Beyond ‘Bumps and Grinds,’ burlesque workshop teaches empowerment

‘Many women find a sense of themselves in burlesque’

American Rose Theater held a Burlesque workshop at Flow Foundry Studio. Their next show is on July 22 at Wichita Scottish Rite.
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American Rose Theater held a Burlesque workshop at Flow Foundry Studio. Their next show is on July 22 at Wichita Scottish Rite.

There are different ways a burlesque performer can remove a glove. Some characters would tear the glove off. Another performance might involve the performer sensually sliding the glove slowly down and off her arm.

A performer must know herself before creating a character, Shelley Palmer taught the group of women gathered in a circle.

“I’m going to ask you to be real, not perfect,” Palmer said. “Women are the hardest on themselves. … Today is about you and what you discover about yourself.”

Jamie Rhodes, known onstage as “Victoria Voluptuous,” and Palmer, known onstage as “Shellena Star,” taught the burlesque workshop “Bumps, Grinds, Giggles and Wiggles” on Saturday. About 10 women attended, most new to burlesque.

American Rose Theater, which the two women founded in 2012, does burlesque workshops and shows in Wichita. Their next show is “Cinema Shakedown: The Trilogy” on July 22.

Burlesque involves magic acts, parody and comedy, “a whole vaudeville performance,” Rhodes said, in addition to the striptease.

The word “burlesque” dates back at least to the 17th century. In the 1830s and 1890s it often parodied Shakespeare or opera. By the 1920s and ’30s, burlesque was mostly known for striptease with elaborate costumes, according to the website Burlexe.

Many women find a sense of themselves in burlesque, Rhodes said.

“People use the word empowerment,” Rhodes said. “True, there’s a form of sexuality to it — (but) you can see a statue of a naked body and instead of lusting after it, you appreciate the art. I love movement, I love things that sparkle and shine and are fringe-y.”

Sparkles and fringe did make an appearance during the latter half of the workshop, when Rhodes taught the women to shimmy and tease to “Bumps and Grinds.”

The women donned bras over their clothing, then button-down shirts on top of that as they rehearsed the routine that ended with them dramatically “stripping” — although still fully clothed.

”There is a sort of raw honesty about it that celebrates women as they are: body positivity no matter your shape or size,” said Lucy Hesse, who was attending her first burlesque workshop.

During the first half of the workshop, Palmer talked with the women about being comfortable in themselves as well as the different “erotic blueprints”: sensual, energetic, sexual and kinky. She used the glove tease to show how the different “blueprints” can be applied to burlesque.

For Palmer, her fascination with burlesque began when she watched the movie “Burlesque.” Like Christina Aguilera’s character in the film, she loved the performance and the costumes. Then she purchased a book about burlesque and found out that the dancers stripped.

“I was like, I don’t know if I could do that,” Palmer said.

Later, she connected with a burlesque group in Wichita. They told her that burlesque involves “whatever your comfort zone is,” and she got involved.

When asked what they find sexy about burlesque, many of the women said it was the confidence of the performers. Other answers included the sensuality, the creativity and the costumes.

“I just enjoy doing something fun that was out of the norm,” said Brandi Brinkley, who also was at her first workshop. “I think it’s cool for women to come together, especially to do something that’s empowering with our bodies.”

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess