Saturday, 6 June 2015

Adventures in burlesque: Skip to the chorus

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.
Part of being more fluid is, of course, down to practice. I said in my last burlesque post that my hoochy-cooch needs work, and so I have been spending five minutes here and there at home wiggling round in circles, and if I get into work before everyone else I do The Walk all the way down between the filing cabinets. (I love just walking, showgirl-style. It's such a simple thing, but I feel so elegant and confident doing it, like I'm strutting my way to global domination.) The wiggling might actually be toning me up, as I can definitely feel my muscles round my waist more. Certainly the movements are becoming easier and, I hope, more graceful.

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!

22 comments :

  1. Let me know when you get to go on stage Mim and I'll try and make it!! I'd love to see you strutting your stuff. Good luck with it, and I'm so glad you're having fun with it x

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    1. Erk! As you've been a performer, I'd be more nervous of you than anyone else! :-)

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  2. You go, girl! I love the idea of you strutting your way to world domination.

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    1. Oh, I have a whole list of things that are becoming law when I rule the universe. Mandatory animal costumes for under-twos, cars that splash pedestrians having all four of their tyres punctured, that sort of thing. It's going to be great.

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  3. Dance is such a fun way to get some exercise - when the fella and I started rock and roll dancing we were surprised how physical it was. Sounds like a hoot!

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    1. It is great fun! I be you really do yourself good with rock'n'roll dancing; a five-minute charleston is plenty for me.

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  4. I agree with Porcelina, let me know when you're doing it and I'll try and make it too! It would be fab to watch you do your hoochy-cooch!!

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    1. Argh.

      Maybe I'll make you all sit at the front so I see friendly faces!

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  5. Brilliant! I hope you have a lot of fun doing it!

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    1. It's bonkers, but it is fun.

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  6. I'm glad you're enjoying your classes and that you feel like it's doing you some good. It sounds like a great way to tone up! x

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    1. It's not as good for toning as pole - that really busts the bingo wings - but it's very good for legs and core. Actually, if I did fan work, that would sort my arms out in no time. Fans are difficult.

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  7. The burlesque classes sound like great exercise. I did one with one of my mates and it was the best fun ever. I will just stick with making costumes for now though. The Lido and the Tropical seem very exotic and exciting. Don't think a club in the trees would catch on here though. Xx

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    1. Yeah, be a bit soggy here!

      Apparently John Prescott went to the Tropicana on a trades union visit to Cuba in the 80s and returned every year thereafter. It really is that good.

      I have a hotfix gun but haven't tried making a costume yet.

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  8. It's great that you are enjoying dancing so much, and strutting your way to global domination! And how exciting that you'll be doing a show! xxx

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    1. Well, I'd have to get Dulcie's approval for the show, so I will have to convince her I'm not going to do a massive faceplant or anything...

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  9. If I were nearer I'd love to try those lessons - sounds like so much fun. Keep on strutting!

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    1. They are great fun. And hilarious. I think I laugh as much as I learn!

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  10. Maybe one day
    I will pluck up the courage to go to the burlesque classes near me. Sounds super exciting to become a chorus girl!

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    1. It's really good fun, and is fantastic for confidence. One of the things I love about it is seeing all sorts of bodies - I'm by no means the largest, though I possibly am the oldest! - doing amazing things. It really makes you see that every body is fab in its own way. Plus, GLITTER.

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  11. My word, dear Mim.. those are great news.
    To dance, dance, dance.. your hoochy-cooch away. :) I'm super shy, so to read about someone who dares to do so much.. is amazing act of bravery. You do what makes you feel good, and I respect that absolutely. :)

    Marija

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    1. I never learned to dance as a kid, so I love this. Plus, who doesn't love glittery costumes?

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