Introduction to Burlesque with Roxy Horror

Story by Sidney Ulakovic, Photo by Emily Turner 

“Isn’t that like, old-timey stripping?” my partner asked me, seemingly equal parts concerned and intrigued, upon learning I’d be taking a burlesque class this month. In short, yes, it is—as he put it so eloquently—“old-timey stripping,” and I couldn’t think of a better way to break out of my routine and, better yet, challenge myself this year, seeing as I don’t think writers have garnered a reputation for being great at sexy-dancing. But we can change this narrative, one brave writer at a time.

As bold as I felt enrolling in the class, I’ll admit that trying something new can be intimidating. And as my classmates and I took our places in the studio, confronted with our soon-to-be-attempting-to-dance reflections in the mirror, I certainly felt a little intimidated. My only previous dance experience consisted of high school gym class, which felt like some weird form of torture, and what may have passed as dancing at nightclubs (after doing more shots than I care to disclose). The small class size, however, was a comfort, and as our instructor Alicia Furness (they/she), who performs as Roxy Horror, began to introduce the class, I felt those butterflies in my belly begin to flutter away.

Furness’s energy could not be more perfect for leading a class like this. If I only had one word to describe Furness, it would be fun. Furness fell into the world of burlesque (among other dance forms), and eventually began performing at festivals and teaching after a series of coincidences seemed to fatefully point them there. “I remember walking up the stairs [to the stage] and my heart was beating out of my chest,” Furness recalls of their first performance. “And then people are so excited to see you take your clothes off, that when I was coming back down those stairs, I was like ‘I need to do that again.’ I was hooked.”

As Furness introduced us to the foundations of burlesque—you know, bumping, grinding, and quivering—they encouraged us to check in with ourselves throughout the class, both physically and emotionally, and move in a way that felt right for our bodies, giving options for different ways to approach the choreography based on our comfort level. If you want to be more dainty, go for it. Want to make your choreo as raunchy as possible? Be their guest. Now you may be thinking, Do I have to get naked? Furness’s classes are a strip-safe environment, so if you do want to let it all hang out as classes go on, you’re more than welcome to, but there’s also no pressure if you’d rather figure out the choreo fully clothed.

Unless you’re extraordinarily comfortable with yourself and your body, I can say that, as someone with no dance experience, you may feel kind of ridiculous. And that’s okay. “I danced as a child, but it wasn’t a great experience for me inhabiting a larger body,” Furness says. “I know the feeling of kind of being the worst person in class—feeling like you’re the only one who’s not getting it, feeling like you quite literally don’t fit in.” Being in Furness’s class, it’s evident that they approach teaching from a desire to change this experience for others; just looking around the room, you’ll see students who are all different ages, sizes, and gender identities. “I really genuinely believe dance and movement are for everyone, regardless of your experience, or your body, or your disability status, or your gender,” Furness says. “I just want dance to be accessible to everyone so I make it accessible.”  

And accessible it most certainly is. With Furness’s instruction, learning has been the easiest part, as they make getting the hang of the movement highly approachable for a beginner. The greatest challenge thus far has been leaning into that feeling of ridiculousness (I am, after all, still a writer with two left feet), and, with each class, fully trusting—and even starting to feel—that the further I lean, the more empowering it is. 

Want to try burlesque for yourself? Follow @roxyhorrorburlesque on Instagram and stay tuned for class announcements.