At the end of the 10-week course at the Rose City School of Burlesque
, the 16 students will perform a group number. That’s in addition to the non-mandatory solos that instructor Fannie Fuller says she’s “assuming” everyone will do.
But the group number for this class—made up of students of an assortment of sizes, ages and gender—has the potential to be a motley mess. Fuller says repeatedly that burlesque is “whatever you want it to be.” One woman draws inspiration from Sharon Needles. A guy imagines his character as a professional wrestler. But that philosophy throws off congruity; dancing a Ziegfield Follies number won’t work with this set.
“I’m going to play the song for you first,” Fuller says, her heels clacking toward the music player. The anticipation is surprisingly thick. I forgot, watching classmates timidly wax provocative over the past two weeks, that these are people who signed up to shake their tits and ass in a bar. The song choice feels like half of that fantasy.
The young bellydancer squeals as the first shoot of the Beatles’ “Come Together” seeps into the studio. The other students, seated on the floor, smile in agreement. The theme is mod, Fuller says, a quirky ‘60s number with revealing, flirty fashion (we’re ignoring that the song is actually post-mod).
The rebellious, Whiskey a Go-Go attitude is a logical choice for this mishmash of performers, but as we learn the number, which involves me sliding my hand up my legs at least three times, I wonder what the hell I’m going to wear to make this not look ridiculous. Then I look at professional wrestler guy. What the hell is he going to wear?
Though I'm one of only three men in the class, prompting the obvious question of gender, I think everyone has concerns about image. Around the room, as hips roll and butts shake, faces in the mirror look like they’re trying on a swimsuit that doesn’t fit right. Fuller notices.
“If you want to be hesitant now, that’s fine,“ she says, prepping to crank out a hip swivel, “but by showtime you’ve got to be like ‘Give it to me now!”