Dance your ass off

WEB-Burlesque-Vaikunthe Banerjee

SFU rec’s burlesque classes are a great alternative to your typical fitness class

By Rachel Braeuer
Photos by Vaikunthe Banerjee

Hesitating to sign up for a Burlesque fitness class because you don’t want to get pasties-and-thong-naked in public? Hesitate no more. The only thing I took off for the class was my shoes and socks, and even that wasn’t mandatory.

The burlesque classes offered through SFU’s recreation programs are a variation on the iconic Burlesque performance style. Lana Friesen, the class instructor, likes to call silhouesque. “Silhouesque is less of a focus on strip and more of a focus on tease.” It’s a combination of tango, salsa and jazz moves that honour the classic coyness you’d expect from burlesque.

Friesen has been teaching burlesque classes using the silhouesque dance moves at SFU for two years now with lots of positive responses. A dancer since age four in a slough of forms, she’s been teaching classes around the lower mainland since starting at SFU. She has her own company, Joy of Dance productions, and started the burlesque troupe Glamourati, with some of her former students who now perform burlesque benefits around the lower mainland.

If performing is something you’re interested in, taking a class is a great way to test the water. She laughs remembering her first class at SFU rec, with about 50 people showing up in the small fitness studio for trial week, making some of the moves look more human centipede than sexy. Classes generally have about 20–25 people, so on a normal day personal space isn’t an issue.

The classes are a unique workout and a good time. I’ll level with you, though: if the only thing keeping your indebted-ass going through university is the thought that, if it came down to it, you’d pay off your student loans by stripping or some other such sexy parttime job, attending one of Friesen’s burlesque classes may come as an unwanted dose of reality. Looking “sexy” while going through choreographed moves isn’t easy — start attending classes like a mad person now. After taking one, you’ll probably want to anyway, though. I dragged two other Peakies with me and we spent the majority of the time laughing at ourselves and our general ineptitude.

Friesen makes it looks easy, and admittedly the warm-up may initially make you think you have it in the bag. There’s a lot of head and shoulder rolling and booty-shaking. You may feel awkward gyrating, but it’s not particularly demanding. Not until you attempt to set these steps or a body roll to music. What’s a body roll, you ask? Remember that clip of Jessica Alba dancing from Rodriguez’s Sin City? That’s a body roll — you’re welcome.

I doubt my heart rate increased very much while doing this class, so if you’re looking for something that’s going to incinerate calories, maybe run cardiac hill as a warm up and then attend the class. To be fair, most of us in attendance were beginners, and so we very slowly made our way through the steps.

By the end of the hour-long class, we had probably mastered (and by that I mean managed to bungle our way through without tripping over our own feet) about a minute of the song. I can see how, if you knew what you were doing, running through a few songs would work up a sweat and tone muscles with results similar to pilates. Friesen demonstrated the full dance afterward and a number of the moves were a cross between a burpee, a plank and the middle steps of a sun salutation.

The focus on this as fitness is moreso on stretching and moving your body in a way you wouldn’t normally as opposed to a bouncing cardio-bonanza. Some of the bending and arching we did left me feeling the way I’d expect to after having done weighted hyperextensions and I felt the stretches in my hamstrings for a few days afterwards which surprised me since flexibility is one of the few things I have going for me in the athletics department.

If you’re interested in trying burlesque out, Friesen tries to keep her classes as accessible as possible and offers free classes often. If you can’t wait until trial week or the next free offering, “you can always ask to do a drop in class,” Friesen explains, by contacting herself or the rec office. She reassures, “Don’t be afraid. No one is going to start out perfect.”