September 30 2018

Tamara dances: on burlesque, body positivity, and embracing anxiety.

If you follow me in instagram or facebook, you’ve probably seen my #adventuresinburlesque over the past few months. I’ve been posting about my “firsts” – first fan class, first glove reveal etc etc – but in truth, this journey started years and years ago. Indulge me, if you will, as I tell the epic adventures of Tamara, the Dance Mum who Finally Took to the Stage.* Warning: this is a long post. Lots of words, few pictures. Sorry/not sorry. I’ll be adding some photos to a future post as they become available, but for now this is just my post-performance-day brain dump.
(* Title a work in progress)

I didn’t dance when I was a child. I was a baton twirler for years, and loved it so much, but the more lyrical parts of that art form always seemed to ellude me. I always felt too much – more Fantasia dancing hippo than graceful dancer. I look back at pictures of myself now, in my leotards and ultra-stylish hats and boots , and am so sad for that little girl, who couldn’t see past her body to recognise what a talent she had. I was a good baton twirler. No, I was great. And I think part of what I loved about it was that it gave me permission to move. To express myself through something physical. As I hit my mid teens I stopped twirling, in no small part because I was starting to feel more and more uncomfortable in lycra, and less and less comfortable in this body that carries me through the world.

I left school, went off to uni, became a mother soon after, and quickly my life became about other people. My husband, my children, my step-children, my students, my colleagues – I prioritised other people’s needs over my own because it just made sense to me. They were important. I was not. So the idea of moving, of dancing? Well, it wasn’t even on the radar, let alone something I wanted to do but didn’t have the time or inclination to prioritise. So I went through decades of my adult life feeling blah about my body, and disinclined to do anything that drew attention to it, both from others and for myself. I did karate for a few years in my early 30’s, and loved the feeling of strength that it allowed me to recognise in my body, but hated every week putting on that white outfit. It drew attention to everything I thought was wrong with my body, and I couldn’t wait to take it off after each class.

A few years later I started going to the gym with some friends, mostly so I could do a Combat class- all the things I loved about karate, but in the dark, to music, and I could wear leggings and an oversized shirt. Winning. What I didn’t expect was how much I’d enjoy learning the choreography, and soon I found myself loving Sh’Bam classes more than Combat. If you’ve not done Sh’Bam, imagine Zumba with a whole bunch of different dance styles thrown in. It was amazing, I loved it, and I still miss it, but some personal circumstances soured it for me and meant that even now I can’t really think about going back to it.

There was one Sh’Bam track that I loved the most, and (I’m sure this is no great revelation here) it was a burlesque one. I loved the way it felt, to be given permission to move my body, to appreciate the way my hips moved, the way my body felt when I just embraced it. At the beginning of last year, I saw a facebook post about body positive burlesque classes in the Mountains, and mentioned it to Jacob, who encouraged me to go along, and after much anxiety and deep breathing in the car park, I did. For one class. And then never went back again. Not because I didn’t enjoy it – I did. I loved every second of it. But it felt a little too much. So I used every excuse possible to not go back. It was on Saturday, and I had to take Tayla to dancing. It was too far away. I had housework to do. The list when on, and before I knew it almost 18 months had passed from that first class. I knew that I missed it, and wanted to go back, but whilst I’ve been getting better in recent years, it’s still hard to prioritise myself in my life, you know?

A few months ago, though, Porcelain, the lovely lady who runs Stone Cold Fox Dance Collective, posted about new classes that were happening this term in Springwood on a Tuesday night. 2 of my main excuses dealt with. So, in a fit of tax-return-fueled inspiration, I decided to book myself in to both the burlesque and fan classes for the whole term, fully paid for so that I couldn’t change my mind and back out. Thank goodness I did, because without wanting to oversell it I think it’s been one of the most profoundly impactful things I’ve done for myself. Truly.

I started off just attending the classes, fully thinking that the optional performances would be something that I -might- go along to watch, but would definitely not perform in. Nope. No way. The classes themselves have been my little oasis in each week. Even on days when I’ve been tired from work, or stressed from whatever has been happening in my life, I’ve still dragged myself there – mostly willingly, although there was one night a few weeks ago where I needed some gentle persuasion to drag my sorry arse off the couch. (Thanks Jacob, for not saying “I told you so” when you were well within your rights to do so!) As the term progressed, though, I started to think that maybe I would perform. Possibly. We’ll see.

So, the great costume hunt began, but I fully believed that I’d back out before the performance arrived. In truth, last weekend I almost bailed, and had a fairly major meltdown over it. But thanks to some wise counsel and even more sympathetic listening from my partner, I got through that. I stressed out on Friday about my hair and makeup, but just organised something rather than stressing about it too much. And we arrived at show day.

I was feeling really anxious as the morning started. When I dropped Tayla at dancing for her ballet rehearsal, she hugged me and wished me good luck, telling me that she knew I’d be amazing, and I headed out to the car where I sat and cried for a bit. But then I headed to the hairdressers. I went home and packed. I visited my son’s girlfriend who did my makeup. And I went to the theatre, as ready as I could be. Feeling moderately anxious, but not prohibitively so.

We had a run through of my group routines, and we had tech rehearsal. I had a glass of champagne, and waited for the nerves to kick in. Because, as I’ve blogged about before, I do anxiety really well. I recognise the signs, those stomach-churning hand-trembling horrors that usually grip me relentlessly just before I take to the stage to speak. And I waited. But apart from a little nausea early on, there was nothing. Truth be told, now I think about it, the nausea could be attributed to the fact that all I’d only consumed champagne and hummus all day.

What strikes me the most, as I look back on last night, is how comfortable the whole experience felt. I loved doing my fan routine, and was sad that it was over so quickly. I had a slight costume issue in my Gatsby routine which meant that I couldn’t quite get my glove off – at least not by stepping on it, anyway, because my newly completed fringed skirt was far too tight to allow me to bend over properly! Normally, I’d obsess about that 6 counts and forget about everything that went right. But nope – it was just a blip on an otherwise super-fun routine, which I’m pretty proud to say I rocked.

More than being comfortable on stage, though, I was comfortable in my skin. I put on my black outfit for the fan routine, looked in the mirror, and smiled. I really liked what I saw, bumps and curves and all. I felt similarly confident in my Gatsby routine. And I’ve gotta tell you, I loved how that felt. It’s not something I’ve ever really experienced fully – an occasional “yeah, I look good” moment, but to feel that to the extent that I could walk on stage, shake and shimmy all the parts of me that I usually agree need desperately to be changed, and take of half my carefully prepared costume and toss it deliberately and carelessly aside? Never before have I felt that freedom.

I think a large part of it was being in the dressing room surrounded by so many amazing performers – some of them pros, some of them first timers like me, but such a diversely wonderful group of souls, and they made my heart happy. So many different body shapes, and such beauty in each and every one of them, and I didn’t feel out of place in that at all. It felt good, and it’s such a credit to the culture that Porcelain Rose has created in the Stone Cold Fox Collective. I’m so incredibly grateful for her support and encouragement, and so proud to be a part of her world. I know that I’ve still got a lot to learn as a burlesque performer, and I’m ok with that – this journey that I’ve just started on is going to be an enduring one, and I’m so glad to have found this wonderful community. In fact, I’ve already started thinking about future costumes (TARDIS corset, anyone?) and was disappointed to discover that I’m not going to be able to do the next showcase performance in the mountains. Sad face.

Thank you, if perchance you stumble across this, lovely Literary Ladies. Whether you knew it or not last night, you were a part of an incredibly powerful moment for me, and I’m so glad to have shared it with you. And thank you to Porcelain. Amidst this brain dump, I can’t really find the words, but there are a lot of them, and they add up to an incredible gift. You’re a gem. Thank you, thank you, thank you. xoxo

So, that’s the story so far of my Adventures In Burlesque. This isn’t the whole story – just a prologue and opening chapter or two. But you know when you start a book and can just tell from the first few pages that it’s going to be a good one? Yeah, that’s what I’m dealing with here. I’m excited to see where it goes.

If you’re in the Blue Mountains area, and have been thinking about doing something for yourself, I’d highly recommend checking out Porcelain‘s classes. They run in Katoomba and Springwood, and will be starting up in Emu Plains next term too. You won’t be sad, and I’d love to dance with you!

Happy dancing,


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Posted September 30, 2018 by Tamara Reads in category General musings

About the Author

NSWPRC Officer, Teacher Librarian, English teacher and social media advocate. I've been teaching in Western Sydney for my entire teaching career, and love my job more than I love Neil Gaiman. (That's a lot, in case you're wondering!) I stalk authors (but always politely), fangirl over books, and drink coffee. And one of my guilty prides about my children is that they all have favourite authors. All opinions are my own.

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