Silky gloves, flamboyant feather boas and fishnet tights. Three things that remind of burlesque shows, but of course that’s not all there is to it. The world of burlesque is sparkly, seductive, dramatic but above all an art form. It’s one that Cyprus doesn’t know very much of as the burlesque scene is practically non-existent.
One Italian woman living in Cyprus, however, is determined to show island residents the magic of burlesque through her weekly classes. In her day-to-day life, she goes by the name Stefania, when on stage though it is as her alter ego Vanilla Rose.
“All my life I had been looking for a way to bring out the art that lies in me,” she told the Cyprus Mail and it seems she found it in feminine costumes and retro sensual music. But what is Burlesque? It’s not selling sex or a striptease, as it is at times believed, rather the classy art of seduction, right?
“Burlesque,” explained Vanilla Rose, “as a word has been used since the 17th century, deriving from the Italian word ‘burlesco’, itself from ‘burla’ meaning a joke or mockery. It was used to describe this type of show during the Victorian era, played in the suburbs of the big cities, where performers made a parody of the most famous actresses from the prestigious theatres. From this derives its typical dose of irony and the use of excessive and flamboyant costumes.
“It’s dancing and acting together,” she added, “as we also play characters: so, from time to time we can be a diva, a pin-up, a secretary, a housewife and so on, in the game of discovering our innate power of seduction and sensuality. It’s teasing and irony together in a female form of art, light and sophisticated at the same time, with a supreme retro aesthetic.”
Performing burlesque blends a variety of art forms; dancing, acting, cabaret, performing art and exotic acts. One of its distinctive features is the use of particular props and accessories – umbrellas, balloons wrapped around their body and flashy headpieces.
Before talking with Vanilla Rose, I browsed her blog which has quite a lot of information about the art, from the differences between classical and new burlesque, reasons to take her classes and videos of international Burlesque performers. Among the videos are also some of Vanilla Rose’s performances. She’s no Dita Von Teese though, it is hard to pull off that level of glamour when filming at home and you don’t have a giant champagne glass to wallow in. But her use of props and accessories and the costumes themselves are rich.
Her own interest in Burlesque was triggered in 2012 when Vanilla Rose attended her first show at a club in Italy. Two years later, she took her first burlesque classes, trained by professional performers. When she moved to Cyprus with her family in 2016 though thrilled with her new home in Ayia Napa she hit a wall as the local scene offered nothing of this kind.
“Women all over Cyprus do not know, yet, that Burlesque is what they’ve been waiting for and I am here to show them!” she said, determined to demonstrate how performing it can awaken a feminine side and boost self-esteem.
Yes, Burlesque does involve sexy music and a fair bit of nudity at times as performers slowly and artistically take off part of their costumes. Yet it’s not the sleazy striptease most people have in mind; it is about teasing in a playful and elegant way.
“Burlesque, as seen on the most prestigious stages worldwide,” Vanilla Rose explained, “elevates the striptease to an art form, as the official limits are set and respected. Please do not confuse Burlesque with the striptease one sees in strip-clubs.”
Her classes don’t include taking off clothes though, so participants shouldn’t fell they will be left with nothing but suspenders and nipple tassels. The tease is limited to removing gloves, feather boas and hats as she teaches a style called Bon-Ton Burlesque, which maintains its authenticity without a striptease.
The weekly classes currently take place at the Tree of Life in Larnaca every Thursday, even continuing online during the lockdown. From September 10, classes will resume in Larnaca with a Facebook event detailing prices and updates. As a freelance teacher, though this is not her full-time job Vanilla Rose can organise classes anywhere in Cyprus and even online as some of her students are in the UK and in Italy.
Once in the class, “we wear our dance shoes and feel fabulous with our beautiful dresses,” Vanilla Rose said, but leggings and t-shirt also work as long as you feel at ease. “We start every time with a warm-up. Standing in front of the mirror, my girls dance with me in what I call freestyle improvisation: they follow my moves and we dance together.”
Classes practice all the basic and essential techniques (walking, static poses, teasing, bumps, grinds, shimmies and so on) then they proceed with a focus on a specific topic, for example, a veil dance, umbrella & hat, or character playing. “There’s no risk of getting bored. Every class is like a girls’ night out. We feel like the Sex & the City girls in Cyprus.”
No previous dance experience is required and there is no age limit either. “Worldwide there are Burlesque performers, teachers and students in their sixties and seventies!” Besides being all-inclusive, Stefania wants to educate people on the island about what the art form is and hopefully create a big scene for it.
“Usually in Cyprus, Burlesque is intended as a cabaret dancing or singing, or a high-heel dance to the music from the movie Burlesque. From what I’ve seen, these kinds of classes were offered after the movie was released in cinemas some years ago, but the initial curiosity suddenly diminished. But don’t worry, my mission is to bring Burlesque island-wide!”
The classes aren’t the only way Vanilla Rose wants to do this. Her Girls Nights Out events are tailor-made occasions for women to come together, play dress-up and dance, also suitable for hens’ parties. Taking things a step further, she has just launched a social networking club exclusively for women along with her friend Linda Pallien, called Alpha Women Cyprus.
The network will hold a mix of social events and professional events each month around the island, with an aim to network, embrace feminine uniqueness, support each other and grow together. “Committed to personal and professional growth in a supportive sisterhood,” she said “our events are filled with elegance, glamour, fun! Burlesque is the art form that inspires us and that makes us feel like divas.
“I love the self-confidence that Burlesque gives me, the way it makes me feel special and beautiful,” Vanilla Rose said, and that’s one of the main things she wants people to take away from her classes.
“Burlesque,” she added, “is a way to boost your self-esteem, to make you feel comfortable with your body, to feel beautiful and feminine. It’s the celebration of each woman’s uniqueness. It allows us to stay with other wonderful women, to have fun, to cheer and laugh. It’s not simply a dance or one-hour workout: it’s a state of mind, it’s another way to look at yourself in the mirror and to smile.”