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You just have to dance and maybe try burlesque

Lola Boutee Presents puts on the longest running weekly show in California (10 years) with all ages of dancers at the Trip wine bar in Santa Monica called “Tease,” showcasing beginning to professional dancers. Photo by Markus Alias

January is the time of year we make promises to ourselves to “do better” at various things. One of the things we are hardest about is our body. This is the time of year when we pledge to go to gyms and work out — which some of us find fun and exhilarating and others find a chore.

But what if instead of worrying about what our bodies looked like and if they are “good enough” we approached physical activity and body pride a different way?

What about dance? And what about a dance style that is experiencing a cultural resurgence?

Culturally, we reserve the very human body expression — dance — to those who are fittest or those who are professional or those who can follow good instruction. But if anything were truly for mind, body and spirit health of humans, it’s dance.

“Dance gives the Soul a voice to express itself. It is the most efficient way I know to expand my capacity for joy and to engage the boundless nature of expressing. And for me to be truly fluid, alive, and in balance, I do it often,” says Michelle Marie Black, long-time Quincy resident, dancer, and dance and vocal instructor.

“All forms of dance have a language that can bring us into coherent resonance with ourselves and one another. Historically, people understood the healing benefits of movement and rhythm. No matter the form, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, contemporary, burlesque, African, belly, ecstatic to name a few I have studied, I believe it is our primal nature to move and express,” Black continued.

She recently moved back to the Bay Area to focus on dance performance and to look at a form that’s caught on with women in their 40s: burlesque. She’ll be teaching a workshop in Quincy at the end of January — with the promise of more to come.

For many of us, dance of any kind can be problematic. There’s that phrase “dance while no one is watching,” which virtually means dance is something we do privately or that we may be embarrassed by because it exposes too much of ourselves.

“Dance doesn’t have to be professional or good. Dance is an expression of who you are and how you feel. When I dance I forget about my day and embrace to love of me and music. Tap your toe, swing your hips, spin around, grab another’s hand and ‘cut a rug.’ You’ll find you will feel lighter and your enjoyment will be contagious; even if it just makes someone smile at your joy in dance,” says Kim Retallack, who also teaches ballet and hula in Quincy and often choreographs local dance performances.

Often finding a love of dance has to do with finding the right sort of dance that fits you. That could be anything where you really feel the music and the urge to move to it.

“This is what makes burlesque attractive to many women — you can burlesque dance to pretty much any type of music you want and can construct a dance around any theme,” said one organizer in southern California.

It’s true. I’ve seen a woman dance as the Statue of Liberty who revealed quotes painted on her skin about objectification of women.

Across California — particularly in the Central Valleys, there’s been a resurgent interest in vaudeville and burlesque. There’s a common misconception that burlesque is just about stripping — but each community has its own standards and if a dancer strips all the way down, it’s not considered burlesque.

Walk into any burlesque show in California and the audience will not be filled with men ogling the dancers but is more likely filled with women — some of them dancers themselves —encouraging other women on.

One dancer at a show in Hollywood danced to get comfortable with her new scars from mastectomy, another revealed a skin cancer she was dealing with. For them, dancing on stage was a way of getting comfortable in their new bodies.

“It’s not about enticing men; It’s about embracing womanhood,” is burlesque model and dancer Dita Von Teese’ motto.

It is most definitely about the art of being comfortable in one’s skin and abilities — and pushing oneself out of a shy introverted shell.

“It’s super powerful and healing when a woman showcases in a dance whatever body part they find most troubling for them. For many it’s the belly or the thigh that’s uncovered and revealed,” said an organizer in the Bay Area.

These days it’s not too hard to find a troupe or classes in typical dance studios that offer one, and women (and men) of all sizes and any age are welcomed to perform.

Women who participate say they feel a rush and excitement in performing — especially if they were made to hide themselves in their youth.

Ultimately, the experience is life affirming,” said Black.

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