Cambridgeshire catches Burlesque fever!
“…it was that or pole dancing but I somehow couldn’t see myself shimmying my rather voluptuous body up and down one of those things!”
What does the word burlesque mean to you? Does it conjure images of semi clad ladies with tassels in conspicuous places? If it does then you’re not in the minority. The official definition of Burlesque is parody, vaudeville, but it is beginning to have a far deeper meaning for many women across the county, and the other evening I set out to discover exactly what.
The kindness of talented people
The location is Peppercorns Music Academy in Little End Road, Eaton Socon where I was fortunate enough to bump into one of St Neots’ kindest men, Steve Muzolf, with whom I’d had the pleasure to work nearly two decades ago when I was writing and producing plays for Cambridgeshire. I was impressed to see first-hand what he’d managed to achieve with his dream venue dedicated to the artistic education of the youth. Good on you Steve!
More Kylie than an ageing Elisabeth Taylor
Peppercorns is also where Mademoiselle Lola Cocquine (stage name) of S-Burlesque holds her weekly Burlesque dance classes. Now, I don’t know about you but when I imagine a French dance instructor, I’m thinking mature lady, with the occasional ray of beauty peeking out from behind an exaggerated and rapidly decaying façade of make-up, with scraped back hair in a bun, a gravelly accented voice and keen piercing eyes that watch as she thumps the floor with her cane. That’s not quite how I’d describe Lola, her tones are well enunciated English (that’s because she is English), her beauty is still very much intact as is her inspiringly athletic physique which is more Kylie than an ageing Elizabeth Taylor (God rest her soul).
Young but not unaccomplished
This is all not so surprising since she is, after all, only 24 but don’t let that fool you, the somewhat diminutive Mademoiselle Cocquine has already managed to carve an impressive career for herself as a lifeguard, Dance Choreographer, Entertainment Manager and Fitness Instructor, to name a few. She has featured in a variety of cabaret shows in France where she also mastered the French language which has now inspired her to go on and complete an Open University degree in foreign languages.
Why Burlesque dance classes?
In Lola’s own words, “I like to keep busy all the time”, which meant that when she was unable to find a local Burlesque troupe to join when back in the UK, Lola decided to start her own. She wasted no time in securing a studio at Peppercorns Music Academy and by the power of word-of-mouth (also known as Facebook) managed to get together her fast class of wannabe ‘Burlesquers’ which I have to say consists of a random selection of women from all walks of life (and I mean that both metaphorically and geographically). You’ll find no ‘type’ characters here. Indeed, when I first saw the spectrum of ages and ‘sizes’, I was immediately reminded of the film Stepping Out with Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters and, I have to confess, most of the women I had the pleasure of meeting are equally as affable as those characters. I gauged an unambiguous sense of comradery among this group of women. It’s like they’re in it together both for the challenge and the fun. But what exactly is the challenge? Is there some kind of show at the end of these classes? Some kind of performance? The simple answer is yes for some but not for those who don’t wish to participate. “Many ladies join S-Burlesque for personal reasons which vary from fitness, sense of accomplishment to simply wanting to perform their own show for their husbands in the privacy of their own home. For others, S-Burlesque is often asked to perform at special events. For example, we’ve been asked to participate in a lingerie fashion show for Debenhams in Cambridge next month. The show isn’t for everybody and that’s absolutely fine. We’ll also be staging a more intimate performance for friends and family soon. It’s very important for me that the girls participate only in those things that they feel comfortable with.”
Francesca Marturano-Pratt (otherwise known as my sister), along with her friend, Tamanda Flynn, were one the first to join S-Burlesque, Francesca told me “I wasn’t that keen at first. I liked the idea of Burlesque and its sensuous origins but I don’t have the most pliable body in the world and I’m certainly not a performer. But my friend, Tammy, asked if I’d go with her and so I agreed, it was that or pole dancing but I somehow couldn’t see myself shimmying my rather voluptuous body up and down one of those things! I thought Burlesque would at least be a form of exercise but it’s soon turned out to be much more. I’ve been signed up for over a month now and I’m having a brilliant time. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much.” and the stories are pretty much the same for the rest of the class. I asked Lola if she knew why her classes had become so popular so quickly. “I don’t know. I guess it’s because they, like me, just wanted to be part of something like this and there wasn’t anywhere they could go, locally, until S-Burlesque.”
No nudity please, we’re British
So what about the challenge? This is Burlesque after all, isn’t it all about nudity, teasing and flaunting, you know, that kind of uncomfortable stuff that makes you want to squirm like a young teenage boy witnessing his first movie love scene with his parents? The answer is yes; Burlesque is about flirtation, titillation but it doesn’t necessarily have to be about nudity, “when I talk to people about the classes, I always specify no nudity,” says Lola. “…that’s because Burlesque doesn’t have to be about nudity, it’s more about expression,” which oddly, for a man, is something that I understood immediately. Many of Lola’s more mature students are well accustomed to the knocks and scrapes of life, the kind of scrapes that all too often dilute what it means to feel feminine along with the urge to express this. Burlesque, like a good course of HRT, replenishes this urge, reawakening their sensuous side, a compulsion that is so uniquely feminine and all too often neglected in the face of life’s ravages to the detriment of many things, including some marriages. Indeed, it appears that the motivation behind some of Lola’s students is not only for their own personal wellbeing but also for that of their partners. These girls aren’t interested in performing in front of a crowd but are not adverse to performing in front of their significant other. I don’t think Jo Cocker’s ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ has ever had as much air play since Nine and a Half Weeks. Lucky lads!
The psychological boost
The remarkable psychological impact of these classes is not lost on any of Lola’s students, “I’ve become much more confident ever since I started these classes,” said Tamanda, “not only in the class but also outside, you know, in the workplace.” I asked Lola if she recognised the far reaching psychological effects of her class, she simply smiled and said, “I hadn’t really looked at it that way until now but it’s brilliant!” I believe it is exactly this somewhat ‘humble’ side to Lola that has many travelling far and wide to attend her classes. Some make over an hours’ journey to attend an approximate two hour session. “Lola is one of the reasons why we attend these classes. There’s no air and graces. She doesn’t think she’s better than us, she’s in it with us and never pushes beyond what we’re physically capable of or comfortable with,” said Francesca”. “That’s right”, agreed Tamanda, “you think Burlesque and you can’t help but wonder what to expect but the beauty of these classes is that everything is so casual, including what we wear. I’m all for showing up in trakkies and a T shirt!” Of course, that isn’t always the case, the girls are often asked to use props, such as fans, gloves (to sensuously peel off and fling across the room). And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you may even have to don some stockings. “I’ve lost count of the amount of stockings I’ve laddered rolling around on that floor but it’s all good fun,” says Francesca.
The cost of confidence
So how much is the cost of a new, psychologically invigorated you? £6 per lesson, paid on a pay-as-you-go basis, or £4 per lesson when you book a block of 5 classes. But it doesn’t end there, if you don’t fancy your typical pub crawl, jetting off to verdant Ireland or sunny Scunthorpe, you could always book S-Burlesque as an alternative hen party and get a crash course in seduction but with style.