Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Lesson 2! Caresses!

After the initial excitement of making a start last week, lesson two has not come quickly enough. This week, after warm up and donning our highest heels, we took the basic moves from lesson one and learned linking steps to move from one to the other. While B moved around flawlessly, I spent around ten minutes confusing my left and right, not helped by my towering heels which I was convinced I would trip over at any second. After some practice however, it felt pretty damn snazzy- although to the onlooker, I was just a woman in shoes turning from back to front. Next, came some brand new moves: the arm and leg caress. After getting over the initial embarrassment of having to look at yourself as if you were the most delicious thing on the planet, these moves actually felt very graceful and in doing them we got taught how to use eye contact to focus the audiences' gaze onto where you want them to look. That mastered, we were all gathered upstairs to the bar, where we had a big table reserved for us so we could begin to fill out a mystery questionnaire. Apparently, our answers would form the basis for B to pick our very own burlesque names. The questions were light enough, favourite songs, scents, style icons, why we love burlesque- but suddenly everyone became very stressed as if their lives depended on the answers. (I didn't want to be stuck with a name that I didn't like, or didn't entirely encapsulate me as a person!) Luckily, we'd be given the chance to come back to them next week and I already know I'm going to spend the whole time re-thinking my responses- 'my favourite gem is a ruby- does that really represent ME?!!' A few wines followed...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The First Class: Shimmys and Grinds!

After being kindly dropped off by a friend at the funky bar where the class was being held, I made my way downstairs to their 'secret bar' which would be our studio for the next 8 weeks. As me and two other nervous looking ladies heaved the metal doors open, we were engulfed by plumes from the smoke machine in the tiny low-lit room and deafened by hot swing tunes coming from the DJ booth. It was the perfect atmosphere. There were ten of us in the group and we all gathered around a nearby table as our charismatic, funny and perfectly curvy instructor (decked out in a super cute pastel pink 50's halter dress) introduced herself. For the purposes of this blog, I'll refer to her as B. Before we knew it, we were on our feet (in flats) and in the smoke warming up, shaking out our legs and arms and doing a relaxation exercise. This soothed any nerves I had and also made me realise quite how confident you can feel when you are shrouded in semi-darkness and the music is loud. Next, came actual moves, for which we needed heels. This lesson was all about learning our first set of traditional burlesque moves- B stood out in front demonstrating perfectly and being encouraging while we got to copy to the music. After mastering the figure 8 hip swings I already felt like Bettie Page and couldn't have been more excited when we were to be shown officially how to shimmy! From this, to mini grinds and hip bumps, when we weren't all laughing we felt like we were getting it. After mastering the set of moves individually, we put them all together to some vintage swing music. Before I knew it, the hour was up and were sat around the table again, with B congratulating us on our first burlesque routine and setting us our homework: to put on our favourite music and practice the moves. I emerged from the smoke of the studio into the sunlight outside on a high, still wearing my heels and grinning madly. I haven't stopped grinning since I got home and I fully intend on doing my homework at every given opportunity...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Beginner's Burly List!

My instructional email finally arrived. For my first class in four days time I am to take;

- A skirt or dress that you can move in comfortably

- A pair of flats (ballet pumps or trainers are fine)

- A pair of heels

- Any additional monies for drinks from the bar

So, nothing too daunting. I've opted to to take a sturdy yet sky-high pair of bronze glittery shoes as my high heels, if all I take from this class is how to walk with any kind of grace in such things I'll be very happy! Also, good to know that the class appears to have it's own bar, the idea of some dutch courage when we begin sounds rather appealing (although lets hope that doesn't get taken too far- the idea of attempting to learn burlesque tipsy isn't worth thinking about...) The only downside with it all being so simple is that I don't have an excuse to do any glamorous burlesque shopping, but I'm sure there will be time for that later...  

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Land of Tink

Discovered this fabulous artists today- Jessica 'Tink' Whiteside, currently showing her 'Innocence Perceived' exhibition in San Fransisco. She specialises in vibrant pin-up/ neo burlesque inspired art like 'Forgive Me' (exert shown below). I also appreciate that along with her many job titles she also cites herself as a 'supervillan'...:)

Burlesque Under Fire!

