Why burlesque is now a risqué business!
A fun new way of keeping fit is proving so popular that there's even a waiting list to join one Notts group. If the thought of doing dance leaves you flummoxed, then you obviously haven't tried burlesque. RIAH MATTHEWS reports
RAUNCHY, risqué and definitely not for the demure young lady.
Stars like Dita Von Teese have made burlesque into an erotic art form. But you don't have to be a top international model to enjoy it.
Now burlesque classes are growing in popularity – and perfectly ordinary girls are finding out that it's actually great fun.
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Berni Meehan, from Underwood, holds weekly burlesque dance classes at Hayley Conference Centre, in Eastwood, and teaches the ladies how to strut their stuff in style.
About 30 girls attend the class each week, when Berni teaches them routines to songs like 'Hey Big Spender' and 'Don't Cha' by the Pussycat Dolls. Berni's class is a way for them to learn the burlesque moves, but without the saucy striptease that goes with it.
Berni says: "I heard burlesque classes were becoming popular and I really like the style of dance, so I thought I'd start my own. I've been a professional dancer and teacher for more than nine years and I knew I'd enjoy it.
"When the class first started a lot of the girls came in wearing trainers and tracksuits and stood at the back looking sheepish. Those same girls are now at the front of the class in high heels and hot pants."
Helen Clarke, 27, a secretary from Eastwood, goes to Berni's burlesque class and is shocked at how much she enjoys it.
Helen says: "Before I started doing the classes I thought burlesque might be a bit risqué for me, but I've enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. When I'm doing the class I feel like a proper dancer and afterwards I'm buzzing.
"When I first saw the moves I didn't think I'd ever learn them, but Berni teaches it really well – and before I know it, I'm doing it!
"I go with my sister, Katie, and we have so much fun. We text the other girls before the class to see what they're going to wear. Now, when I'm in a club on Saturday night and hear one of the songs we practise to, I can't wait to dance."
But while some are using burlesque as a way to have a giggle and keep fit, there are also many professional dancers in the city.
One of them is 27-year-old "Scarlett Daggers", a professional performer for the last three years who is resident at the Pitty Patt club burlesque night in the Bodega Social Club.
She originally discovered it when a friend asked her to pose as a burlesque dancer as part of her photography degree. She enjoyed the experience so much she joined the local burlesque troop, the De Ville Dolls.
"My character has evolved over the years – Scarlett is definitely louder, cheekier and more colourful than me," she says. "When I first started doing it I was terrified, but I just took a deep breath and tried not to panic.
"A lot of people think burlesque is sleazy, but we have a saying that it's 'tease, not sleaze'. It's more about glamour and comedy.
"For example, a lot of my routines are cheeky and funny, while being a little bit naughty. It's sexy, but in an elegant and old-fashioned way."
Scarlett has many different dances she regularly performs, including the 'Pretty in Pink Parasol Tease', in which she wears a hot pink corset and stockings and cheekily removes items of clothing while hiding behind the parasol.
She also performs the popular 'Balloon Pop' dance in an outfit made of red balloons, which she asks the audience to pop with feathers.
The style of Scarlett's dances is known as 'Cheesecake', which is cute and sexy while still being all very tongue-in-cheek.
While Scarlett hasn't had much trouble as a dancer, she has known the odd occasion when members of the audience have become a bit boisterous.
"Once at the Pitty Patt night, a couple of lads were being loud and causing trouble, but I managed to get hold of them before the bouncers did. I think they were surprised to see little old me grab them and tell them to leave!"
She's found that her personal life can often mingle with her professional one, although she tries to keep them separate.
"I've definitely changed my overall look since I've been involved in burlesque. Now I always wear heels and quite a lot of make-up. Without a doubt, I feel more feminine and glamorous.
"As well as doing around eight shows a month, I still work full-time and I like to keep my identity a secret.
"I've known a lot of people on the scene for years and many of us don't know each other's real names."
Scarlett believes the art of burlesque dancing can be helpful for anyone who wants to boost their self-confidence.
"It doesn't matter what shape or size you are, you just need sass to pull it off. If you decide to go to a burlesque class then everyone is in the same position and you can build up a great camaraderie. The key is not to take yourself too seriously."
Berni Meehan's classes are in Eastwood every Thursday from 7.45pm. Burlesque workshops are also available through Eternal Spirits, on Peter's Church Walk, Nottingham.