For over a year, I have been hovering at the edge of fitness. I've been contemplating it, scheduling it and then bailing out at the last minute.
I haven't been inactive, but I've stuck to the easy stuff, to the activities I know, like yoga and walking. I found a yoga class I've loved, that has been good for my body and even better for my spirit. I've loved it. And out of that, I've come out my hibernation and, as the weather's warmed, returned to long walks through the neighborhood with Lil E. In the back of my head, though, there has been something pulling resistant me toward something more daring, more challenging, more risque. Something that's been calling me to burlesque.
I've ignored that call session after session, bailing in the hours just before the first class would begin. I used every excuse I could muster up to keep myself out of the studio I really wanted to be in. Isn't that crazy? How we can talk ourselves out of something we know we will love because of our bodies, our endurance, our fears?
Last week, I finally gave in. I talked it up to my friend Pokey and to Bruce and to myself so I would be less likely to let the class pass me by again. Pokey, in her infinite wisdom and grrrlfriend support, told me to see it as an experiment, take it an hour at a time rather than build it up as stepping over a life-changing threshold into the dance studio. Bruce just smiled and pointed at the door and told me to just go.
I packed a banana, a bottle of water and my checkbook and headed to Arabesque, a belly dance studio on the northwest side where Michelle L'Amour teaches burlesque classes. Michelle is smiley and friendly and a porcelain-skinned, lithe little goddess. The moment I saw her wink into the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the class behind her, I sensed she had a gift for entrancing. The instant I heard her say, "OK, Ladies, touch your boobs!" as she slid her hands down her own torso, I was hooked.
Before that, I was waiting nervously in the lobby for class to begin. The tape playing in my head said that I wouldn't have enough grace or coordination, that I was still working up my endurance since my surgery months ago and that I would be the biggest woman in the room. As I looked around, I saw women who looked like me, anxious and of all sizes and I felt that finger-wagging tape slow down.
Inside the studio, I befriended a woman who admitted she'd just called her boyfriend to "talk her down" and I watched a woman in her late 50s, with big glasses and in a tennis skirt and a crop-top, baring a belly that had clearly once housed babies. She was posing in front of the mirror with the same confidence as the petite woman I overheard say she was a dance major in college. I felt in good company.
The class was full immersion, like French in college when the professor came in hammering away with jusqu'a and c'est las in a way that both overwhelms and intrigues. I thought of this as we did a long hour of isolated body work and floor work that called my underused abs into action, and I remembered that even though I felt as if I was drowning those first weeks of French, I eventually rose to the surface and spoke with near-fluency that thrilled and challenged me.
Keep at it, keep at it, I replaced the words on the tape. It helped that I decided not to look at myself in the mirror and instead, fix my gaze on my teacher. I am not a choreography grrrl anyway, so it helped to watch her every move. And by switching my focus from the body I've been so unaccepting of in the mirror, I could choose to believe I was as graceful and adept as I wanted think.
Then came the boas. Ahhh yes, there were boas. And elbow-length satin gloves. There was showcasing and sauciness and even when I was getting the drum-driven, music-timed steps wrong, I was having a blast. I booty-bumped and hip-scooped and sashayed to my heart's content. Ninety minutes later, I was sweaty and sore and my heart was racing. Even better, my body felt on fire and I was so proud of myself.
I've been to just one class and I am ecstatic to go back this week. I am not sure burlesque will be the answer to all my body image issues and I don't know if it will sculpt my body into the temple I hope it to be. But I know burlesque will work me hard and I will work it as much as I can in that moment.
For now, I've answered the call, feathers and gloves and strip-teasing and spirit-pleasing and all, and it feels so good.
I'll keep you updated on my journey into burlesque here and on That's Fit. To learn more about burlesque or (gasp) even take your honey or your grrrlfriends to a show, check out Michelle L'Amour's Lavender Cabaret site for events and lots of lovely information.