler. At the time she was assisted by other talented performers such as Gal Friday and Darlinda Just Darlinda.
Darlinda’s class was the hardest one I took; my pixie cut didn’t leave much for me to do during the hair-mussing routine she taught us to a long, old-school bump ‘n grind song.
“Play with it some more,” she hollered at me across the room, and so I tussled on, willing the song to be over. Thank goodness neo-burlesque acts are usually to a shorter 2 1/2-3 minute song!
Despite my hair-related moment of confusion, it was an exhilarating experience. To discover that you can shake, swing, bump or twirl parts of your body that ordinarily you have to keep cooped up in jeans or sweaters. To discover how cute you look in pasties. To discover that women all over the country of all shapes and sizes are performing burlesque to wildly appreciative audiences–with cellulite or A cup breasts or a tummy or wild intractable hair. . . and at least for one day a week, you can too.
Most major cities have a burlesque academy these days and this particular phenomenon is one you will regret participating in if you haven’t yet. Here’s just a quick list of reasons you should try it:
Reasons You Will Regret Not Taking a Burlesque Class
- It’s a reason to buy a saucy new bra.
- Your significant other will appreciate the new way you take off your sweatshirt.
- Burlesque is weight and body-type indiscriminate. In fact, the curvier you are, the more you have to shake.
- You get to play with a feather boa.
- Think about the stories you can tell your grandchildren!
- You will probably make at least one new friend.
What to Expect from a Burlesque Class
Every teacher will (hopefully) focus on her strengths. Darlinda (at right) likes to reference vintage burlesque, and she has an incredible head of hair, so you can expect her to throw it around and to sniff her shoe with delight when she takes it off. Gal Friday on the other hand enjoys more modern, stripper-esque moves such as a chair dance. So you chair dance.
Jo Boobs herself gave up a lucrative career as a stripper in favor of the freedom of burlesque, where the performer is also choreographer and costumer for her own act. Every burlesque performer has a different attitude about the two disciplines. As Jo described the difference between stripping and burlesque, “Stripping is for one person, while burlesque is for many.” How many varies a lot from show to show, venue to venue. Here in Seattle burlesque shows can be extravagant productions on a full stage with pre-sold tickets. In New York most shows are on tiny stages in the corner of a bar with a small admission paid at the door. It doesn’t matter as long as the performers are having a fantastic time and the audience makes a lot of noise (you must hoot and holler as loudly as you can at a burlesque show).
Of course, every school and every teacher is different, but it’s safe to be prepared to take off your top and eventually even take off your bra to put on a pair of pasties (trust me, by the time you get to that class, you’ll be excited to do so). You may have to do some dirty things to a chair. A feather boa will become your best friend. You’ll practice posture and walking in a way that is a lot more fun than it was when your grandma used to hiss at you to stand up straight.
I was surprised most, not by the burlesque tricks and ploys, but what I learned about my own body. Anyone who has actively taken dance classes before may not be as amazed as I was at the sight of my half-naked body in front of a wall-length mirror, but I’ve never been much of a performer. Still, as comfortable as I am in my own skin, I was astonished by the sight of my arms, legs and face moving in front of that mirror.
When those movements include sashaying, unzipping and swinging? It’s an unexpected high to see yourself that way for the first time. And that’s the point about getting ready for spring and summer. Healthy toned muscles are beautiful, but the most beautiful thing is confidence. After twirling the tassels on your pasties in front of a dozen other women, I can guarantee you will find that halter top a lot less intimidating.