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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Melbourne Burlesque Trio Risque Revival

By Hamish Heard
Risque Revival BurlesqueMOST people think of burlesque as little more than a classy striptease and to a certain degree they're probably right.

But for a growing number of young Melburnians, the erotic style of entertainment has become a road to self-discovery and empowerment.

It may seem odd in an era when women occupy some of the highest positions in the land that so many young Australian women are turning to the movement from which strip clubs evolved.

Maree Shefford, whose burlesque school Shimmy and Shake operates out of Carlton's Dance House, said her classes were stocked with young professionals.

"Almost all of them have either completed degrees or are studying at university, so we've had barristers, scientists, speech pathologists you name it," Ms Shefford said.

The typical modern recreational burlesque dancer has a demanding job and is aged in her 20s or 30s.

"It's interesting that they need something more than just a successful career they need to explore their femininity and sexuality," Ms Shefford said. "They're trying to find an erotic side to themselves and experiment with their bodies in a safe environment."

So what is burlesque?

It's a comedic form of dance entertainment that started in the mid-1800s and reached the height of its popularity in the 1940s.

"Most commonly with burlesque it's about the tease and seduction but without the performers taking off all their clothes," Ms Shefford said.

The modern-day strip club, like Bar 20, is pretty much the result of burlesque's evolution but it's taken the tease to the next level.

By the 1960s burlesque had all but disappeared a victim of the cultural revolution that legitimised pornography and made the clothed tease less confronting to audiences.

However, it recently found its way back into pop culture thanks to the retro-erotic styling of performers like Christina Aguilera and Pink.

"A lot of young women are getting around in grungy clothes," Ms Shefford said.

"But some girls want to step back in time and be sexy and glamorous in that classic sense.

"But the big word is fun it's a lot of fun."

Ms Shefford teaches students techniques including the shimmy, shake, and the bump 'n' grind with the help of props like feather boas, satin gloves, sky-high heels and garters.
Photo by Tony Gough

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