Since I’m leaving Berkeley, Calif. pretty soon to return to work at The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona, I decided tonight would be the night I worked up the courage to go to the local burlesque class up the street that I’ve been eyeing from afar for a while now. I’m far from coordinated on the dance floor, as I tend to move mostly by wobbling my knees and hips awkwardly, and the idea of stripping sounded like a fetish for, well, more coordinated people who were super sultry and confident. Subjecting myself to burlesque class would be a challenge, I figured, but it would be a calculated risk, as I knew that if something horribly scary happened (I dunno, like a monster attacking me with a corset?), I could always run back to my apartment conveniently located three blocks away.
Many of us search for an escape route when we suspect a situation or task seems just beyond our comfort zone. Whether that escape route is a substance, drugs/alcohol, food, or “safe choice” of some sort, we can use it to help us deal with the “holy crap, get me out of here” mentality that often rears its head when we’re facing a growth opportunity. It’s hard not to look for the exit when we hit points like this, and for me, these days the tendency to want to run and hide from uncomfortable situations is still present. I’ve been coming more into my power lately, which I attribute to devoting more attention to my meditation practice, and to realizing that this issue is incredibly universal and can only be resolved one person at a time, one moment at a time. For me as a queer vegan woman, that requires learning how to sit with discomfort and not run away from whatever I am feeling or facing. That means staying put on the meditation cushion, and, in this case, facing my self-consciousness around my femininity in burlesque class!
As soon as I walked in to Tease Training Burlesque Academy in Berkeley, Calif., beautiful and magnetic instructor Truvy Trollop closed the curtain facing the busy street and locked the door behind us. No escape! And, much to my chagrin, I looked around the room and realized I was (gasp!) the only student that evening! The sultry, sweaty fantasies I created in my head as I psyched myself to attend class always involved many, many, many people, and me in the back row. This was going to be a one-on-one class?! I wanted to run. I wanted to curl up into a ball. But in a mirror-bedecked room with a locked door and sassy Truvy Trollop, there was only one thing to do–learn how to get down on the dance floor.
And get down we did! Truvy (whose given name is not Truvy) says burlesque can inspire us to shed layers of masks that we wear daily. I am familiar with the concept that dance can help us free our inner creativity. A friend of mine, Parashakti, teaches Dance of Liberation, a blind-folded dance experience in which participants dance as if nobody’s watching in order to liberate true Divine nature. I learned about DOL while working at The Tree of Life, and have been excitedly awaiting Parashakti’s new film on the movement!
Tennessee native Truvy explained that the Bay Area has embraced burlesque as a form of art for women of all bodies and gender expressions, which allows many different kinds of performers to use the medium to inspire audiences. Truvy’s studio in Berkeley is relatively new, shared with her husband who teaches Martial Arts (What an awesome partner combo, by the way!) Truvy talked about her experience as a dancer from many different backgrounds, including ballroom, tap and other styles, and how she learned to embrace burlesque as a highly creative and expressive art form.
A year ago I caught Christina Aguilera’s fabulous film Burlesque, which showcases stereotypically bodied women with slight control over their creative acts. When I recently saw a “queer burlesque” performance at The White Horse queer bar in Oakland, I was astonished by the different kinds of bodies and gender expressions up on stage. This was nothing like the Aguilera flick! With power and grace, women with tattoos, pre- and post-op trans guys with business suits and bound chests, round women, skinny women, and sexy humans of extremely diverse racial, ethnic, gender expression and body type strut their stuff onstage and never failed to dazzle. I was humbled by the panoply of people and hotness, which Truvy says comes from the moves and the way you carry yourself–not what your body looks like.
To begin our class, Truvy first had me select my burlesque name. She instructed me to do so by putting together the names of my favorite flower and cheese. And so, I became Geranium Daiya, because I am vegan and “Geranium Dr. Cow” just was not going to cut it! Then, we started dancing.
“Hello, my name is Geranium Daiya!”
Truvy said that the way we carry ourselves tells someone a lot about us. She showed me simple techniques, like putting your foot in front of the other and resting your weight in certain ways to create an hour-glass shape and express our feminine power more fully. Confession time: I showed up to the class in a t-shirt and shorts and vibrams, and when I thought about moving my hips in the ways she showed, I wondered if perhaps I may be too boyish for all of this. I’ve never really thought of myself as super-feminine, and the idea of swinging my hips and accentuating my bosom–this was run and hide territory! Addressing my gender identity questions, Truvy explained that even men are starting to embrace burlesque, calling it “boylesque” and donning pasties the size of quarters. Hot! So, somewhere along the gender spectrum, most likely woman, definitely awkward, I decided to trust Truvy and go for it…
And I am so glad I did!
After an hour of shaking my bootie and moving my hips to the instruction of Tease Training instructor Truvy Trollop, I am impressed with how someone as talented and naturally graceful as Truvy could help a dolt of a dancer like me move with an iota of grace. But, as those dance mirrors (and my hips!) don’t lie, I think I may have pulled off a hot move or two. These included pulling off long red gloves with my teeth to the tune of Elton John’s Benny and the Jets and Truvy’s encouragement. Tease them! The tricks of the trade are cool: I learned that clenching your thighs is a great way to keep balance, that pulling off a glove one finger at a time, then twirling it can be as racy or racier as taking off one’s top.
Whether we’re set to perform to an audience of 100, or even just one, Truvy says we’ve got to develop proper eye contact and smile. Smile? But I thought seducing was supposed to be a tight-lipped, coquettish affair. Not necessarily, Truvy says. Give ’em a little, take a little away. OK, sure, I can do that, Truvy!
It’s unlikely that I’ll ever get the chance to showcase my new burlesque moves to an audience of adoring onlookers, but who knows–maybe one day Geranium Daiya will get her moment in the spotlight!
Here’s to taking risks by learning how to take it all off. Thanks to Truvy Trollop for the life-changing experience. And thanks to you, reader, for reading!
Have you ever taken a risk that felt uncomfortable but was a great opportunity for growth? Please share about it in the comments!