Holy pasties, Batman, I might actually get to dance on stage!
I've really enjoyed switching to the Frome burlesque class. The ladies were lovely at both classes, but this one feels a little more focussed on actually doing something with everything we learn. I'm quite a practical person; when I learned to knit it was because I wanted to make vintage-style jumpers, and when I learn a bit of a language it's because I'm visiting the place where it's spoken, so I suppose it was inevitable that I'd want to dance somewhere, if only to put all these lessons to use. It looks like I might get my chance this Autumn, all going well.
In classic cabarets you'd have three sorts of dancers: the specialist exhibition dancers, such as a couple doing a tango, or a really talented ballerina, the chorus, who do more or less an identical dance en masse, and the showgirls, whose main task is to wear very little and look very beautiful. Louise Brooks is often cited as a showgirl, but she was actually a trained dancer and did the difficult stuff. Some other famous names, such as Marion Davies and Olive Thomas, were showgirls, while Barbara Stanwyck and Nita Naldi were in the chorus line – Hollywood often lured beauties from Broadway to the Silver Screen.
I've only seen a couple of old-style cabarets, but they're famous ones: the Tropicana in Havana, and the Lido in Paris. The Tropicana was, ten years or so ago at least, still a really traditional one, albeit without the classic sort of showgirl. The stage and tables were set amid trees in a grove, and the programme included singers and acrobats as well as speciality dances and chorus numbers. But what chorus numbers! There was one routine when the girls came out with what were basically chandeliers on their heads, with lights – and more or less tethered to one another by electric cabling. And still they danced. Truly amazing. They did have showgirls as well as chorus girls and dancers at the Lido, and the show was very glitzy, with more flesh on show and fancier scenery on stage, but it didn't match up to the sheer romance of that of the Tropicana. I suppose it's hard to beat a tropical grove for a setting.
Frome in Somerset doesn't bear a great resemblance to a Caribbean island, and I suppose the classic distinction between types of dancer won't be as applicable in a burlesque show as it is in a traditional cabaret, but to all intents and purposes if I do get to dance I'll be part of a chorus line, as we novices would be doing a group routine. People often think burlesque is just poncing about pouting and getting naked, and to be truthful I had some of that preconception myself before I started learning, but it's actually hard work requiring a good degree of physical control and timing. There's a reason why we all warm up before starting, and do plenty of stretches to cool down. Over recent weeks I've enjoyed feeling my movements become more fluid and natural – you have to go back to basics, starting with the seemingly-elementary learning how to walk! – and now the task is to time those movements precisely in order to match my fellow dancers as we all learn our routine together.
If you're in the south-west and fancy trying burlesque for yourself, my teacher Dulcie is starting courses at LA Studios in Trowbridge, and is running a taster session this Sunday. No dance experience is required, so pop along at 4pm on Sunday 7 June and give it a go! There are more details on the Facebook page.
Images are from the film Broadway Melody. Gotta love those old musicals!