A Taste of Burlesque

Francesca Brasington tells us all about her very first Burlesque experience . . .



Arriving in the basement of City Gate Hotel I found myself in very familiar surroundings. There were your average-looking crowd of students and locals all with a drink in hand, who filled the dimly-lit bar with an excitable murmur as they found seats around clusters of round, mahogany tables.
But all of a sudden, the ordinary bar scene shattered with the first bars of thunderous drum roll blasting out from speakers somewhere behind me. Clothed in a mad zebra print fur-coat and matching hat, the host announced, ‘May everyone please stand for her highness’; as we all rose to the National Anthem it dawned on me that I was in for an exceptionally surreal life drawing class . . .
Queen Victoria strutted onto the floor with her nose firmly in the air and delivered a series of regal waves to her gawping subjects. In anticipation of her shedding her clothes, we speedily flipped open our sketchbooks and rolled out an assortment of pencils, chalks and charcoals; all the time keeping an eager eye on Queenie.
However, unknown to me but true to the art of burlesque, there was actually no chance we would be seeing the Queen in all her glory straight away.
Admittedly I had always thought that the burlesque scene had more in common with its ugly older sister the strip-club, just with a bit of retro styling and feathers thrown in for good measure. But as I watched the Queen waggle her disapproving finger at the audience and then draw from her bosom an oversized black, silk handkerchief with the bright red word ‘LEWD’ sewn onto it, I sensed that getting naked was only a little part of what burlesque is all about.
They weren’t on their eight shift of the day, dropping their knickers for perverts as strippers must; instead, the burlesque dancers were having the time of their lives up there. They seemed to relish having a platform to perform their art, taking the time to introduce their ludicrous characters to the audience. The most theatrical and wild of them all, was an interpretation of Mrs Lovett (from the macabre musical Sweeney Todd) who exuded pleasure as she shimmied across the stage; devilishly revealing a cleaver and a dripping organ, which she swiftly chopped up and then smeared its blood on her grinning face.
Totally underestimating how hilarious burlesque could be, I was afterwards thrilled to find a wealth of silly burlesque routines on YouTube – type in the words ‘Biscotti’ and ‘Burlesque’ and you’ll get a whole performance based on one woman’s love of the Italian biscuit (with it popping up in some very naughty places).
But did I find it sexy you’re probably wondering? Prior to this show (it being my very first taste of burlesque) my impression of the scene was wholly informed through images of its current pin up girl Dita Von Teese. She’s a woman who knows how to strike a saucy pose, but her overly toned, tight body, and her perpetually pursed lips all make her seem far too severe – a characteristic that doesn’t exactly scream sexy.
What I experienced that night was completely the opposite and exactly how female sexuality should be; voluptuous women with the audience in the palm of their silk gloved hand, radiating pleasure, getting a bit freaky and most importantly having a giggle.
For more information about burlesque/life drawing events visit Dr Sketchy’s facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Sketchy-Exeter/402019550992
Photos by Alex Small