I went to a live Burlesque show for the first time in the early 2000’s.
I remember the energy of the small and dimly lit Slipper Room located in the Lower East Side of NYC– the longest-running burlesque venue in the city. There was electricity in the air, sexuality, and a spirit of freedom I had not felt before. I sat close to the stage with my friends, each of us excited, with our drinks in hand.
Women of all shapes, sizes, and ages graced the stage in a range of costumes, hair, & makeup that was so creative, fun, and sexy – if they had done nothing but stand on the stage and walk around a few times I would have tipped them just the same. Each performance was original, choreographed to tell a story – from sophisticated and classy to hilarious and dark. The routines were focused on the art of timing and stripping –each dancer ended on the stage in nothing but pasties and the smallest underwear I had ever seen.
I left feeling a little intimidated, inspired, and intrigued. After that first time, I decided this was something I loved and had to see more of. I attended many shows at the Slipper Room while I lived in NYC.
Timing is everything
It would take ten years for me to be in the right place and time to start my own Burlesque journey. I was living and working in Shanghai surrounded by a group of friends – all empowered feminist expats. We were the organizer for Ladyfest Shanghai – a feminist weekend festival bringing together local and foreign artists, musicians, writers, performers, and entrepreneurs.
I took one of the workshops hosted by a well-known British Burlesque performer, Anna Furlaxis.
She was in her early 40’s – fabulous, confident, sexy, and inspiring. She taught us how to walk, how to shimmy, and how to strip some gloves off. It was only 1 hour but when I walked away, I felt amazing.
I could not stop thinking about it for weeks. I was a young woman working for an international interior design firm and I had been married for about 4 years. Life was exciting but there was a part of me that I had not yet gotten to know – The performer, the sex kitten, the dark and sensual mistress – I knew this was my chance.
Seizing the opportunity
Doors open and close in life all the time, it is up to us to take the step through that threshold.
Nothing was going to get in my way. My husband and close friends agreed – “if you want it go for it”. So, I did. I contacted Anna and asked if she was giving classes. As things turned out she had just opened Shanghai’s first School of Burlesque. I signed up immediately along with several of my close friends.
Anna taught us the history of Burlesque, we focused on choreography, famous burlesque moves, facial expressions, stage movement, walking, stripping, costume making, hair, and makeup. It was the most fun I had ever had in school. After 6 weeks of honing our craft, we were asked to perform an original piece on stage for our graduation. I picked a song by Etta James, a vintage green dress with too many buttons, and a set of extremely cute 50’s inspired lingerie. I practised my ass off. It was going to be my debut and I was either going to sink or swim.
Taking the leap
When the time came – time stopped, the crowd was deafening, but I did not hear them. I went on the stage; I fumbled quite a bit with the buttons – but I did it, I danced, and ended twirling my tassels. The cheers and applause were intoxicating and the boost of confidence I felt was unlike anything I had experienced. Suddenly – this 30 something married professional was a showgirl!
After my first performance, I was given several opportunities to perform at the local Pearl Theater with Anna’s production company QiPow. Every time I did it, I got a little better and my confidence increased.
I was having so much fun expressing myself – through my costumes, my choreography, my music selection and my ability to work the crowd. I met so many talented and beautiful women and men – each with their own unique story. I was learning that Burlesque is one of the most powerful forms of self-expression a performer can have this day in age. We get to tell our story and decide how we want to be seen. Our sexuality is ours, we own it, and we can be proud of it. We do this for no one else. If you like it great and if you do not, that is OKAY too – because WE love it.
The next year I got pregnant. My husband and I were excited beyond words to become parents– yet there was a part of me that wondered if I would ever get a chance to perform again. Four years passed without Burlesque in my life. I did a lot in that time – in addition to having a beautiful little girl, I moved to Detroit with my husband to be close to his family, I got a master’s degree, I started my own Interior Design firm, and I bought and renovated a house. I was happy, I was busy, and felt accomplished – yet the part that only Burlesque could fill was waiting in the shadows.
Back to burlesque
On my 40th Birthday I woke up and said to myself “I’m going to perform Burlesque – I miss it too much!” Almost 15 years after that first show in NYC, 5 years since my first performance in Shanghai – and what felt like a lifetime – I was finally ready to start again and really stick with it this time.
I contacted the local Detroit School of Burlesque run by Holly Hock and signed up for all the courses that were offered. I had taken many of them before and performed in the past, but it had been years. I knew I would learn new things from different teachers and meet a brand-new community of amazing performers. I volunteered to help at merch booths, sounds booths, and on and off stage any way that I could at as many shows as I could.
In my own time, I worked on acts, I worked on costumes, I added skills like fan dancing & chair dancing to my repertoire. In addition, I committed to learning and practicing on the Lyra, an Aerial circus apparatus .
I am still in the early stages of my Burlesque career with only a handful of performances in the Detroit area, but I feel more certain than ever that I am doing what I am meant to be doing.
Burlesque is like anything else in life – dedication, passion, and patience are needed if you want to succeed.
Creativity and diversity
I am grateful for the supportive community of performers I have met in the Midwest– proudly showcasing a wonderful variety of styles, shapes, colours, ages & sexual orientation – open, friendly, and welcoming.
My commitment to performing Burlesque is a commitment to myself. To look my best and feel my best on and off stage. Every step I take is a step towards embracing every aspect of who I am – sexy, funny, eccentric, romantic & dark – each empowered and seen along the way.
This article was originally published here in the Astonishing Tales digital magazine on April 9 2021.
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Check Out Jen Child’s Website at www.jen-child.com or by clicking HERE.
Jen Childs is an Interior Designer who runs her own firm in the Detroit metro area. She is also Burlesque Dancer & Lyra Aerial Performer.