Rachel Grunwell

Fitness writer.

Fitness Challenge: Shake those assets

Each week Rachel Grunwell tries a new sport to bring you the lowdown

In a burlesque dance class with Chris Olwage, Rachel Grunwell lost her inhibitions. Photo / Doug Sherring
In a burlesque dance class with Chris Olwage, Rachel Grunwell lost her inhibitions. Photo / Doug Sherring

Burlesque beginner class

What is it? Cabaret-style performance, think Christina Aguilera's Lady Marmalade song or the backdrop to Baz Luhrmann's movie, Moulin Rouge. It was popular theatre/music/comedy/entertainment from roughly 1840-1960.

What's needed? Fitted clothes, heels (with heel caps), but they're not a must.

The experience: I'm at Candy Lane Dance Studios, owned by top dancer and TV darling Candy Lane (it's where Lady Gaga and her dancers practised between their shows). It's where you can learn to dance like a star, as well as dance with a star. Big names teach here.

I've (bravely) put my hand up for burlesque with Chris Olwage, who reached the semifinals of NZ's Got Talent (remember Rachel Hunter loved his beautiful ballet pointe work, and he told the nation he was once an unhappy 100kg teen until he discovered dance).

He's Mr Gay NZ 2013 and is off to the Mr Gay World champs in Belgium soon.

I'm in yoga clothes so Candy hands me some burlesque garb "otherwise you'll look out of place. Everyone dresses up!" So I slip on the cheeky outfit and gawp in the studio's floor-to-ceiling mirror. Who is this?

Everyone in the class arrives in theme (phew). They are lawyers, a financial whiz and travel consultant and mums, plus one bloke who dances on cruise ships. They're here for "escapism", "fun" and they adore Chris.

Chris tells me "my girls" turned up in neck-high nana cardigans when they first started. But slowly he's persuaded them "to break into the burlesque persona". Now they rock the fishnet, high-heel and hot-pants look.

He tells everyone "leave your inhibitions at the door; there's no place for it here".

The class begins with Britney Spears' You Want a Piece of Me, warming up by circling our arms and rotating our hips, following Chris' lead.

Speaking of leads, we next each drag a feather boa over our shoulders imagining "there's a man at the end of that leash". I blush, but then laugh as I carry out the act to music.

Chris reminds us to "break down the walls and get comfortable in your own skins". He tells us "to sell our assets". Then he jokes that what he really means is for us to sell our "ass" and "sets". I'm definitely blushing now.

Chris sees I've turned the same shade as my scarlet lipstick and reassures "it's half about taking the mickey out of yourself and half self-discovery!"

So I decide not to take myself too seriously, embrace his challenge and try to spice up my flirty moves.

We then strut like we're on a catwalk and Chris reminds us that it's okay to mess up a move. "Just think of it as a spontaneous solo performance."

We learn a dance step-by-step then piece it together. There's the biting of gloves (to loosen them finger by finger before tossing them up in the air), we drag our feather boas along the ground (while imagining man slaves at the end), and do some sexy turns and cute dance steps, then, ahem, I slap my derriere as part of the choreography. But it's teasey, not sleazy.

By the end of the class I've peeled off my gloves and giggled, carried off some struts and ultimately revealed another layer of moi. I started off blushing, but eventually embrace my boa and enjoy getting up to mischief with music.

How much? $25 a lesson, $180 for a nine-week term.

Worth it? Be brave and try it, you'll laugh! Take advantage of NZ's top dance talent right on your doorstep.

Try it: Burlesque beginner class is Mondays, 7pm-8pm at Candy Lane Dance Studios, 44 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden, Auckland, ph (09) 638 5646, candylane.co.nz

Rating: 9.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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