When I think about men, and I often do, I sometimes ponder the jobs or activities they do that somehow magically—and almost inexplicably—make them more desirable to me. I just found out that a friend of a friend enrolled in a course to become a cabinetmaker. I thought he was reasonably attractive before, but now I can’t stop thinking about him. Call me clichéd, but I do love a man with skills. From emergency room doctors to industrial construction workers, there are job-related reasons to lust after them all.
Other than saucy librarian or stripper, I can’t think of any job that would make me unbelievably desirable to all men. Shockingly, magazine executive does not seem to set fire to men’s loins. I guess there is French Maid, but come on; French Maid isn’t a real job—even if you happen to be both French and a maid. I can’t be bothered to get a degree in library science, and I have a hard enough time cleaning my own apartment, much less anyone else’s. So I’m left with only one option. Stripping.
Clearly I’m not about to become a brass rail stripper. There will be no poles and plastic panties for me. Obviously I end up in a burlesque class. Just in time for spring, I become a student of Madamoiselle Oui Oui Encore at Studio Metronome on St. Laurent. No, I did not make up her name. She did. Burlesque is all about character, and Oui Oui Encore is the character name for a petite black-haired woman trained in dance and the art of seduction. Her performance is studied, and she did not come up with it in a week. As I soon find out, it isn’t easy.
Dreaming of a warm, scented salon with boas and bras, panties and pasties luxuriously scattered over dressing room screens, I make my way to the dance studio on St. Laurent. Just anticipating the class sends a newfound sexiness coursing through my veins. Soon, I imagine, I will be surrounded by fellow vixens, learning how to drive the male population mad with lust and longing. However, that is not exactly how it goes down.
Obviously, Studio Metronome is a proper dance studio, not a bawdy house or 19th century saloon. Outside the door, waiting to start their lessons, is a collection of women ranging in age from twenty-one to . . . older. Could this rag-tag collection of accountants,administrative assistants, lawyers, moms and, yes, one magazine executive cause sweaty palms and the odd wet dream? While we are all in search of a hot hobby (Well, I am in search of a hot hobby; there is a small group of women there that may be a bridal party— what a great idea!), at first glance, we aren’t quite ready to set the city on fire. Enter Oui Oui Encore.
When the class begins, I notice that Oui Oui and I are the only two women whose bras are plainly visible from the outset. The difference between us is that she has dressed that way on purpose. There nestled between the delicate lace of her black bra is the hot pink bow you are supposed to see. The front of my tank top is slightly baggy and pulled down too far on one side allowing the left strap and lacey top of my bra to clumsily peek out.
Before seeing Oui Oui Encore in action, I always thought Burlesque was just a bit of naughty fun. I went to one Burlesque show a couple years ago; I enjoyed it, but not as much as the man sheepishly walking into the bathroom after a particularly naughty number involving several nimble young women dressed as very badly behaved school girls who clearly deserved a spanking.
Burlesque is actually a legitimate art form with a long history reaching back to Commedia dell arte. Stripping was one feature of Burlesque performances, alongside comedy, satire of the upper classes, mime, singing and dancing. Thankfully for me, the fire-breathing and contortionist aspects have also since fallen away. I am always up for a challenge but I have to draw the line somewhere.
The costuming for women became increasingly minimal over the years, and by the early 1900s, the focus was decidedly on the strip tease, which eventually, would be the genre’s undoing in moralistic 1930’s America. Currently the art form is experiencing something of a revival. In 1996, Burlesque put the spring in Springfield. In 2005, Marilyn Manson got married to the captivating Burlesque artist Dita Von Tease who has some of the most beautiful lingerie I have ever seen. Last year, there was even a burlesque performer on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
In spite of this glorious history, if it were not for Madamoiselle Oui Oui Encore, I would probably still think that there is nothing to it. I would be wrong. It is not a mish-mash of sexy wiggling, lingerie and coquettish glances across the room. Or, I should say, it is not only those things. There is a technique. And every turn, dip, step and bend is meant to tease and beguile an audience. These elements are just as important as pulling off a glove, dropping your boa or removing your skirt. With every move and gesture, you, the dancer, have to keep your eye on the audience, as if your eyes are competing with your hips, breasts, legs or whatever else for the audience’s attention.
Central to Oui Oui Encore’s first lesson is the importance of teasing over crass sexuality. For example, you are often called to bend over toward the audience to better display your cleavage. The point of this move, the Tease, is not to show too much, but just enough. I imagine it may well have been the precursor to the Bend and Snap we all learned from Legally Blond. However, the Bend and Snap is definitely the more vulgar cousin. The Tease is what really gets hearts racing. If you don't believe me, try it yourself. You can tease your coworkers anywhere in the office—try stepping on a chair to show off your legs. The important thing is to slide the foot you raise along your other calf for maximum tease effect.
We spend a lot of time in the class dancing in front of the mirror, and I really have to concentrate to get the moves right. I don’t know that I am the best student of Burlesque. It isn’t until we learn to pause, pivot and pass each other that I get a sense of how everyone is taking to it. As we approach each other from across the room, we inevitably giggle in unison for the four beats that we are face to face.
By the end of a couple of trial classes, I may not belong on a stage, but I have learned one thing from Oui Oui Encore that I want to incorporate into my daily life: the sexy Burlesque walk. To do the sexy Burlesque walk, you place one foot directly in front of the other and rock your hips in sync to the naughty and playful drumbeat in your head. It is very simple, but it works.
The week after learning the sexy Burlesque walk, I use it on our FedEx guy. He arrives in our office on a Friday afternoon—a little hot and sweaty after six flights of stairs—bearing a package with my name on it. Catching him dead in the eye, I slink toward him suggestively, ready to sign. I can’t say too much . . . but the effect is devastating.
Photo of Mlle Oui Oui Encore by Patricia Chica
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