Women in Gwent are learning the art of burleque dancing, as KEILIGH BAKER discovers.
BURLESQUE has enjoyed something of a revival in the past 10 years or so.
Inspired by the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee and Bettie Page and more recently, Dita von Teese, burlesque is becomingly increasingly popular with women of all ages.
In Gwent, a budding burlesque resurgence along with the growing popularity of vintage styles meant vintage boutique owner Liz Prosser, owner of Emily Rose Vintage, though the time was ripe to start burlesque classes in the area.
She said: “People kept coming into the shop and saying they thought the corsets and things were beautiful, but where would they ever wear them? So it was a natural progression really.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do to but never really had the time or money to traipse to Cardiff or Bristol after work for the classes.”
Instead, she decided to get in contact with burlesque dance instructor Abbie Gregory, and the first class proved so popular they now run two classes a week as part of an eight week course.
For £50 for the entire course, classes are held twice a week at Fairwater Leisure Centre in Cwmbran and at Panteg House in Griffithstown.
They also run a taster session in burlesque for groups of friends, where you can book in for a one hour session held at the Emily Rose salon, and burlesque hen and birthday parties which include a two hour session and free bubbly.
There, the groups of giggling girls can try their hand at being burlesque stars and prop hire, including hats and gloves, is included in the price.
But this resurgence as part of female bonding is relatively new. Burlesque in its original form was mainly made up of performances in a variety show format, which were particularly popular from the 1860s to the 1940s, often in cabarets and clubs, as well as theatres, and featured bawdy comedy and female striptease.
Hollywood films glamourised the art in films like 1972's Cabaret and 1979's All That Jazz, among others.
However, burlesque was already out of favour by then, and it wasn’t until the early nineties that it started to become popular once again.
Films such as Moulin Rouge, Chicago and Burlesque, featuring Cher and Christine Aguilera have almost certainly added its popularity, but it is Dita von Teese who is credited with making ‘neo-burlesque’ the hot topic it is today.
The ultimate modern day showgirl, von Teese is a burlesque superstar, and known as the ‘Queen of Burlesque’. Famous for her tiny waist and fabulous costumes, she began performing in 1992, and from then on, by her own admission “put the tease back into striptease”.
Famous for her fan dance and the giant martini glass she bathes in on stage, she helped move burlesque from a taboo for fetishists in the backrooms of clubs to the mainstream.
Liz agrees. “It’s the Dita effect,” she said. “Burlesque used to be something only people involved in the vintage, rockabilly and alternative scenes were into. Now, in our classes you can find every type of woman, every age, every body type - all of them. It’s really nice.”
Burlesque instructor Abbie, who runs the classes, says she believes more and more women are turning to it as a form of empowerment. She has been teaching burlesque for a year, but teaches other types of dance too.
She said: “I would say it’s become really popular in the last five or so years. It used to be taboo, but it started coming back and of course Dita von Teese made it really popular.
“I think a bit part of it is women want to be sassy again. It’s a massive confidence boost, and you don’t have to be a really good dancer.
“When people first come to classes they tend to think they won’t be good at it, or won’t enjoy it. But they always end up loving it.
“It boosts women’s confidence, and another reason its popular is that it’s not hard to do – the routines are quite simple.
She added: "One thing I really notice in classes is everyone has their own idea of sexy, so you see them put their own slant on it.”
Many women find burlesque empowering and sexually liberating as unlike strippers, they are not performing solely to please a male audience, but to please themselves and to feel sexy regardless of age, shape or weight. It allows women to feel comfortable and sexy in their own skin, without taking themselves too seriously.
But burlesque remains controversial and is still seen as contentious by some groups. Recent headlines have seen burlesque shows cancelled following uproar by local and community groups, and some feminists believe it is regressive and sets women back.
Yet the popularity of burlesque as part of hen do’s and all-women birthday parties shows it’s not about being sexually provocative for the male gaze – rather, it’s about women feeling good about themselves, which, in a world of airbrushing and size zero models is a refreshing and wonderful thing.
A few key moves:
•To do a glove peel put both gloves on. Now using your right hand remove one finger at a time form your left hand, when all five have been loosened pull of the glove off and languidly toss it aside. Now do the same with the other hand.
•Use your hands and fingers and make each movement exaggerated. Remember to bend your back, keep your legs straight and stick your behind out.
•To perform a successful and tantalising shimmy, alternately move your shoulders back and forth. Do this with extended arms for a glam look, or put your hands in your lap or behind your back for a coy and sweet look. You can combine this with a cross-step where to walk left whilst facing your audience, you cross your left leg over your right leg and then pull your right leg out to a normal stance again. Try two steps each way whilst shimmying- best done with arms out or hand on hips.
•A proper 'booty shake' can be done easily once you get out of your heels. Stand on the balls of your feet, and then alternately bend each knee. Then add some hip movement into the equation.
•To do a tantalising step backwards to move away from your audience, put one foot behind the other, and swing your hip around to the back circling to the same side you stepped back with.