Earning my tassels

Burlesque's revival has been going on for some time, but, sick of enjoying the spectacle vicariously, The Skinny sent Rose Lindgren off to learn how to 'shoogle'

Feature by Rose Lindgren | 10 Jun 2007

There's 'lift'. There's 'shoogle'. There's 'squeeze', and there's 'jiggle'. Or maybe in your case 'tsunami'! Is the front row drooling yet?

Gypsy Charms*, co-founder of the Academy of Striptease and Burlesque and our energetic teacher, demonstrated each verb vigorously while we followed along. Miss Clara Beau, the aforementioned 'tsunami', proudly imagined waves pouring over her rapt audience from her gorgeously earth-shaking shoogle. We all giggled as we jiggled in front of the warped mirrors lining the back wall of the Britannia Panopticon, the UK's oldest surviving music hall.

Burlesque is now everywhere. Whether on telly, in a club, or at the theatre, most people have encountered the recent revival of the form. But seeing a performance just isn't the same as participating, and mastering your own moves. Who takes that further step and why? I joined a four session introductory course through the Ministry of Burlesque to find out.

The Ministry of Burlesque, affectionately known as the MoB, is an online community of burlesque performers, recruiters, club managers, agents and general aficionados. Founded by Kittie Klaw in 2001, MoB has successfully created a vibrant resource for anyone interested in burlesque in the UK. Of course, the MoB is not the only source of burlesque lessons in Scotland - Club Noir offers one-day workshops in Glasgow and there are weekly burlesque dance classes at Dancebase in Edinburgh, taught by Gypsy Charms.

The course I took was based in Glasgow at the Britania Panopticon, a treasure of a performance space situated bizarrely above Mitchell's Amusements in the Merchant City section of Glasgow. The teachers of the course, Gypsy Charms and Viva Misadventure, are both professional dancers who have known each other for years. They parted ways when Viva flitted off to France to be a professional showgirl for eight years. She explained, "when I 'retired' and returned to Edinburgh, I was thrilled to discover the world of burlesque had taken the UK by storm. Burlesque has many parallels with my cabaret background; it was a natural step to use my dance training, experience and love of all things theatrical - not to mention a penchant for tassel twirling!."

Does everyone who gets involved in burlesque have a dancing background? My classmates willingly took an informal poll. Out of about nine regular attendees, only two had dance training or significant performing experience. Reasons for joining the class ranged from inspiration from classic pin-up girls like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page to getting over a relationship break-up.

My favourite story is that of Clara Beau, who divulged, "I had a stroke about two months ago. I felt that I needed something that was only for me. Something that would make me feel alive despite the way I was feeling inside. I have always had an interest in erotic arts: burlesque was a tame version and a really good laugh at the same time. The number of people who think I'm dancing round a room naked was really funny to hear about."

But the most popular reason, something almost everyone mentioned, was their love for dressing-up. Starla DeVille summed it up best: "I love the spectacle - the dressing up, the glamour, the glitter. And that it's sexy but not sleazy."

Costumes and props are a huge part of the burlesque essential toolkit. At the end of the class, everyone named their favourite prop or piece of costume: beautiful fabric fans, glittery corsets, ribbons, old-fashioned bistro chairs, pink ostrich feather handmade fans, frilly vintage lingerie, six inch heels that "make any woman's legs look like skyscrapers", seamed stockings donated by What Katie Did, and of course sparkly, tasseled pasties.

Pasties opened a new world for me. Tassels can come in as many shapes, sizes and colours as the women who wear them. At one of the classes Daiquiri Dusk, who has been making her own costume pieces for nearly a year, came to show off her wares: dazzling sets of tassels set with genuine Swarovski crystals – made to order.

On the last day of class, before we announced our chosen 'burly' names and performed in small groups for our classmates, we finally had the chance to learn to use our tassels. After four weeks of getting to know each other, we were all brave and unabashed about our shoogles and jiggles. If there's one message I'd like readers to remember, it's this: unrestrained jiggling is quite astonishingly empowering. Go to.

*Throughout the article, I use my classmates' and teachers' chosen burlesque names - because it's fun and it helps keep the tassel twirling relatively anonymous.

http://www.britanniapanopticon.org, www.glasgowmerchantcity.net/britanniapanopticontrust.htm