You'll see plenty of tassels (and maybe a little more) at the Screaming Chicken's Becoming Burlesque program
The Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society teaches adventurous women the tantalizing art of burlesque
I’m three-quarters of the way through the Becoming Burlesque program offered by the Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society.
I signed up partly because life has been a little ho-hum as of late and I’m bored of the gym and too wimpy to run in the rain.
When it comes to the Screaming Chickens, it’s no holds barred for creativity, and crossing the line is the name of the game.
So there I was, sprawled out on the studio floor strewn with glitter, feather boas, and rogue sequins, when a group of us was instructed to put pen to paper and write down what comes to mind when we think of anger, fear, and the colour orange.
This, we learned, is how a burlesque performance is born.
I’m no stranger to the antics of teachers Melody Mangler, April O’Peel and Violet Femme, thanks to their regular appearances on the Vancouver burlesque and entertainment front.
They’ve each got their own persona and signature dance moves, but when it comes to sashaying across the floor nearly nude, they make it look like a cakewalk. How hard could it be?
Like a fool, I believed my ballet and jazz dance experience as a kid meant I’d have this in the bag. A group of us immediately found ourselves with rubber ankles the moment we donned a pair of high heels.
I was expected to not only strut and prance around on tip-toe, but to master the artful craft of controlled leg suspension as I peeled off a thigh-high stocking and twirled my you-know-whats all at the same time! Walking and chewing bubblegum this is not.
Burlesque Dancing is a Full-body Workout
As easy and natural as the performers make it look on stage, burlesque is no easy feat. We were taught a rigorous and unforgiving warm-up routine that had me wishing I hadn’t let my gym membership lapse (can we start again, Stairmaster?)
I did my best to mimic my instructors, who effortlessly stretched their limber gams and contorted their bodies, then followed up the stretch with ruthless sit-up and push-up combinations.
Bending over to touch my toes is nothing for me, it’s just getting back up that seems to be the problem. And believe me when I say that trying to expertly undo a bra clasp with one hand is a workout in itself! Once the Chickens were satisfied — and we’d all collapsed on the floor — April, Melody and Violet jumped up and cheerfully asked the class “Who wants to dance?” Ugh.
It wasn't until we reconvened the following week that we agreed the workout was quite possibly the best one we'd ever had. It left us feeling like a million bucks – once we had recovered. Then, it was practice, practice, practice. And repeat.
High heels are a mandatory part of the burlesque uniform (Image: Heather Vince)
The program was winding down and it was almost show time, which meant stripping down to my unmentionables in front of a crowd of perfect strangers.
But it’s not just about revealing skin and coyly hiding behind a fan of feathers: there has to be a story, some cheek (both of the sass and ass variety), some buildup, and finally, the payoff.
"One of the best parts of burlesque is that you can take a scary or serious subject like sex and turn it on its head," April explains, adding that historically burlesque was created to be satire.
Violet chimes in that adding an element of fun surprise to the routine offers extra viewing pleasure, something she achieves by pasting a tassel on each butt-cheek (tassels are not just for the ta-tas).
You’ll know it’s a Screaming Chicken production when the classic burlesque routine suddenly takes a raunchy turn, bordering on inappropriate; the crowd will gasp and cover their mouths in shock, but somehow all ruffled feathers will be smoothed when a burst of sparkles explodes from a bra and it’s followed up with the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the twirling, twinkling pasties.
Heather Vince has a varied background in publishing, design, make-up artistry and a passion for advocacy and social change. Occasionally she can be caught dabbling in antics such as burlesque and chair-dancing. Connect with her on Twitter.