Thanks to Lawrence, Fyodor, Marcus, Rory, Sue-Yee and Charlotte, I got plenty of burlesque schooling as a birthday gift. I was able to take the "Essential Burlesque" series at the School of Burlesque and had $25 left over on the gift certificate they gave me. So I decided to take "Ultimate Self-Confidence! with the World Famous *BOB*" and paid a $5 difference.
This is going to be a short entry, because there's not a lot I can say about the class. (Well, I could, but I won't.) This is because BOB (Yes, World Famous *BOB* is her real name... she legally changed it.) kindly asked us not to, and I agree on the reasons why. I also believe every woman should spend some time with BOB. If you can take this class, do it. I've had a week to process, and I've come to the following conclusions:
1. If a self-described "female-female impersonator," a very tall, voluptuous, curvy (many would call plus-size) 40-something woman can have self-confidence and love her body and herself, so can I.
2. I can love my body and myself, because...
3. ...Like my face, my body doesn't look 42 years old either. And that's amazing.
Maybe others could have said these things about me. But *I* couldn't say them, because I didn't believe them. At 22 I hid from mirrors. But at 42 I can look at myself, naked, head to toe and appreciate what I see... and even love it most days.
*BOB* has the power... and if you meet her, you'll never be the same.
Friday, July 13, 2012
A few days before my last class I received an e-mail from Jo, saying she regretfully wouldn’t be able to teach us on the 24th of June; she’d had a “family emergency” and also wouldn’t be appearing at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island the day before. Bummer. But, according to the e-mail, we’d be learning from burlesque performer and teacher Darlinda Just Darlinda, and this time I looked her up on YouTube to see what I’d be in for.
She’s a riot.
The thing that stands out to me in every performance she does is the look on her face. She’s very entertaining. It doesn’t hurt that she uses some of that comedy in her body language and performance, and she can shimmy her ass off forever.
She wore gold hotpants to class. And was all business when it came to teaching us a proper showgirl strut -- in heels and also bare feet. A little harder than it looks, especially in bare feet. We strutted back and forth in the studio, towards the mirror, away from the mirror, again and again and again. As always, these things take practice. We learned how to pivot, to move from one direction to another gracefully. And we did it a lot. Like Jo and Gal Friday, Darlinda has tons of experience and shared tips and tricks and dos and don’ts to make sure you look fabulous on stage. As she put it, we shouldn’t create shitty burlesque as performers; if you’re gonna get up there and do it, make it good so you don’t drag the whole art form down. Heavy responsibility.
Darlinda then had each of us show off our strut to the “audience” by playing a piece of music and having us one by one walk across the studio to it, being sure to give good “face” while doing it. Again, harder than it looks. None of us are used to making eye contact to a group of people watching us perform. We all seemed to have a natural inclination to tip our heads down, either to focus on our movements or it was shyness. There were several girls who seemed to have it “down.” They strutted, pivoted, and even gave booty bumps, hip sways and turns. I am not an improviser. I strutted, trying to keep in time with the music, pointing my toes and keeping my chin up, all with a showgirl smile. No “tricks.” The perfectionist in me has never been an improviser; any move I make will be rehearsed so that I can play that dialog in my head that Jo, Gal, and Darlinda spoke about. The sexual/sensual storyline that plays through your head so you can project it.
We had been told beforehand to bring a cardigan, zip-up hoodie, or button-down shirt to class, because we were gonna learn to strip it off seductively. Darlinda broke us up into groups of either 3 or 2, and she taught each group in front of the mirror and in front of the rest of us a mini routine to take off the article of clothing. To keep things different, she had each group take off a different item of clothing, so rather than strip off the cardigan I brought, she asked if I felt comfortable taking off my tank top. Sure why not?
Agh. Note to self: never, ever, strip a tank top off on stage. Why? It just never looks sexy. Yes, the perfectionist in me wanted to do it “right” the very first time... but still. I’d watched each of the other groups strip off a cardigan... a skirt... and even leggings. They did pretty well. I could see that a few of these girls had performed burlesque before, because they gave good “face” and attitude. I stood in front of the rest of the class, but faced the mirror, along with another girl. Darlinda showed us a very simple routine in which we’d strip off our tank tops, making sure not to ever cover our faces in doing so. But as I turned away from the mirror to face my “audience,” I was immediately unsure of the on-the-spot routine I was just shown. Darlinda started the music. Of course right when I went to bring my elbow through an armhole, I was stuck. And I could feel my face contort in frustration. Damn! Darlinda tried to talk me through it, but no dice. I was convinced it was always going to look clumsy, except maybe if a pro had at it. I started to feel a bit annoyed that she wanted me to strip out of a tank top in the first place, because realistically, if you’re planning an act, you’re obviously not going to set up obstacles for yourself. At least in the beginning, I really shouldn’t set out to make things harder for myself, especially since it’s gonna be hard enough to even take off clothing in front of an audience. Let’s be real.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
The third part of the Essential Burlesque class taught us some isolations -- which is basically the art of moving one body part to highlight it when taking an article of clothing off -- and basic fan dance techniques. When I’m talking about fans here, I’m referring to large, feathered ones, and Jo brought out two sets of very large, ostrich feather fans, one in red and one in pink. She noted that she likes to curl the ends of the feathers because they have a nice look in performance.
Each of us were given a set of small marabou fans in bright colors (I jumped for purple ones, of course), and after Jo asked us whether we’d ever seen anyone fan dance, she then explained what it is to actually do it. It’s a routine which consists of concealing, concealing, concealing... then finally revealing. The idea is to reveal yourself in little bits, with the flutter of each fan until you are exposed in artistic and creative ways. It’s more of a series of poses, actually, because these ostrich fans are so large. It’s much harder than it seems; it’s easy to reveal yourself accidentally, between the staves of the fans or over the tips of the feathers.
The small practice marabou fans gave us an idea of the fluttering movement needed, with the flicking of the wrist, and also hand/finger placement to keep the fan open while moving it. Tricky. And it became painfully clear that it’s necessary to get right and left handed fans. Jo pointed out this difference, and holding a small, cheap, right-handed fan open in my left hand was certainly challenging. The moves seemed simple enough, and Jo was honest with us: she hates fan dancing. But it can be an impressive act in your arsenal of performance if you can do it well.
After showing us some basics with the small fans, Jo wanted each of us to come up front with her, solo, learn a move with the large ostrich fans in the mirror with her, then face the “audience” (fellow students) and perform it. Once facing my “audience,” I had no idea if what I was doing was right, but if the expressions on people’s faces were any indication, I wasn’t doing half bad. Of course, a lot of it was expressions of support and sympathy. I realized in that moment that once again, it would take practice, practice and more practice, and in the case of fan dancing, getting to know the “poses” that work. Meaning, memorizing how it feels in each pose -- the placement of my hand near the small of my back, for example -- to achieve the desired effect with the feathers.
It was facing the group with the fans that made me think again about whether I’ll actually get on stage and DO this. It’s one thing to think you might be able to do something, and in those private moments when you think you’re ballsy enough to do it, and another to actually DO IT.
There is so much work that goes into performing. And I’ve never performed before. Karaoke in front of drunken strangers doesn’t count.
Here's an example of fan dancing. This is Nasty Canasta, performing to a rather unique choice of "music"... (excuse the moron who blocks the camera with his head mid-way)