Students shimmy and undulate at Sexland’s ‘Burlesque for Shy and Awkward People’

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By Brittany Miller
Flapjack Chronicle

It’s a Saturday afternoon in the Goodwin Forum and the sun is setting, imparting the students nervously milling around with a soft glow. Titters of suppressed laughter echo through the hall. College-aged kids shyly sit down next to one another without making eye contact. Virgie Tovar abruptly bursts onto the scene with bright green harem pants and a side ponytail bobbing. For the next hour, Tovar will be teaching the students how to shed their hesitancy and “feel sexy” through burlesque performance.

Tovar is a former neo-burlesque dancer and author of Hot&Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. She was chosen to be the keynote speaker for this year’s Sexland, the annual sex and body awareness forum and workshop hosted at Humboldt State University from Feb. 26-March 1. For the second year in a row, Tovar led a workshop called Burlesque for Shy and Awkward People.

Astin Williams, 19, a co-coordinator for Sexland thinks the burlesque workshop is a great way to teach people how to feel more comfortable as themselves.

“It’s all about feeling sexy in your own skin, being awkward and having fun with it,” said Williams. “It’s awesome and exciting, especially when Virgie teaches it.”

To start off, Tovar explained some background of traditional burlesque.

“Burlesque came into the spotlight at the world’s fair,” Tovar said. “It was all about making things larger than life, dancing with intentionality. The word burlesque comes from the Italian burlesco, which literally means a joke, or a mockery.”

Tovar thinks that because burlesque is meant to be so over-the-top, stage names are an important component.

“Pick something crazy, but something that has a story behind it that you can connect with,” Tovar said. “Mine is Dulce DeLecherous, in tribute to my Latina heritage. I tell people I picked it because I was born when Jesus didn’t pull out fast enough.”

The workshop itself was comprised of three parts. First, students stretched. Then, they moved on to learning how to strut. Tovar encouraged participants to create a “sexy conga line” where they would take their strut for a test drive.

“I want you to pick an affect,” said Tovar. “Give me your best bitch face.”

After the conga line, Tovar talked about her favorite burlesque show. As a self-proclaimed fat woman, this show was where where she became comfortable with “making burlesque part of her journey.”

“It’s where a woman comes out on stage in a sexy satin robe and seductive high heels,” Tovar said. “She does a sensual dance, and then when she finally does ‘the big reveal’ and slips off her robe, it reveals a massive bush of pubic hair.”

After doing a run down of the most common and crucial moves of neo-burlesque (including the shimmy and the hip shake) students moved on to the third and final part of the workshop, choreography.

“It was really fun, I liked that she set it to rap music and changed songs every time she changed the moves,” said Michael Unger, a 24-year-old attendee. “It made me feel more comfortable and less stiff.”

Once the students had learned all the steps in the routine Tovar gave the class a choice of music for the final run through.

“What do you think, guys? Milkshake?” said Tovar.

The class unanimously agreed that, yes, ‘Milkshake’ was the appropriate choice for the finished dance.

After the workshop, Tovar stayed to answer questions from the students. One of the students asked “Why shy and awkward people?”

“I’m interested in getting people who wouldn’t normally come to a burlesque class,” Tovar said. “People who normally identify as shy or awkward. Since I’m a bigger bodied woman, I know sometimes when people see my body moving they think, ‘Oh, I can do that too.’ It’s all about empowering people.”

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