Challenge: Show Me How You Burlesque

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Words || Jasmine Phillips

Picking a Challenge for this Issue proved a little more Challenging (ha) than we expected. For starters, I had two weeks to complete whatever it was (when we usually give me three or four). We floated a few different ideas – reviewing sex toys? Performing a strip tease (“James, for the last time I’m going to be working in community services”)? Visiting a kink dungeon? 

We finally settled on an art that I had recently brushed with – the art of the Sexy Dance. 

If you’re a keen Grapeshot reader, you might know that I already attend ballet on a semi-casual basis. (That is, weekly until I get stressed about assignments). You might be asking; “but Jas, surely dancing isn’t that much of a challenge for you?”

You, my dear reader, are entirely incorrect. 

Sure, I did classical ballet for eight years when I was a child. I did five years of tap and jazz, and I danced my little heart out at every primary school concert we ever hosted. 

But I am not a dancer. 

When the choreographer for the a cappella group got told I had the solo for our Nationals entry song, I’m sure she cried tears of relief. No teaching me to hip bop at 30% of my regular energy. No tired and repeated exclamations that jazz hands should only wiggle fingers not arms. She choreographed the whole thing around me standing in the middle and doing my own thing. 

I don’t want to say I’m worse when it comes to sexy dancing. But I will admit that my girlfriend definitely laughed the last time I gave it a shot. 

So, you’ll agree that there are two primary issues with me performing a sexy dance. 

One: I am not sexy. 

Two: I cannot dance. 

So it goes that when James and I began scrolling through a list of recommended sexy dancing classes offered in Sydney, I (a person with a very high embarrassment tolerance) was starting to blush. 

There were few schools and classes we were recommended, and even less that were suitable for our particular needs. That is, I’m broke as a joke with $1.03 in my bank account right now, and I don’t have the disposable income to register for a $175 cabaret series. To be fair, that was the price for a series of classes so it’s actually not that exxy. However, I only needed to register for one session, and that particular class didn’t do casual drop ins. 

So, Burlesque at my regular dance school it was, I sighed. 

The Burlesque class at Hills Adult Dance is full of a range of women. At the beginning of last year, it was at full capacity, with over thirty women enrolled. You have to be over eighteen to join the class, but beyond that there is no pattern or trend with attendees. The oldest women are in their late fifties, and the youngest are newly adolescent. The rest of us are scattered across the spectrum in a constellation of different decades. 

Heels aren’t compulsory, per se, although they’re certainly encouraged. Other than that, we’re urged to “wear something comfortable”. 

You might argue that comfortable is different for all people – and I would certainly agree. But again, as a keen Grapeshot reader may already know, I am not exactly a shy person. 

I turn up to the class essentially in my lingerie: black French knickers, six-inch platform army boots, and thigh-high stockings that read “bang bang” up the back of my legs. Even my (fairly flat) ass peeks out of the knickers in a sexy sorta way. 

Britt raises her eyebrows when she drops me, but she doesn’t make a comment (either because she’s a wonderfully supportive girlfriend or because she’s used to my shenanigans by now).

It’s freezing before we warm up; not only am I standing there in my undergarments, but the dance studio is a large, industrial shed (one that’s been extremely nicely renovated with permanent dance flooring and professional ballerina barres, but sheds by nature aren’t well insulated). 

The situation leaves me feeling, for lack of a less literal metaphor, naked.

The instructor is young and slim. She reminds me of a girl I went to high school with. They have a similar energy; a friendly and bubbly, destined to be a celebrity type.

Burlesque warmups begin in a fairly similar way to aerobics or commercial jazz; peppy stretching to music. Aside from the slight stiffness of the hips and glutes, this is fairly easy. I shake off the tightness in my muscles and prepare to go into a routine. 

Joke’s on me: warm-up is not finished. 

“We’re going to go for a little strut, ladies,” she beams at us, giving a demonstration that manages to be both intimidating and unhelpful in its effortlessness. “Don’t overthink it – just feel it!”

There is a floor-to-ceiling mirror that makes up an entire wall of the studio. I’m not sure it’s possible for me to see myself and not overthink it. 

I’m not about to dive deep for body image with you. Rest assured that, as a woman, I have my fair share of insecurities. 

This is multiplied by the fact that my very Filipino family are, by nature, kinda weight-obsessed. Not only was my cousin literally nicknamed “fatty” in tagalog from age four, but I grew used to aunties repeatedly slapping my stomach at Christmas time to remind me that I’d put on a few more kilos than what they were happy with. 

I’m fairly certain that, as a reasonably confident and outgoing person, I’m not alone in being intimidated by the concept of watching myself strut in a giant mirror (to Meghan Trainor of all things).