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.