I started taking burlesque dance classes after a breakup. I loved dance classes as a kid, and I now had more free time and figured it would give me a sexy new hobby to discuss with future dates. I didn't think about the amount of anxiety it would cause me. I just wanted to become an expert in the art of the tease.
Burlesque dancing is not stripping. Clothes are removed slowly, slyly and often with a story that just happens to climax in a g-string and pasties. The titillation comes from removing the clothes, not the dancing that happens once they're off. But to me, the difference is self-awareness. A burlesque dancer is willing to play games with her sexuality in order to entertain you. She will not only look you in the eye while removing her bra, she'll probably wink. She knows you're in on it, too.
My first class was terrifying. My teacher, Ms. Exotic World 2005, expected us to dance in heels, but that was nothing compared to the pain of having to vamp in front of a mirror, giving myself the eye and bumping my hips dangerously. I giggled uncomfortably when she told me to jiggle my cleavage, blushed when she told me to look up and watch myself dance. I left that night thinking that it was too embarrassing and that I was done.
But, at home alone, I vamped.Sucked Into Seduction
Over the next couple of days, however, I found myself staring at my reflection in the mirror as if it were someone I wanted to seduce. I started going back every week, and I was hooked. It was an amazing workout, and I enjoyed being so ridiculously sexual without actually having sex. It was freeing to separate the two.
I learned how to really see myself and figured out what movements made me look sexiest, as opposed to just copying the bland, open-mouthed girls writhing in videos. I bonded with classmates over who had the best hair toss or the best walk. We all bought gorgeous lingerie that only we saw. My thumbs were rubbed raw as we practiced removing g-strings over and over, and we all came down with "Burlesquer's Elbow", from taking off bras too many times in a row.
From Private Dancer to Public Vamper?
Months went by, and we continued our private showgirl act each week. I loved watching us dance as one unit, and even though we were bumping and grinding, I felt like a kid again. To me, we were living in a fantasy world where grown women got to dance like we were at a slumber party ... until the day our fearless leader told us that we would be performing in her annual student showcase. Somehow, the idea that this event would ever take place was completely lost on me, though clearly not on my classmates. They were already coordinating outfits and picking out names for themselves. I was confused, maybe even a little hurt. This was a slumber party -- it wasn't for anyone else! Could I actually dance nearly naked in front of strangers?
I took a week off from class and thought. I felt like a team with my fellow dancers, and I loved how great it felt to complete a difficult number with them. But as much as I respected the burlesquers who take it down to a g-string and pasties, I didn't think I could do it. My sexuality had finally become a thing that belonged to me more than to anyone else; I wasn't ready to give it up so soon.
What I Really Learned From Class
I emailed my class the next day and broke the news that I would not be dancing with them in the student showcase. I told them all my concerns and how I knew I'd been wishy-washy, and it started a thoughtful email discussion about the nature of burlesque dancing and how scary and vulnerable it felt.
But I noticed that all of the other girls were saying things like "Yes, it's scary, but I've just got to dance for people." And that was the difference between them and me. They wanted to dance for other people, and I, ultimately, did not. So they went on without me.
I guess my biggest tease was learning the art of burlesque without ever actually performing it. Some of my classmates have gone on to become fairly successful burlesque dancers, but I remain happy dancing with myself.
Emily Gordon is a Lemondrop contributor, blogger and journalist who lives in New York.