STRUGGLING to point my left leg in a ‘graceful way’ I realise, maybe, I am not a natural burlesque dancer.
But I’m still in high spirits, because my teacher is Khandie Khisses, one of the world’s-finest burlesque stars, who is so well known that she is about to appear in a Hollywood film as herself.
She assures me that I am not the first man she has taught – while making it clear that being a man will not be a valid excuse to avoid ‘giving it a proper go’.
Why am I doing this? Well this week Khandie starts offering women-only workshops at the Queens Park Arts Centre. When she is not touring around the world she is a professional teacher. Khandie teaches new skills to everyone from fellow professional dancers to hen parties, but this is the first time she has run classes in her home town.
She tells me that she recently taught moves to a woman aged in her 70s and choreographed a burlesque routine for a couple’s first wedding dance.
Before we begin, the smiley 26 year old, real name Emma Rees, reminds me that her classes are about laughter and fun – then hands me long leather gloves and an ostrich-feather fan. At this moment I’m starting to regret allowing Bucks Herald video reporter Natalee Hazelwood to film the lesson for this paper’s website.
Today I am going to learn the Oyster, Peacock, Reveal and Peek-a-boo. She hands me my fan, which is heavier than I expected. Most dancers buy each individual feather and then ask someone they trust to make the fans – but this is a ‘cheap training one’ she tells me.
You hold the fans like a frisbee, using your thumb to set the angle and spreading out your fingers to open it up. Holding both fans behind you and shaking them gently is quite straightforward (the Peacock). However, I seem to struggle with moving them around in a simple routine.
The Oyster is quite simple (pictured above). You hold both fans horizontally against your chest and then move them apart – in the same way a clam opens. The Peek-a-boo is similar, but you hold the fans vertically. The classes are designed to be fun. Women are told to wear comfortable clothing to take part and Khandie – who often walks around Aylesbury in vintage clothing – dresses casually when she teaches.
The former RAF admin assistant is consistently voted as one of the world’s best through an annual survey of 20,000 enthusiasts. She is currently rehearsing for a dance scene in Jimmy’s End – the new film from the writer of V For Vendetta.
She says burlesque dancing is about having a good time and not sex, which is why on stage she performs to largely women-only audiences. The classes, including this Thursday’s taster session, are open to women aged 18 and above.
After getting over the initial shock of what I was doing, and it being on camera, I did enjoy the session. Khandie is bubbly, outgoing and encouraging. Could I imagine participants racing home to show their husbands what they have learnt? No.
But I could imagine groups of women going home after having a fun evening – which isn’t as physically demanding as an exercise class (but probably better for you than lying on the sofa).