by Lola Van Ella
I am fortunate to do the things I love full time. It’s a lot of work, very difficult at times but very rewarding. I also love to teach. To share the joy of what I do with others. However, teaching is a responsibility. If you are a teacher, you must be knowledgeable in your craft, have real world experience in your field, have years and many shows of performances and experiences under your (garter) belt. You must be honest and open to learning, because you never stop learning. It’s important to know that as a teacher, I am guiding my students through new challenges and experiences, but that when it’s over, it’s up to them to decide how they continue. My school is not a performer factory. No one should be on stage if they haven’t prepared adequately for it. If you want it, you have to earn it. If you are a performer, I, as an audience member expect to be entertained by a professional. I paid for a service and expect to have that service fulfilled. But I also believe that every student that works hard, should have a chance to shine on stage. I’ve had much success with this. I have taught hundreds and hundreds of women; in my studio, at universities, at festivals, in other countries. I take great joy in teaching and learning from all of them. I thank all of you for letting me be a part of your journey through life.
I have found myself needing to write a simple explanation of what I do and what I teach. Mostly for new students or for teachers of the studio that need help explaining in words what it is we do here at Van Ella Studios. I sat down this evening and wrote this. I hope it helps explain a little about what we all do and that you enjoy reading it. I found that I really enjoyed writing it.
Burlesque is many many things. This won’t be long winded. I’ll try to keep this short and sweet and avoid a long dissertation, which I’d be happy to indulge in at another time. This, right now, is just a little introduction into the decadent, theatrical, sexy world in which I, along with many of my favorite people live and love.
When we talk about burlesque at Van Ella Studios with new students or with curious voyeurs and fans, we are talking about a form of theater. Burlesque has many styles, shapes, forms and flavors. Burlesque can ride a line between dance, theater, performance art and erotica. There is no set definition, but in my opinion and in what we teach, when we say “burlesque” we usually mean: a form of theatrical dance in which some form of story is told(even if that story is “sexy dancer stripping”) or journey is taken and by the end, the dancer has removed some or many clothing items. In burlesque we are revealing something of ourselves, literally and spiritually. We are baring our bodies and our souls, relishing in our form and luxuriating in our sensuality. We are over exaggerating our femininity. We are female female impersonators (though men also do burlesque, many do, and some are amazing.) Burlesque can be sexy, silly, ridiculous, political, cute, fierce, ferocious; but it is most always fun, theatrical, and over the top. I have never told a performer to “take it down a notch.” Burlesque is satire. Burlesque quite literally means to parody or to mock. We are taking things we find in the everyday and turning it into art. Taking the mundane and twisting it into something colorful and beautiful. We do burlesque because we want to express something, or create something, or make a statement, or sometimes because we just want to dance and take off our clothes. But we always are doing it because we are performers. We are giving something to an audience, something of value. We are escapism.
The flavor of burlesque that we start with is classic. It’s important to honor the past and the legends of burlesque and exotic dance; looking to Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, Lili St. Cyr, Evelyn West, Blaze Starr, Dixie Evans, Josephine Baker, Mata Hari and many others as inspiration. We start with the basics; the shimmy, the strut, the bump and grind. We preen and pose like the divas that we are. We cover ourselves in feathers, and rhinestones, and fringe, and soft, flowing fabrics that move with us. We work boas, we peel gloves, we twirl delicately, we bump to the beat. We stand proud, unashamed and in all our resplendent and sparkling glory. Burlesque. It’s a fabulous thing.