From Ballet to Burlesque

Learning how to shimmy, shake and strut with Lady Miss Iris

The Bay Magazine ·

Up until recently, the last time I had set foot in a dance studio was the early 1980s, when I took ballet classes as a kid. I was young at the time, but I do have some memories of twirling around in my pink leotard and ballet skirt, dreaming of the day I would be cast as a leading role in The Nutcracker. If you had access to the grainy video footage my dad captured of my one and only dance recital, though, you wouldn’t be surprised that I did not bring that dream to fruition. I was the one kid (there’s always one, right?) who just couldn’t follow along with the rest of the group. Chalking it up to an expensive learning experience, my parents encouraged me to pursue alternate interests.

So, well aware that I lack natural dance skills, I entered Bayside School of Dance in East Providence a few weeks ago with some trepidation. I was there to take Rhode Island Burlesque Academy’s Chorus Girls class with instructor Lady Miss Iris. It was billed as a basic burlesque dance class that would teach me some fierce, fun and naughty dance moves. I was pretty sure that I would find a way to embarrass myself.

When Lady Miss Iris arrived, I was surprised to find that I already knew her; I had met her years before (or, more specifically, her alter ego, Amy) when she worked on a charity golf tournament with my parents. I remembered her as a warm and gregarious free spirit - someone who was apt to put a burlesque newbie at ease – so that made me feel a bit more ready to take on the uncharted territory ahead of me.

The class is a 6- or 10-week series that teaches participants a “spicy new routine to ‘Lady Marmalade’ as performed by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink.” By the evening I joined in, the other ladies had already taken three sessions together, so they had a bit of a jump on the routine. I’d be starting from square one, but Lady Miss Iris encouraged me to follow along as best I could and assured me that the whole point was to have fun.

Class started off with a little warmup that involved a few ballet moves. Staring in the floor-to-ceiling mirror, I had visions of myself as a young wannabe-ballerina spinning around my dance studio in a tutu. But when we got to the nitty-gritty of the class, it was clear that the moves I’d be working on here would be much more – ahem – adult. That’s not to say there was anything raunchy or tasteless going on; what I mean is that Chorus Girls is intended to get participants to bring on the sauciness. And it delivers.

Two of the main moves in our “Lady Marmalade” routine were called Drop It Like It’s Hot and The Bettie Drop. The former had us bend over quickly before slowly coming back up while running our hands up our legs; the latter, named after Bettie Page, had us seductively bending at the knees to emulate the 1950s pinup queen’s signature pose. Both involved showcasing female assets and unleashing inhibitions.

I watched Lady Miss Iris and my dance classmates run through the full routine a few times, and then felt brave enough to give it a try myself. Me! Shimmying, bumping, grinding and strutting my stuff across the floor with confidence. I’m glad my foray back into the dance studio was under the guidance of Lady Miss Iris. I let loose, had fun, learned some new dance moves – and didn’t embarrass myself once.

Rhode Island Burlesque Academy, The Bay Magazine, Fitness, Dance