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Creative Striptease: With confidence, burlesque strips away the pounds

By Irish Mae Silvestre
On February 6, 2012

Walking through the zebra print door at 3614 W. Belmont Ave. is like stepping into a boudoir. Mirrors and erotic photography line the deep plum walls. Scented candles flicker. Above a lounge chair, feather boas obscure an entire wall.

This is Vaudezilla Studios, home of the Chicago-based burlesque troupe. Here, you won't find any celebrity magazines in the waiting area. Instead, you're more likely to come across titles such as "Photographs Obsession" and an assortment of coffee table books on bondage.

Trumpets blare from overhead speakers and a class is in full swing. Women in their 20s and 40s saunter seductively across the room in perfect coordination, black high heels clacking in unison against the wooden floor.

Black elbow-length gloves are peeled off ever so slowly, hips sway as they turn towards their reflections with ‘come hither' eyes. It's exercise but in a much sexier package – it's burlesque, the latest fitness trend to sashay into the ranks of popular dance fitness classes such as belly dancing and zumba.

"It's a very creative striptease that's very female-centric, so it's a lot about what women find sexy," said Red Hot Annie, 32, the red-haired CEO and founder of Vaudezilla.

"Burlesque is also about building the right posture and the way you carry yourself and that comes out through dance."

After class, instructor Jeez Loueez, 26, takes a break and curls up on a lounge chair. On-stage, Jeez is a burst of energy, twirling, tap-dancing, performing splits and making audiences roar with laughter before stripping her bikini top off to applause. In person, however, she's surprisingly petite and soft-spoken. "Burlesque is very physical," she said. "It's a form of movement that requires you to move and have some knowledge of how your body works."

A new addition to the Vaudezilla troupe, Jeez is a full-time teacher and performer who believes that burlesque is the ultimate way to stay in shape. "I never go to the gym, it's so boring to run for hours on end," she said, rolling her eyes. "Burlesque helps you tone up and feel sexy at the same time. It's for those who want a different kind of workout that focuses on your abs, hips and thighs."

It's also hard not to notice the diverse female clientele that burlesque attracts. There are bursts of giggles as women of every age and shape joke around as they slip off their heels.

Bea Daunton, 40, admits that she was curious when she learned of Vaudezilla's offer on Groupon. "I'm very shy and this is definitely not for shy people," she said, laughing. "Now, I feel more open and outgoing. I also feel like it's a very good workout for the spine."

On the other hand, model and actress Margaret Fronimos, 24, saw burlesque as a great addition to her portfolio. "I watched the documentary ‘A Wink and A Smile' and I thought to myself, ‘I have to do this,'" she said. "I love it because it's so empowering for women."

Burlesque may be known for its striptease but Jeez adds that there's more to her 90-minute classes than just learning to be seductive. "Half of the class focuses on warm-ups, which are a combination of yoga, ballet and Pilates," Jeez said. "In my class in particular, you're definitely going to feel the burn the next day."

She added that as a teacher, honesty is key. "Since burlesque is so all-inclusive (in terms of body shapes,) people expect me to just say, ‘Yay! You're doing a good job,'" she said. "But if someone's not doing (a move) properly, you need to tell them."

However, Jeez admitted that the hardest thing to teach students is confidence. "Since it incorporates the tease and sex appeal, you have to be confident when you come to a burlesque class," she said. "Sometimes it's about building confidence."

Jeez got up to greet her second beginners class for the day. It was not long until she was leading the class through warm-ups to an upbeat medley of Janet Jackson tracks. After a few basic yoga poses, she instructed her students to stand with their legs apart and dip into a grand plies.

"I think I just heard my joints pop," joked a student.

After 40 minutes of intense choreography, Jeez stood back to admire her handiwork. A big band song pounded through the speakers as the group strolled across the room in their heels with their hands on their hips and heads held high.

As she watched her students dip and shimmy to the music, Jeez smiled and nodded in approval.

"You're all sexy vixens!" she said.

Classes take place at Vaudezilla Studios, 3614 W. Belmont Ave., until Feb. 26.

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