Could a dance class be a confidence boosting way to exercise? Silke Weil puts her best foot forward.

The promise

When someone mentions burlesque, I recall the film by the same name that saw Christina Aguilera and Cher strutting across the stage in extremely high heels, oozing sex appeal. Toned, glamorous and confident, it's intimidating to even consider trying to emulate them.

As a dance form, burlesque focuses on slow, controlled movements. Said to improve co-ordination as well as build a strong core, glutes and quad muscles, dancing a full routine should also see you work up a bit of a sweat.


Taking a gal pal along for moral support, I headed to Viva Dance's burlesque for a beginners' class in Grey Lynn. Promoted as being for absolutely anyone, could I keep up and strut my way through a saucy routine?

The history

Burlesque can be traced as far back as Ancient Greek times, when a popular play called Lysistrata was performed. It was a comedy where women seduced their husbands to persuade them to end a war.

In 17th-century Italy burlesque was presented as a comic interlude to theatre performances. The word burlesque is derived from the Italian word, burla, meaning a prank.

In the early 1900s burlesque entered the US and became a show involving striptease, cabaret, comedy and flirty costumes. However, in the 1970s, burlesque took a nose dive in popularity as nudity found its way into mainstream media.

Dita Von Teese re-ignited the world's interest in the early 2000s. Her sexy vintage dance routines saw Von Teese become an alternative feminist icon for a different kind of old-fashioned glamour. Prior to this, the notion of nudity as a means to satisfy the male gaze didn't exactly speak to feminist ideals.

But along with Von Teese's promotion, films like Burlesque have cemented the performance art's place in modern culture as a celebration of sensuality and the female form.

Silke arrived in sneakers and everyone else was wearing heels. Photo / Getty Images
Silke arrived in sneakers and everyone else was wearing heels. Photo / Getty Images

The science


Researchers at Colorado State University's Human Development and Family Studies Department found that dance classes are good for exercise, social interaction and learning. They noted a positive effect on the region of the brain known as the fornix, "a white matter tract in the middle of the brain that is a bundle of ... wires."

Dancing can also offer mental reprieve from life's stressors: according to a study in the European Journal of Sport Science, recreational dancers experience positive changes in mood, energy levels and tension.

A study by dance psychologist Peter Lovatt also offers an interesting insight into dance and confidence levels. He explains that dance confidence varies by gender and age group: Women have higher levels of dance confidence than men, and dance confidence changes as we age. For women, dance confidence levels start high in early adolescence, but drop significantly after the age of 16. They rise steadily through the late-teens and early 20s before levelling off during mid-life.

The reality

First of all, I was terrified by the thought of unco-ordinated me dancing in front of people. It didn't help my confidence when I realised I'd arrived in sneakers and everyone else was wearing heels. Thankfully, my friend was in the same boat.

The class wasn't what I expected. It's not about taking to the stage for a striptease.

We spent an hour learning the first part of a routine to The Pussycat Dolls' track: "I don't need a man". The moves were generally simple: strutting to the beat, hip rolls and slowly shifting your weight from foot to foot. At one point I was gasping for breath, I'd got so into it. Beyond this, however, I didn't find myself working up a sweat.

Remembering each move was a struggle in itself but I focused on the small victories, getting the steps down first, then picking up on the arm movements.

My concern about looking stupid was quickly forgotten. No one was watching me – although I kind of wish they were because I'm sure I was looking pretty sexy and co-ordinated.

Mastering the choreography was empowering. It seriously put my brain to work. I wish I'd worn heels, but do wonder if they would've just hindered my efforts.

Viva Dance's in Grey Lynn offers a burlesque for a beginners' class. Photo / Getty Images
Viva Dance's in Grey Lynn offers a burlesque for a beginners' class. Photo / Getty Images

The verdict

Performing a routine in a group is a bit of an indescribable feeling: there's something so awesome about seeing everyone moving to the beat in unison.

The class taught me that everyone can dance and you only look like a dork if you refuse to join in.

As a form of exercise, I don't think burlesque would bring major physical changes to your body, or see you working up an extreme sweat at the beginner level where you're learning moves at a slow pace. But it sure is fun. It will put a smile on your face and leave you feeling great - and isn't that one of the best things about exercise?