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It's been a little more than one year since I embarked on my burlesque journey. What began as a casual Wednesday night workout has blossomed into an intensive training opportunity with an expanding community of women from all backgrounds. It is as much a part of my identity now as my occupation as a writer or my love of pizza.
My obsession with burlesque started with pin-ups. During my teenage years, I discovered the Vargas brand carried by Hot Topic—based on Alberto Vargas' vintage pin-up paintings. I'd marvel at the designs in person, then dive into further research online once I returned home from the mall. From there I came across Bettie Page, the notorious pin-up model, fetish pioneer, and early Playboy "Playmate of the Year." What a world!
Of course I also became well acquainted with global great Josephine Baker, who left behind the racist climate in Jim Crow America to shine as a showgirl in France. This later led me to unearthing even more diverse representation in modern burlesque beauties like Sugar Cane Jane—a Burlesque Hall of Fame performer from Oakland, Calif.
Burlesque as an art form can be traced back to the 1840s, but burlesque as we know it today was popularized in the 1950s by the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand, and has been reborn through Neo-Burlesque with the help of masters like Dita Von Teese. Solo performers combine their personalized style of dance, costume, props, humor—sometimes political, often sexual—all in the name of striptease.
"When in doubt, boobs out."
This was my first lesson at Fannie Sinclair's Booty Etiquette and Charm School, spoken by Ms. Sinclair herself. Fannie's classes explore all styles of burlesque with her main focus on building confidence and body positivity. Students have the option to study their choice of floor work, props, and strut choreography (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night, respectively)—with a Thursday night class dedicated strictly to striptease opening in 2019.
If "it's not the move, but how you get to it" defines dance, then I think "it's not the reveal, but how you build up to it," perfectly describes the goal of burlesque performance. The key to achieving a successful striptease is giving the audience something to look forward to. Every second from the moment you step onstage is an opportunity to showcase the intricate rhinestone details on your costume, the length of your legs, or your cheeky smile accompanied by a wink. This is how I learned the importance of intention.
Being a somewhat spiritual gal I was familiar with the term "intention" in the context of setting a clear goal before commencing rituals, readings, and other magical work, but hadn't quite gathered how it could help me in other areas of life. That is, until our latest Halloween-themed Seductive Seance show at Crenshaw Yoga and Dance Studio in Los Angeles.
"Place your palms down first, not your fingers," Fannie directed as we fine tuned our final number to Santana's "Black Magic Woman." Turns out, grabbing part of your body by leading with your palms then uncurling your fingers creates a way sexier visual than haphazardly plopping a hand against yourself. Slow, intentional movements also serve as instructions for your audience—letting them know where to look and for how long.
There is nothing sexy about watching someone shake under bright lights unsure of themselves as they rush through choreography, no matter how beautiful or provocatively dressed they are. The ability to express our sexuality in a positive way comes from personal agency and that agency allows us to set our own intentions.
What do you intend to do with these few moments of glory? Do you intend to thrill your audience with pyrotechnics or would you rather a glamorous finale covered in glitter? Do you intend to bring them to tears with a comedic number? Maybe you're like me during my first solo—you just wanna kick ass, and intend to do so through extensive preparation.
Practice is the perfect place to explore your mind, connect with your body, and discover how you want to express your own individual intention. For example, there are a million ways to remove a glove. You can build anticipation by starting with one finger, then slowly tugging on the rest. You can get straight to the point by yanking the entire thing in one go. You can even use your teeth (or feet). Finding the right fit for you and your act is a powerful and personal experience that differs from more traditional forms of dance.
As we enter the new year, it's crucial that we review the goals we've achieved, fallen short of, or completely dropped the ball on in 2018. Only through proper reassessment can we revamp our goals with clearer intentions, thus resulting in greater outcomes.
We can do this by watching performance videos while taking notes on our stage presence and technique that can be cleaned up. We can evaluate past projects to determine what steps we should take to improve our next endeavor. We can also use this time to take a moment to step away from it all.
Ask yourself whether the things that take up most of your time are things you actually love and believe in. If they are not, set your intentions on pursuing more of your passions today.
Maybe your passion is burlesque. Maybe your passion is illustrating, playing an instrument, or helping others. Whatever it is: identify it, set your intention, then watch success follow.
Sally Rand makes her mark on burlesque history with her iconic "Bubble Dance."
Sugar Cane Jane pays tribute to vintage burlesque styles with a new school attitude.