The other week I caught up on one of my favourite art forms…burlesque. It is a somewhat controversial topic to the ignorant mind. I have just tutted my way through a Daily Mail article from six years ago and the writer was horribly jaundiced, looking to reduce burlesque to nothing more than stripping.
Yet I think it is one of the most empowering, fun and challenging things I have ever done. My journey started on a cold January night in 2015, after I signed up to a six-week burlesque course in Swansea.
As I puffed up the endless steps of a dance studio at the top of Wind Street, I wondered what I was getting myself into. I needn’t have worried. The teachers, Lilly Laudanam, and Deedee De La Rouge, were gorgeous, fun and encouraging.
Vitally, they were confident and positive, and every week I left my class feeling more and more desirable. Over six weeks I learned to REALLY camp it up, using character, removing gloves and stockings, shimmying with scarves, and even pastie-tassling – something I had sworn I would never do.
Being a buxom babe, I was terrified at showing my flesh, but so proud of myself for having a go. Okay, so there was the obligatory wardrobe malfunction, (one of the naughty pasties shot off like an out-of-control Catherine wheel) but Lilly covered me up in record time. The course also taught me how to walk into a room with confidence and dazzle people with cheeky eye contact – things that have absolutely nothing to do with dress size. I was on fire!
Sadly, my job means I can never take to the stage as a burlesque performer, but I now support Lily, Dedee and their former students – yes, some of the girls on stage now started out in my class – and I have a great night at The Bluestocking Lounge, Swansea Grand Theatre, which takes place every two months. Each night is like one giant, naughty variety show.
Yes, you have your vintage Glamour performer, doing a classic bump and grind in a gorgeous sequined dress with a cheeky come-hither wink, but there are also performers who focus more on making you scream with laughter as they use dance to show you which catalyst made it impossible to keep their clothes on. Lilly is my personal heroine as she has a plethora of hilarious historical-based acts. Having worked in the London Dungeon, she is an absolute expert, whether she is a very unamused queen Victoria, or Ripper victim Annie Chapman. Her props are pretty original too. Watch out for that flying kidney!
Burlesque is a melting pot of talent with something for everyone – even a few ‘boy-lesques’. Seeing Poseidon brandishing his trident made a few waves, I can tell you! The acts come in all shapes and sizes, which makes you realise that everyone’s body is unique, and burlesque audiences are generous people who encourage the acts with applause and whoops, although I have fallen silent with amazement at times.
What I love about these acts is that the show always goes on, and even if they stumble sometimes, (glitter is very slippery) they just get back up and carry on with the act. Just to make it clear, EVERYTHING comes sprinkled with excessive amounts of glitter. Anything dripping with rhinestones, sequins or glitter is acceptable to my magpie eyes. We all need a little sparkle in our lives!
A night in Swansea Grand’s Arts Wing always leaves me feeling high with happiness, having rediscovered my own mojo. And it’s not merely ‘tits and tinsel’. I have nearly coughed up a lung laughing at witty and naughty cabaret singers, marvelled at contortionists, glass-walkers, acrobats and mind-readers, and flinched at one amazing act’s prowess with a whip.
I’ve also usually got my mobile out ready to Shazam an amazing burlesque song choice, my recent favourite being the Joss Stone/ Jeff Beck cover of ‘I put a spell on you’. The thought and work that goes in to a three-minute burlesque act is immense, from the song choice, to the story/ choreography, to the intricate costumes. I would seriously love to be that talented.
I fantasise that in an ideal world (which involves me losing at least two dress sizes) I could be a burlesque artist myself. I’ve even got myself a name: Mata Haribo. I think this is a stroke of genius because Mata Hari was a famously exotic dancer (who met a sticky end after being accused of spying). The Haribo part of the pun came after a ‘friend’ thought it was hilarious to compare me to the chubby ‘Haribo kid’. How rude!
Anyway, if I ever win the lottery, look out for Mata Haribo’s debut. Glitter, sequins, beads, feathers…you never know.
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