Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Burlesque 101, or How I Found Empowerment By Shaking My Ass

"It's like this," I told my friend Bob, as I shook my chest in the booth at the gay bar.

I've come a long way since June.

Several months ago, I was at a crossroads.  I loved modern and musical theatre dance classes, but I felt in a bit of a rut.  Plus, I was frustrated with my writing and with other parts of my life.

I needed a new hobby.  Preferably one that got me up and moving and feeling good.

At the same time, a friend of mine was getting into burlesque dancing, and her Facebook was full of stories of women with awesome names like Jeez Loueez and comments about something called "shimmying."  Despite having danced for nearly twenty-six years of my life, I was a little unsure about what burlesque entailed.  Even the word "striptease" was opaque to me.

Understood or not, I was patently aware that I didn't think I could do it myself.

As a former theatre major, I was well-informed of Gypsy Rose Lee. Not to mention I've been dancing (other, more clothed forms) for 26 years. But I couldn't do that. Sure, it was a far cry from licking the pole a la Nomi Malone, but still . . . baring it all in public? No way!

Plus, the non-body snarking feminist in me was hesitant.  Could I really get behind an art form consisting of bumping, grinding, and clothing removal?  Was that copasetic with the sisterhood?

There was only one way to find out.

I went to a burlesque show.  Specifically, a showcase of advanced students at the studio where my friend took classes.  I naively stepped into the bar that Sunday night, unsure of what to expect.

What I got?  The dirtiest dance recital known to (wo)man.

At first, it was a little weird.  I tried to muffle my nervous giggles as the first girl did her thing, shaking her tail and shucking it all off.  But then something happened: I got into it.  The ladies of all shapes and sizes.  The silly puns and dirty jokes between dances.  The fun, creative choices of music: everything from Bobby Darin to James Brown.  The feathers and adorable shoes.

Then the head of the studio--Miss Exotic World 2005, and a finalist on the first America's Got Talent--did a fan dance like you wouldn't believe.  She was wearing next to nothing, but it was downright elegant.

I wanted to do THAT.

So I signed up for a basic class at Studio L'Amour in Chicago.  It's a friendly, funky little place (and no, they are not paying me to talk about them) where all girls who want to learn to shake it are welcomed with open (bare) arms.  I went in person to sign up because I wanted to check out the vibe.

"Um, is it okay if I wear workout clothes?" I shyly asked the studio owner/head teacher.

"Sure, I'm wearing this for class," she replied, indicating her own workout clothes.

Five months later, I'm demonstrating my shimmy for my friends. 

Mind you, I haven't shown any real skin: the studio emphasizes being comfortable with yourself, and you don't take anything off until the performance class, if you choose to go that far.  But what I've learned is this: burlesque isn't just about skin.  It's about having a sense of humor.  Embracing those silly puns while bumping the hips your mama gave you.  Getting your dance on while thinking, "damn, I look hot!"  It's not about the boys.  It's about the girls (innuendo intended).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to practice tying a tie.  So I can remove it from my person at next week's class.

Oh, and true burlesque or no, I am excited as hay-ell for this movie:

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