Last night I participated in an introduction to burlesque class taught by the fabulous Tempest Rose, one of the famous Kitten Club kittens. A group of eight women gathered at Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium off Hoxton Square. Most of us only really knew that Burlesque involves beautiful costumes, sometimes strip tease and stage performances, all done by very sexy women. We spent the evening learning to shimmy, and bump and grind, learning to use our bodies and faces to convey our emotions, and learning about the costumes and props of burlesque. (I’m pretty sure Sh! had a last-minute run on nipple tassels at the end of the evening.) The class culminated in our ‘graduation exercise’ — a glove strip-tease. The glove was the only item of clothing removed during the evening. (Unless you count a pair of VERY uncomfortable, nose-bleed stilettos that got tossed in the corner after a few attempts at bump and grind.)
I had no idea a simple glove could be such a sensual tool, nor that it could convey so much. Tempest told us that though strip tease is often apart of burlesque, a burlesque performer never takes off everything. In fact, a burlesque performer views the items of her costume as props rather than clothing. She said she begins a performance with some props, and by the end of the performance, she has less props.
The literal meaning of burlesque is to ‘send up,’ or to make a joke of. Its literary forms can be traced back to Chaucer’s bawdy Canterbury Tales. According to Wikipedia, Burlesque is a humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody and sometimes grotesque exaggeration. Burlesque sometimes parodies the higher performance arts – ballet, opera, poetry. It often, parodies the male and female relationship, and usually at the expense of the blokes. The form is often associated with a variety show and striptease.
What makes burlesque unique, according to Tempest, is that female sensuality and the female form are always at the centre of burlesque. What I found most striking about the evening, as I did the first time I saw Tempest introducing an audience to burlesque at Sh! Portobello, was the sensual female power that is the driving force of burlesque. That power was the reason I wanted to learn more. Tempest told us that in burlesque, the woman is always in control. It is in her power to reveal or conceal what she chooses in her own time. When curves and female sensuality are emphasized, the result is not only beautiful, but also very powerful.
Tempest demonstrated to us how female control in burlesque is shown in the stances and the movements of the performer. She showed us how the angular, sensual stances emphasized in burlesque showcase the female form, emphasizing sensuality and curves. The result is an art form that is 100% female powered. And the sense of that power appeals to both men and women.
She contrasted that to what a stripper might do at a strip club, where the stances are open and straight on, emphasizing what is between the legs. The movements suggest the sex act itself, and emphasizing a man’s point of view.
It was a girl-powered evening, with each of us showcasing our own unique female sensuality. There was pink fizz, silky gloves, corsets, lace, and laughter, and at the centre of it all we were in control. As a woman writing erotica for women, I like that a lot.