I consider myself to be a feminist, believing strongly in equality and a better deal for both women and men. I'm a member of the Fawcett Society, have a keen grasp of the key texts and know my gender history. So, I was disappointed to read a brief but pointed attack on burlesque when reading 'Living Dolls: The New Sexism' by Natasha Walter, British writer and campaigner. (which otherwise I found quite thought provoking and relevant) Blink and you'd miss it, but the page and a half largely focuses on Immodesty Blaize, indirectly criticising her for saying burlesque can be empowering. The second half talks to one ex-performer who took to the stage successfully several times before deciding it wasn't for her. It appears that Walter had never attended a burlesque event herself, or spoken to any professionals, or enthusiasts. Without getting too far into the topic, my own personal opinion is that for those who are interested, neo-burlesque offers a positive way to honour the female form, in all shapes and sizes. Just take a look at the beautiful diversity in the recently published Top 50 Burlesque Performers list published by 21st Century Pin Ups. At the events themselves, aside from audiences being largely female, the viewers role is to cheer the performer on in support and in exchange, they are entertained (in a vast variety of ways) and often titillated. For me, an equal society does not mean one without eroticism and celebration of the female (or male) form, which is what Walter seems to imply. What a dreary world that would be! My intention is never to make this a political blog, but I wanted to put in my humble 2 pence worth, so there you go :)

Friday, 2 April 2010

Blaizing Inspiration

As I eagerly await my set of instructions and burly shopping list before my first class, I've been getting inspired by re-watching my well-loved copy of 'Burlesque Undressed'. (always aim high!) Sure, the film is pretty much a promotional video for Immodesty Blaize, but so what? Of all of her performances, it has to be her signature act 'Miss Blaize N Saddles' that has to be my favourite (sadly the version I link to here is an edited, paired down version to the one shown on the DVD and doesn't show the Philip Treacy headdress)- but the concept is so audacious, her attitude so fearless, that you can't helped but be swept up in it. I'm also a huge fan of the roaring big band music she uses, providing her extreme old school glamour the perfect back drop. Heaven. Back in beginners reality (!) I have just been reading that Jo Weldon, Headmistress of the New York burlesque School, is bringing out 'The Burlesque Handbook' in June. While I can't find much about it's contents yet, her vast knowledge and experience of the business is sure to mean it will be full of useful stuff (and hopefully some wonderful pictures!) Speaking of which, Jo has also just created a burlesque group on Flickr with thousands of photos of performers- oodles of inspiration to be found there too!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Shake it Baby! A little bit about me and this blog.

I have always loved vintage glamour. In my early teens I became captivated by 40’s and 50’s film, finding the dramatic allure of Marilyn Monroe and the reserved elegance of Celia Howard far more appealing than anything contemporary to me. Like many others, this grew into a love for vintage fashion, art, culture and burlesque. (initially inspired, of course, by Bettie Page. How can anyone resist acts like 'Harem'?) While my personal style has gone from glam punk to kinder-whore to psychobilly and everything in between (all with various levels of success it has to be said), in the past few years I’ve been gradually ‘living’ my love for vintage more and more, spending my time voraciously seeking out the perfect 40's style tea dress (and the occasional 50's swing and wiggle) and being unable to go to bed until I’ve set my pin curls. It perhaps then follows (kind of stereotypically) that I also developed an interest in modern burlesque and then most recently, the crazy notion that i may actually want to learn the basics. So, the point of this blog is to share my session by session experience of a ‘Beginners Burlesque’ course, embarrassing moments and all.

Why I love the hurly burly

I’ll admit to having a pretty naive view of modern burlesque at first; feathers, nipple tassels and vaguely 40’s and 50’s inspired striptease was what sprung to mind. After going to a few events, along with my keen obsession with youtube, it became pretty clear how diverse and well, modern new burlesque (or 'Neo-Burlesque') actually is. Of my favourite acts, each performer had a unique character, told a story and most importantly, transported me to somewhere glamorous and believable. Acts could be cheeky and comic (Sherry Trifle), dramatic and dance-led (Vicky Butterfly, ‘Victorian Butterfly’) or emotional and fantastical (‘Winter’ by Beatrix Von Bourbon.)

Can I have a go?!?

Inspired, somewhat overly enthusiastic and never one to just sit back and watch (dammit!), I decided that I wanted to have a very amateurish go myself. Who could resist the glamour of it all?? I was clearly seduced by the idea rather than the practicalities: I hated drama at school, had never danced (my Mum called me ‘fairy elephant’ as a child) and the idea of revealing any amount of flesh fills me with utter dread. (the closest I have ever got to wearing a bikini was a tankini, now lurking at the back of a drawer somewhere) Still, I carried on nevertheless. Finding a class was tricky- I had to sift through the vast number of pole dancing/ lap dancing schools jumping on the burlesque bandwagon, or places offering: ‘classy hen night? Learn burlesque!’ After much searching (and through the magic of facebook) I found the course for me: run by an established burlesque performer with some great feedback from actual students, some of whom had even gone on to perform. It was surely meant to be- beginning on the day after my 29th birthday, if that wasn’t an omen to do something new, then what was? The confirmation email I received was enigmatic- I was to receive an email one week before the class began with a list of things to bring. (the mind boggles...) People’s reactions have been interesting: most are enthusiastic and think I am ‘brave’, a few have just looked horrified; ‘isn’t that stripping??’

The course starts in 14 days time...