To many, burlesque make evoke images of Moulin Rouge, nudity, stripping, fancy outfits and a general feeling of niche-ness. And yet, burlesque has invaded the mainstream like never before.
Burlesque is a form of expression and performance that holds onto its 17th century theatrical roots. This art form can be funny, charming, spooky or just plain sexy — it all depends on who is dancing.
UBC Rec has been offering burlesque classes since 2012 and UBC Dance Horizons since 2015. In both cases, it is one of the most popular classes. The taboo of being sexy in public has been partially broken, but some stigma still exists. At UBC, stripping is not included in either class environment except for the eventual removal of a cardigan. Regardless, it is still a very physical experience. As with everything sexual, different people feel different levels of comfort. Burlesque in a classroom environment is also about being able to find a point of balance between comfort and discomfort.
According to Jordan Chin, the instructor for Dance Horizon’s burlesque class, there are usually a lot of giggles when showcasing more risqué choreographies. She finds this reaction completely normal, as it’s a part of destroying the stigma around touching one’s own skin and feeling pleasure in it. The more that people dance, the more they realize that they are allowed to move in certain ways without judgement. Burlesque is one of the few outlets that UBC students, and people in general, have to express and explore their sexuality in a group setting — that can be liberating.
There are no rules regarding who you can become in this dance style. Choreography works as a framework for individuals to fill in with a character.
As Kirby Rae, the instructor for UBC Rec, put it, “Burlesque is so popular because for one hour, the participants can escape their day and explore another side of themselves outside of their everyday persona.”
Burlesque feels good on the body because it allows a raw physicality and vulnerability not found anywhere else. It is an immersive experience that has to be felt fully in order to be enjoyed.
“Students have told me that the sensuality explored in the class has spiced up their sex lives as they leave the studio feeling energized, confident in their bodies and a tad feisty,” said Kirby.
The thing about burlesque is that it is not just “sexy dancing.” It is more of an open door to explore different ways to be and feel sexy: whether it be comedic, sultry or even political. It allows for participation regardless of body type, gender or any other identity. Some women use burlesque as an act of reclaiming their bodies, while others just think it’s fun.
Depending on the instructor, lessons can look very different from place to place, even within UBC. The uniqueness and individuality of burlesque allow it to be adaptable to anyone, sometimes so malleable it’s hard to define what the style really entails. That is part of its beauty: the freedom to be anything.