Strip, Shimmy, Smile: How I Became A Burlesque Dancer

A 19th Century art form? A political statement? An emotional awakening? Burlesque is what you make of it...
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A 19th Century art form? A political statement? An emotional awakening? Burlesque is what you make of it...

Marigold Rubber Gloves made the successful transition to high fashion.

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'Strip, shimmy and smile!' - Are a burlesquer's staple moves misogynistic, feminist, or who-damn-cares-ist? My curious mind and adventurous spirit led me down the route of burlesque dancer in September last year, and, though I'm taking an extended break, I've never looked back.

The archaic 19th Century artful, mocking striptease show. Why is it back with such a bang? Why do modern women love watching, and performing it so much? Empowerment, fun, comedy, love of theatre, cabaret, self-expression, conveying a political or art-based inspiration, liberation, ecstasy, or just pure damn curiosity – these are all reasons you should try burlesque. Yes, you! Man or woman! Slinky and svelte or carrying a couple of extra pounds and a few dimples! One of my favourite burlesque dancers is the curvy, bouncy, delicious Effie Vescent. I recommend checking her out. Google her, book her for a birthday party. Oh my god, that's such a good idea.

The key is to take what you want from it, be in control and do it for you no-one else. If you can make a career of it, then wow, go you. I couldn't. I had a full-time job and was working damn hard at my other – well, main – career: being a journalist. This was my escapism, my glamour, my vice, my awkward-silence-filler. Hey, it was my hobby, like any other. You like horse-riding? I was into burlesque.

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I was lucky to have very good friends and excellent mentors when I got into burlesque initially. I was in toy town. What prop can I use here? What new routine shall I come up with this week? What shall I remove and in what order? What music shall I use? What colour shall I theme my outfit? Just me, or a group show? I am not a trained dancer. I am a curvy size 10-12 extrovert with a lot of boxes to tick before I die. I was looking for something new to do and – after signing up for the London Marathon – I even used it to make money for my charity. Yes, I raised my £1,500 for disabled children and, yes, I finished the run. 5 hours 1 minute. I could tell you were dying to know.

Burlesque is not a route for an insecure young girl trying to make sense of her body. It didn't work for renowned socialist, student rights activist, and important journalist Laurie Penny. She's been very open about it and hers is an important lesson to be learned. She's older than me for god's sake, but her experience was very different. I'm still trying to figure out the politics, but ultimately I feel empowered and enriched from having been a burlesque dancer. I feel wiser to have known it. And I'm still a fan, Polly Rae, I take my hat off to you. This duchess of the dance has made her act a god-damn West End show.

Being a burlesque babe takes work. I got into vintage lingerie, started hot-rollering my hair, painted on permanent red lipstick, wore vintage dresses. I even adopted a vintage night-life, discovering some of the most thrilling underground cabaret acts. Stand out favourites from the London cabaret scene include comedic genius duo EastEnd Cabaret, made up of Bernadette Byrne and Victor Victoria, and Frisky and Mannish, a covers band like no other and a huge hit at the Fringe this year. The Brickhouse on Brick Lane do an amazing variety night.

Burlesque Idol at Madame Jojo's – yes, you guessed the concept at 'hello' – is one for YOU! It's where you can pick up a feather fan and start swanning around like you came up with it. People always ask me 'How did you get into it?' - Here's the golden nugget: I put on a corset, and then I TOOK IT OFF. It's that simple. You just start. I went to see my first burlesque show in London last September, the following week I was IN the same show. Alone. In a competition. I came second. Boom.

Being a burlesque babe takes work. I got into vintage lingerie, started hot-rollering my hair, painted on permanent red lipstick, wore vintage dresses. I even adopted a vintage night-life, discovering some of the most thrilling underground cabaret acts.

Ok, that was pretty intense, let me backtrack. So I've always liked burlesque; or more specifically, the girl in the deckchair on the seaside postcard. The allure of the 1940s. Coiffure, tailoring & red lipstick. Bettie Page. It's how I wished I could define my style in my awkward teens of 'fitting in'. It's how I wanted to express my sexuality.

Itching to find a burlesque scene for years, I finally discovered one after moving to London. I met up with an old friend of mine, somehow we'd both ended up in the big smoke, she was a costume designer specialising in showgirls. Jodie took me to a burlesque night at renowned venue Madame Jojo's. It was then, gripped by the presence an ordinary girl could posses when up on that stage, a caricature of a vintage vixen, I was hooked.

Immediately after the show I begged the maitre d' to take me up. 'I've got what it takes' I told her. Calm down dear, I could hear her thinking. A competition was taking place next month, hosted by her company House of Burlesque. Someone had just dropped out and the spot was mine if I wanted it. Seven days. Start from scratch. Was I up to the task? I could see the edging doubt on her expression, but I was determined to make glad she picked me.

Gripped by the presence an ordinary girl could posses when up on that stage, a caricature of a vintage vixen, I was hooked.

First came the name. 'Lolita' was the first half – the girl in the book is notorious; she's mocking, taunting, naughty, sexy, grotesque: definition of burlesque. Part deux is a must for any showgirl, mine was to be 'du Nuit' – by night. Makes sense, it's French, it worked. Lolita du Nuit.

Second I needed costume. It started with a corset. I'd bought an underbust, raw silk, midnight blue, steel boned number from Playful Promises, adorned with intricate black lace. The staple of my outfit, I could decorate the rest around it. I bought a gorgeous faux-vintage lingerie set from What Katie Did. Fishnet stockings, long lace gloves and high black heels, I was dressed.

I knew what the song was to be immediately, so that part was effortless. 'Down in Mexico' by The Coasters. Why, it's the one of the sexiest tunes of our time. It's Stuntman Mike's lapdance song in Tarantino's 'Deathproof'. The whining, winding saxophone and Carl Gardner's husky, slightly pervy voice – every time I hear it, it makes me want to strip.

The routine was choreographed one drunken night a girl-friend and I shared a bottle of rose. It was three nights prior to my debut. We were laughing, crying, singing and dancing; high on adrenaline and my stupidity for taking this task on. I'd had some prior knowledge of moves and shakes to make, as I'd taken a short course in the art of burlesque two years previously, at the tender age of seventeen. We came up with something relatively basic (I didn't want to be removing a stocking with opposing toe while in the 'candle' position just yet) - but it was still pretty kickass.

On the night, a Friday, I got a group of friends down and round a table. Dressed to the nines I mingled with the crowd and won some spectator hearts. After, and only after, drinking a bottle and a half of wine, I decided I was in fact going to go through with it.

Wobbly and half naked, I placed my shaking hands onto the back of the chair – my prop for the night – and waited for my cue... 'What am I doing...' I thought, as my body started making moves it had intuitively learned. I turned to face the crowd and the spotlight was warm and comfortingly blinding. I just smiled and got on with it, seducing everyone in the room.

Wobbly and half naked, I placed my shaking hands onto the back of the chair – my prop for the night – and waited for my cue... 'What am I doing...' I thought....I just smiled and got on with it, seducing everyone in the room.

The performance was one of the biggest highs I've experienced. I was drunk, I did falter once or twice, very slightly, but I got a breathtaking cheer at the end. Watching the videos back it's still one of my most captivating performances.

Ladies, encourage you I will, each and every one of you, to explore this art. Even if you just go to one show. Find out for yourselves, discover it. And If you want to get yourself up on that stage, you need to be, or be able to get, confident with your sexual allure. It's about the wink, the cheek, the charm, the flash, the 'erotic capital' the Daily Mail likes promoting. Enjoy it, embrace it if you want it, you'll get such a kick out of it.