Having a wiggle and a giggle
OK, here’s my comfort zone. And then, over there, there’s dancing. And then, a whole lot further out from that, there’s burlesque. So no one was more surprised than me when, one night after clearly one glass too many, I found myself signing up to try out a class with Jems Burlesque. I know. One more reason why I should have aimed for a dry January.
The other women in the class were about the wildest mix you could imagine. Some had done it before, and were really quite good, and some were absolute beginners. There was me – in lycra that hasn’t seen the light of day, never mind the Vegas spotlight, for a good long while. There was a gorgeous woman with leopard print tattoos all over her arms in a fabulous halter top jumpsuit sort of thing. A tall, sporty woman in a ‘My Little Pony’ t-shirt. A couple of blond women in all-black aerobics gear. A tiny woman in a stripy corset.
If you want to get properly kitted out, then the woman who runs the classes has a whole range of corsets (of varying shapes and styles), footless fishnets and frilly knickers for you to buy – and she’ll measure you up as well. There’s apparently a corset for every shape and size, and before long I was surprised to find that I had my eye on a rather fetching pink one.
After a warm-up that had most of us newbies almost forgetting we were nervous and laughing like we’d known each other for a lot longer than ten minutes, we started on some of the trademark burlesque moves. Apparently, there’s supposed to be a muscle sort of between your ribs – took me a while, but I found it in the end – and we worked those muscles hard getting our boobs going up and down in time to the music. I had it in the bag – oh yeah – and then Jem had us doing it double-time and that was when I started laughing so hard I couldn’t find that muscle anymore.
Moving our hips in a sultry figure of 8 definitely felt a bit easier, but then I caught my reflection in the window and realised that the reality wasn’t quite the seductive gorgeousness that I was imagining. Burlesque is all about performance – just getting out there and giving it your saucy best – so, to be honest, it didn’t take long before I really didn’t care whether what I actually looked like bore any relation to how I felt. I felt fabulous, and I was having a whole heap of fun.
Jem is just about the perfect person to be teaching these classes. Her background as a performer, and as a burlesque artist and teacher, really comes through even when she’s just chatting before the class. She’s also hilarious, and you’ve got to love a woman whose motto is “less hassle, more tassel.” Bearing in mind we were in a draughty hall, more usually used by toddler groups and the WI, she still managed to get us all laughing and shaking our wobbly bits without a care in the world. There’s something brilliant about a woman with a massive flower in her hair telling you, in no uncertain terms, that there’s never excuse not to do your ‘performance leg’ if you’re standing up – heel up, knee bent, hip out. Try it. Then try it while you’re waiting at the checkout.
Basically with burlesque, you can have a bum the size of Hertfordshire (though fitting you into a class might be tricky) and it just doesn’t matter because it’s all about confidence. Jem, who runs this course, assures me that I’ll be crystalling my knickers (know what that means? Answers on a postcard!) and blowing kisses to the postman before I know it. The class is a good laugh, but there’s also loads of emphasis on confidence boosting, and – even though I was in a community hall and not somewhere a bit more glamorous — I can now completely see how working on a routine with a chair and a riding crop and practising your showgirl smile (apparently it’s not just about the teeth, it’s about the, er, hole) might give you a bit of a spring in your step.
I’m gutted that the courses aren’t held closer to where I live, otherwise I’d have signed up on the spot. And they fill up quickly – if you want to give it a try, you’d better get on it. They do other things, too, though. Jems Burlesque residential weekends sound like a glittery escape from everyday life and attract women from all over the country. There are also giant fan classes, striptease classes, and the terrifyingly-titled Niptastic workshops in which you get to master the art of the nipple tassel. Not sure I’ve quite got the coordination for that one yet, but by golly it’d be fun to try!