by Diane Harper
I love to dance, and this year I have been exploring various dance forms as a way to keep myself entertained during COVID restrictions. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to join weekly Zumba classes, try Afro-Cuban dances, and learn basic steps during weekly powwow workouts. Last week I spotted an Introduction to Burlesque dance class on Facebook, so I signed up. I was rather shy about it though. After all, I’m pushing 60 and I grew up believing that anything resembling burlesque was either inappropriate or degrading to women. I only told a couple of friends, after the fact.
My attitude has been shifting, though. I have gone to a couple of burlesque shows with the above-mentioned friends, and discovered a place filled with proud women (and a few men) of various sizes, ages, abilities and ethnicities performing for supportive families and friends. I was fascinated by the range of acts. Some were highly comic, while others, such as those using a suspended hoop, involve incredible balance and core strength.
More recently, I read this great article about the history of burlesque by Dita von Teese, one of the art’s superstars. In her introduction to the class, our teacher spoke about this history, and the fact that burlesque can be both sexy and outrageous, mocking conventions and exaggerating for effect. She had been a dancer on the burlesque scene in Toronto for six years before moving to Ottawa, where she now teaches at a local dance studio.
With that, we began practicing: struts, toe drags, poses, turns, dips/bends, covering and uncovering our face, breasts, pelvis and butt (by turning away or using sharp or smooth movements to show them off). The instructor also taught us about the two main styles to use for character development: dancing like no-one is watching, or knowing that someone is watching and playing to it. I had a lot of fun strutting around my living room, feeling remarkably confident in my sweatpants and comfy slippers. I didn’t need a corset, high heels or feather boa – just my chin up high and some swagger and imagination. Figuring out how to do poses gracefully was harder, but some things, such as chest thrusts and rolls were easy as I had learned to do them in bellydance classes.
In some ways, the best part was the end of the class, when we all took the time to see each other in the little Zoom gallery. There were young women, slender women, big women and women older than me. Some couldn’t wait to show off new skills for their husbands. Some just enjoyed the feeling of empowerment that came with being uninhibited for 45 minutes. Burlesque didn’t provide the level of cardio workout that I like from a dance class, so I won’t sign up for the full course, but it was definitely a lot of fun, and I would happily look for YouTube videos to practice on my own occasionally.
Diane Harper works for the federal government in Ottawa. She loves to break the stereotype of the stodgy bureaucrat by trying new things and pushing limits as often as possible.