I wanted to write about something a little different today. As some of you may or may not know, in addition to being a burlesque performer, I have been teaching classes in burlesque for a few years now. I have recently unveiled my own class: “The Textbook Tease with Talloolah Love and Friends” in which I hope to enlist some of the finest burlesque performers, makeup artists, acting coaches, and costume designers in Atlanta to lead workshops in their field. I want them to teach the up-and-coming starlets of our little corner of the world what the art of the tease is all about. In this pursuit of finding some extremely talented teachers, I got the chance to tap into what I think is an extremely important role we have as long time Atlanta burlesqueteers. Namely, that the movie “Burlesque” is not a training video. I was struck by a recent post in the blog by Fonda Lingue that no one came to a recent class held by the reigning King of Southern Exposure’s Boylesque Competition. Honestly, I couldn’t have expressed the opinion of the importance of classes better, so I asked Fonda and a handful of other talented impresarios of the strip to explain why they do what they do, and why they feel it is so important.
As Fonda has not been in the scene as long as some of my other interviewees, let me tell you a little bit about him. Fonda Lingue is a female impersonator with more grace in his little pinkie than most women can achieve with a lifetime of dance. With over 20 years of formal ballet training and performance, I can honestly say that taking a class from him is a truly humbling and delightful experience. Here is what Fonda had to say about the need for more education before hitting the stage in front of an audience:
“It is important to take burlesque and movement classes as a burlesque performer because those classes keep you supple in your craft. They keep you immersed in your craft and fine tune your craft. Movements can only be perfected through muscle memory and that is only achieved through constant repetition. This makes these movements a natural occurrence instead of a forced one. You can then concentrate on entertaining instead of what step comes next.”
You can find Fonda Teaching his independent classes by going to www.fondalingue.com ever hungry to spread the gospel of the bounty of burlesque knowledge, you can also find him teaching with the Textbook Tease workshops, but he is most found while working not just dance classes but hair and costuming classes with the Syrens of the South.
Syrens of the South Productions created The ABC’s and 123’s of Burlesque and Tease U and set up an institution of learning in a way that had never before been done in Atlanta. Though it was born through predecessors like The Traveling Charm School which came to Atlanta in 2005 and was inspired by the New York School of Burlesque, it has taken on a life of its own and has a home in Spinerella Dance Studio. Here, you can take courses every Sunday for six weeks and at the end of your education in ecdysiast mastery, you have the opportunity to do a student showcase. Here’s what the founder of Syrens, Katherine Lashe, had to say about learning burlesque from those in the know:
“One of the things I love about burlesque is that anyone can do it; but as with anything, the more you practice the better you’ll be. I always recommend taking classes whenever you can because you will always learn something new. There really is no one way to do anything and someone else may have figured out a way that works better for you. I’ve been performing burlesque for almost 10 years and teaching for almost five; on top of that I have over 20 years of theater and dance training; and yet I still learn something new in every class I take.”
Be sure to check out The Syrens of the South class schedule. Another great way to get educated is by attending the first burlesque festival offered in Georgia, Southern Fried Burlesque Fest which offers workshops from noted legends and current burlesque stars from all over the country!
Fortunately, though our schedules tend to both be extremely busy, I was able to snag a few moments of The Chameleon Queen’s time so that we could chat about her new classes: “Flirting with the Virtues of Burlesque” whose first installment was recently done at The Masquerade. I was unfortunately out of town for this class, but I was ecstatic to see the good queen do a class after her nine years or so of Burlesque and many more as a performance artiste extraordinaire. The good queen is the co-founder of Musee Du Cour which has been described to me as more of a collective than a troupe of enthusiastic members bent on the pursuit of glamour, self expression, art, and revival of burlesque in its classic form. The Chameleon Queen has this to say about knowing your art:
“A book could be written about the importance of teaching burlesque! But, I’ll try to keep the answer short and sassy. Teaching burlesque is an opportunity to keep a grand artform alive and accessible. It has been a sort of “Everyman’s” entertainment that the working class could go see, and perhaps be! It still has that quality. Attainable art, glamour within one’s grasp, and acceptance of the alternative. Having a chance to reach and hang onto a dream even for one glittering moment, gives hope and life to other dreams. Being able to offer that, as a teacher, and seeing one’s students arrive at that moment, is a gift, for both.
It is such a multi-faceted present: an artform’s history is kept alive, new life is breathed into it with each student, it builds confidence and reveals the beauty each person has, and gets wrapped in a pretty bow…and then, unwrapped.”
You can follow the movements of The Chameleon Queen through her Facebook page, and through BuBBLe – the Burlesque Bombshell Benevolence League – an organization of good deeds done by good ladies who perform and/or love burlesque and doing what is good for their fellow brothers and sisters.
My final thought on this is to say that you should know where your art comes from. Knowing the history of burlesque, knowing the mothers of the art form and how they did it is incredibly important to keeping it as illegitimately legitimate as possible. Yes, it is everyman’s theatre, it can be crass, it can make you think, it can make you laugh, it can make you sigh for the beauty of it all. It is called a labor of love by the best because it is just that. A love that requires more research and learning than can be offered in just a few videos and an idea. What we teachers are saying is that it doesn’t matter how you get educated, just get educated. Be able to talk about how your costume was made, where you got your ideas from and who your greatest inspirations and influences are. Don’t copy them of course, be your own performer, have integrity and give credit where credit is due. As they say, there are no new ideas in this whole world. Just new and exciting ways of approaching them. Be the best you can be to transport your audience who paid to see you. You owe it to them, and the payoff is far better than any cash you could ever receive at the end of the night because you know you did everything to earn your place and your right to be there.