Shimmy and Shake! Embrace Your Body with Burlesque
by Kelly S. Thompson, aka G.I. Jiggles
ith constant images of the “ideal” body presenting itself on every magazine page, it can be hard to embrace the shape we are born with. Life events can further alter body image, including childbirth, weight fluctuations, and illnesses. These days, women are seeking fun options for keeping in shape while engaging with their community and cultivating new friendships. It was while looking for these things that I sought out burlesque dancing as a new form of exercise. Most of the WestCoast Families readers likely don’t know that I spent eight years in the Canadian Forces as an Air Force Officer. I was medically released after I broke my leg and after several surgeries, it didn’t heal. The military was an interesting environment as a woman, with only 15% female workforce. I was unable to be as active as I once was and riddled with pain, I gained twenty pounds. I felt miserable. I sought to change that with a visit to the Vancouver Burlesque Centre (VBC), run by the fantastic Lola Frost and Cherry On Top, two all-star choreographers who embraced my injury with open arms. These women are full of sass that makes even the most nervous attendee feel sexy and strong. The VBC runs several drop-in classes a week and also offers progressive workshops designed to build up to a performance in their student showcase. “The amazing thing about women exploring burlesque is that there is room for everyone, every body,” says Lola Frost, co-owner of the VBC. “Burlesque is an art forms that encourages diversity in body and expression, which makes it all the more alluring for woman in an age where
marketing is always trying to make them into something they might not want to be. Here, we just want you to be a more shiny, more fun and more accepting version of what you already are.” I read the class descriptions online a million times, unsure if my body could withstand the activity or if my brain could fathom scampering scantily clad on a stage. I arrived to my first workshop and was instantly welcomed into a fold of proud, strong women of all shapes, sizes and ages. We were a united front as Lola Frost led us into a warm up and showed us our intended routine for the Student Showcase Performance in two months time. At first, watching the other women shimmy and shake in front of the VBC’s mirrored studio, I felt overwhelmed with my own clumsiness. But I knew I’d found a group I belonged to. We practiced our routine for the next hour and by the time we were finished, I was exhausted, sweaty, and happy. The next day, muscles hurt in ways I didn’t know possible, but I’d found a safe way to exercise…a way that made me feel attractive and capable, no matter my size. The night of the performance, I was nervous as I sat in overdone makeup and funky hair that I had sprayed stiff with hairspray. I came up with my “Burlesque Name,” G.I. Jiggles after considering a play on my old military life and my new existence as a dancer with an extra pound or two, extra pounds I was feeling more accepting of lately. My fellow dancers and I got on stage and took to our routine as though shimmying around in underwear was the most natural thing in the world. The crowd, full of our loved ones clapped and cheered so loudly that my heart swelled with pride and acceptance.
Afterwards, we were glowing from the outside in. We were proud. We hugged and cheered for one another and we patted ourselves on the back for doing something that none of us ever imagined possible. On that night, we claimed our bodies as our own and showed them to the world, flaws and all. And that crowd? Faced with our dimples, our lumps, our bumps, and our beauty, they loved us. Burlesque can be a great way to exercise and the staff at the Vancouver Burlesque Centre can teach even the most nervous and new of dancers how to feel like a million bucks. And of course, if you just want the exercise without the pressure of an on stage performance, you can do that too! So if you want female unity, acceptance and a new form of pride, give burlesque dancing a try. You won’t regret it! For more info, visit www.vancouverburlesquecentre.ca
The Nov|Dec 2014 Holiday issue of WestCoast Families magazine