This has turned out to be a really long post. Please stick with it. If you do find that it is too long then comment and let me know. I really appreciate your feedback as it will help me to gauge just how long posts should be before I have to break them up into multiple posts.
Last Friday I drove up to Bristol to have my first ever Burlesque lesson. It was a one-to-one lesson and not a class. I had considered doing a class but decided that it might not be fair on the rest of the students as they would probably all be biological females so instead I booked a one-to-one lesson.
Its a more expensive way to do it but it does mean that I get an hour of instruction that is personalised to me. Maybe after I've had a few lessons and have learnt a routine that I'm able to perform for others then I'll think about joining a class.
Up until Thursday I still didn't know where the lesson was going to be. Repeated phone calls to P, the instructor, failed to get an answer. Eventually, however, I got a response to an email telling me where to turn up for the lesson. The place sounded idea as its used by all sorts of performers, is central and if I'm early gives me the chance to wander around the shops.
That email was soon followed up by another informing me that our room had been double booked. It turns out that the group that run the place are busy preparing for a performance at the moment so there had been a bit of a mix up. Fortunately P has a friend who works from home and offered the use of the room she uses with clients.
I'd been told to wear something loose and if I wanted to bring heels to work in then that was fine.
There was very little chance that I wouldn't take heels to work in so right after making the booking I was in Brantano buying a suitable pair of heels. Not too high a heel as I wanted to be able to move in them, not too thin a heel as I didn't want to lose my balance and sprain and ankle. In the end I chose a pair of 2 inch, sturdy heel shoes that fastened with a buckle.
As I'm keeping quiet to the family about the dance lessons I packed my bag discretely with my shoes and a few other things. My cover story for going to Bristol was that I was attending a lecture and would be back at lunchtime. I got dressed and slipped a pair of leggings on under my jeans. A man's tee-shirt completed the outfit.
On my way to Bristol I popped into a local supermarket and picked up a couple of ladies tee-shirts, one of which, I changed into for the lesson. Not in front of P I hasten to add.
As the lesson was at 10am I managed to avoid the rush hour traffic and made good time arriving with hardly any time to spare. P's friend offered us a coffee. I love her house, its huge. I would so love to have a place like it. Hmm, maybe one of these days if I win the lottery!
While the coffee was brewing P and told us about a hen party that she'd been too where she'd been teaching the ladies how to dance. It had been great fun. P has done a few of these and invariably there is a male stripper turns up at the end. Now some might see Burlesque as a form of stripping but it isn't. Its much more fun than that. It does draw on the art of stripping for some things but it also draws on belly dancing, ballet and other forms of dance.
The young men that are working as strippers aren't necessarily employed for their artistic flair, especially if they are resorting to entertaining at hen parties. Most are obviously doing this for money and some you have to feel a little bit of sympathy for when they end up entertaining women old enough to be their mothers and may actually mother them more than enjoying the entertainment.
With coffees in hand P and myself adjourned to the room that we were going to use.
The room that we'd been loaned to practice in was great. It wasn't clinical and full of mirrors like the dance rooms you seen used on shows like Strictly Come Dancing or even the exercise rooms that you might get in some gyms. Not surprising really as this was a room that someone does all sorts of work in.
Before we started P and I sat down so that she could get a better idea of what I wanted to get out of the lessons. I told her that I had no preconceived ideas about what I wanted. I slipped over to my bag and took out the corset I bought recently and showed it to her.
“I'd love to learn a routine and to wear this while doing it” I told her.
The corset is gorgeous and will look really good if I can get the rest of the costume to go with it. What the costume will be I don't know yet!
After a short chat we were ready to go. P told me that I didn't have to practice in heels this first time but I shot over to my bag and dug mine out. I quickly removed my jeans as well so that I was in my leggings. Much more comfortable to wear.
P and I slipped into our shoes and we were ready to begin.
We started by working on my posture. P asked me to pull my belly button back towards my spine. Well the couple of Pilates lessons that I had really helped there as I was easily able to do that. Next I had to roll my shoulders up, back and then down in order to cause my chest to thrust forward. Finally I had to push my tush back. By the time I'd done this my figure was in a very sexy S shape.
Next P got me to place the toe of my right foot under the arch of my left foot and to bring my right knee across in front of my left leg. Finally she had me raise my arms above my head and strike a Showgirl pose.
I was able to do this all on the first attempt which P was really happy with.
Next I had to take 4 steps across the room and then strike a Showgirl pose. Again I was able to do this, OK, I was a little bit wobbly in my heels but I can remedy that. A few more practices and I knew what I was doing.
After this we moved on to a couple of other poses. P demonstrated a few poses and then told me to come up with a few poses of my own. While she nipped out of the room to see if she could find a CD player, as the one in the room was being temperamental, I thought about some poses.
When P returned she asked me to show her what I'd come up with and when I struck the poses she was delighted.
With that out of the way we again sat down for a chat. This time we talked about the three things that any Burlesque dancer needs to think about.
What was my character going to be like. There were three options, bawdy, demure and naïve. The first character would have been really interesting to portray but is so far from my usual personality that it would have been a real challenge in addition to concentrating on the dancing. Of the other two demure is closer to the normal me as I'm quite shy by nature and naïve is not too different but again would require a bit of acting to pull off, not as much as trying to be bawdy though.
