Full of giddy excitement, I slid the elbow-length pink gloves on.
I was ready.
In Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood, I strutted and danced as a (beginner) burlesque dancer would.
The summer after my freshman year of college was the perfect time to challenge and explore myself in new ways. For $15, I took a class at the Dallas School of Burlesque. This experience was not on my bucket list but, once the conversation at my summer internship arose, I was in.
Burlesque was brought from London to New York in the 1840s. Originally, burlesque gave women a platform to perform parodical shows, confronting patriarchy while wearing risqué costumes. 20th century burlesque shows, like in the Cher and Christina Aguilera movie, “Burlesque,” added striptease and eccentric costumes.
I, on the other hand, arrived wearing athletic leggings and a tank top. My friend, Isa, and I coordinated, texting each other about what to wear. And, for anyone thinking, “Yikes, stripping,” chill. The only pieces of clothing that came off our bodies were the pink gloves provided to us.
When I could finally find a parking space and shove the $2.59 cents worth of change into the meter, I walked past bars and tattoo parlors looking for anything resembling a burlesque school. After I realized I parked a block too far, I found my friend frantically waving me down.
Inside, there was a giant pink curtain shielding the makeshift dance studio from the storefront. I pulled back the curtain and realized that, including Isa, we were only a class of four. Good, less embarrassing. A large mirror landscaping the front wall reflected my curious and searching face.
The instructor was a young, voluptuous woman with dyed white hair, wearing leggings that hugged her hips. She walked as if every step was on a stage or runway. Her smile assured us that our dancing or sexy strutting wasn’t taboo, but a claim to our femininity.
The class was extremely basic, but informative. I learned how to strut in three different ways and the best techniques for pulling a glove off in the most alluring way. We practiced our routines to steady, sensual songs, including Beyoncé’s “Rocket” and “Partition” and Marilyn Monroe’s “I Want to be Loved by You.”
I didn’t shy away from my reflection in the mirror when I stalked across the wooden dance floor. I met my eyes confidently, enjoying my hour of being a burlesque dancer. I spent the rest of the hour gliding around the room, holding ostrich feathers and giggling with Isa. I didn’t want my class to end. We left elated, seeking out pie to end our night of burlesque dancing.
I didn’t take this class for the pleasure of anyone besides myself. The idea that burlesque and stripping only feeds the male fantasy and a social system built to objectify women is narrow-minded. I felt in control of my body without subjecting it to the desires of anyone else.
I respected my sexuality by acknowledging it, and I respected myself by taking the class for the singular reason of wanting to do it.
Photo Credit: Kristina Valdez