In the end we decided that demure was the character to go with, although the other options are still there.
The second thing that needs to be thought about was which feature of your body is the one that you are going to use primarily. It doesn't have to be your best feature but one that you can tease the audience with.
In the past I've been told that I have good legs so I decided that would be the feature that I'd choose.
The final thing that P said I'd have to think about was a name. That was easy. I looked at her and told her that a friend had already given me a name. I told her that my Burlesque name was Jenna von Risque. P was pleased and told me that the name fitted with the demure character that we were going with.
With all of that covered we got back to practising.
My next challenge was to take 3 steps across the room, turn towards an imaginary audience and point my leg. I repeated this a couple of times.
P then rummaged in her bag and took out a couple of feather boas. I took one and she kept the other. I was shown various ways that a feather boa could be used. It was incredible the number of uses such a simple item could be put to.
Then came my next challenge. I had to repeat the walk, turn and point activity, only this time there was more to do.
Once I'd finished with pointing my leg I had to take the feather boa and run it down my leg while looking at the audience and making them believe that because I was running something expensive and luxurious over my legs then they too were luxurious and special. Once I'd done that I had to whirl the boa around my head before throwing it to one side.
The first time I did this the boa was all over the place. P suggested that I took hold of it somewhere in the middle in order to twirl it as it would make it shorter. Sure enough this was the case.
I practised this a few times before P added another element to it.
Once I'd run the boa over my leg I was to walk in a circle around the room before stopping and twirling then discarding the boa. Again I tried this a couple of times. My balance is still a little off in the heels but I didn't do to bad a job.
With the lesson coming to a close P showed me how to do chest and bum shimmies. I managed to do both quite well at the first attempt. When she asked me to a chest shimmy while leaning forward and then back I went to pieces as I lost my balance. Between now and the next lesson I have to practice leaning forward and backwards while wearing heels.
Of course I also have to practice the rest of what I was shown.
The final thing that P showed me was a way to move from almost a squatting position to a post with the arms held out in front of you while you rear is thrust back and you are bent over. I know its really difficult to describe without pictures but it was very simple to do. Especially when P said to imagine that I was holding a pole as I lifted myself up. She did point out that I might not want to hold my hands as if I was holding a pole as that would look really interesting as I lifted up.
With my hands face down and one on top of each other I struck the pose.
Just before I did though P asked me “have you ever done pole dancing?” When I shook my head she continued “you might want to try.” Now that is a thought. Me and a group of women doing pole dancing. I wonder what they would think of that. I might just think about it if there is a one off session on a class running locally to me.
At that point the lesson was at an end. P asked me if I had any long evening gloves. I haven't so she dug out some for me to try so that we could work out what size I needed. By next lesson I need to get a pair of my own. If I can get hold of my own boa before then it will be good. P is going to think about the routine that I'm going to learn based on what we did and the character to be portrayed. The music that we'll be practising to is My Heart Belongs to Daddy by David Rose, the composer who wrote The Stripper. We might need another song too depending on how long the routine ends up being.
Well that was my first Burlesque lesson but definitely the last.
A number of thoughts have gone through my mind since the lesson.
Firstly, that once I've taken a few lessons and have perfected and performed the routine then I would like to actually take a class with a group of women. If any of them are worried about have me in the class then I can turn up and do my routine for them to show what I've learnt and achieved.
Secondly, once I've got the routine to a standard that it is ready to be performed then I would like to book the room that hopefully we'll be practising in and invite a select group of people who know about my transitioning and also know about my taking up Burlesque. That means that I'd be inviting Lou, L (from work) and K (my friend who I told about my plans the other week). A small and select band. The other person that I would have to invite is Zee, she doesn't know about my dancing, yet, but will do before my next lesson. A small audience of four plus myself and P. I think that should be enough.
The final thing that went through my mind was that during all of the lesson I was completely relaxed and felt confident in what I was doing. It felt really natural to me to be doing those moves and poses. I've tried various things in the past, puppets because of working with the children's group at church, learning to play the guitar, drawing and even writing. Nothing has actually felt so right to me as what I was doing during that lesson. Maybe, just maybe I've actually found something that I might with practice actually be good at. I've thought about performing for an audience, bigger than 4 people that is. Although the thought does make me feel a little uneasy because I am a shy person my nature, if I could overcome the obvious disadvantages I have, i.e. I don't have a women's figure (not yet anyway) and at present would be seen as a man in drag (there has to be a way to come up with a routine that gets around that and allows me to do female Burlesque), then I would really love to give it a go and perform live in a show.
My next lesson is at the beginning of December and I'll update about the routine and what else I've learned then. The couple of days around then are going to be really interesting as following that i'll be going to see Lou to have my hair done, highlights put in and hopefully cut and styled into a feminine enough style for me to wear for the rest of that day and with a bit of touching up the following one. After Lou's I'll be going to Portsmouth and going out for a meal as Jen for the first time to a restaurant. I don't want to have to wear a wig to go out so hopefully Lou can work a miracle so that I look totally feminine once I've got my makeup on. How I appear and how people react to me will give me a good indication of people's reactions when I am full time.
The following day I'll be spending pretty much as Jen including another visit to Sugar and Spiced. More details about all of that once they've happened.