All that jazz: The Wirral burlesque fitness group proving that life is a cabaret
“We’re definitely going to expand. We’re going to dominate the Wirral! My burlesque name is Tiger Rose; I’m soft and delicate but come with a bit of fierceness, too. I’m a tiger girl who loves her cubs immensely.”
We’re at the Grosvenor Ballroom in Liscard with Marguerite Slane of Wirral and Liverpool Burlesque Chair Dance, a fitness group dedicating themselves to the virtues and nature of burlesque to enjoy themselves whilst getting fit at the same time.
We’re also with Marguerite’s friends and fitness students, local ladies introducing themselves as Daisy Von Raven, Lady Pink, Kitty Redfire, Baby Blue and Velvet Les Fraises. It’s our most fun and relaxed interview for Wirral Way so far; Marguerite’s sense of community perhaps explains why.
“I am the only burlesque chair dance instructor on the Wirral and in Liverpool.
“It’s a community thing. It’s not just a fitness class; I don’t go ‘right I need 10 push-ups!’. You walk in and we’re a family. You matter. The ladies that are with me at the moment are the same ladies that came when we started last year in August.
“I hate body discrimination. I’m not one of these people that says ‘you have to eat salad if you come to my class’. You don’t have to be a size zero. I’m not a size zero. No matter what size you are – zero or 24 – each body is beautiful. I want to help my ladies love the body they’re in, everybody deserves to be loved.
“If they come to my class they get to eat cake. I feed them cake! They work their butts off in class so they deserve that cake, a curry and some chips.”
That’s not to say there isn’t an incredible amount of hard work going into Marguerite’s classes. Those rewards have to be earned.
“Burlesque Chair Dance is a new way for ladies to get fit, lose weight and gain confidence while having fun. It started in Doncaster in 2010 and has snowballed since then.
“It’s our one-year anniversary. On a personal level it’s grown for me. It started in Floats in Seacombe but we’ve brought it to the Grosvenor now. I love my class. It gives me confidence watching each and every one of my ladies grow.
“One of my ladies has had various problems. Now she can touch the floor with their chest. She’s amazing. I make these ladies flexible. I’m a trained ballet dancer; people have a misconception about burlesque. They think it’s about people getting their clothes off. It’s not.”
Which is interesting. We tell the girls we’re going in a bit blind. We expected corsets and Dita Von Teese-style outfits, boa feathers and husky perfumes filling the air. More leg than a bucket of KFC. Perhaps that’s the image of modern burlesque we’ve been fed; it means a whole lot more to Marguerite and her class.
“Burlesque to me is ballet, tap, contemporary… It could be being a magician; it could be just getting on stage singing. To me it’s about the 1920s, about Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe; that whole bubbly concept of making women feel good about themselves.”
The beautiful people
Feeling good with a fantasy element, but also getting fit at the same time. As well as classes revolving around the chair, we also spot the burlesque staple, the fan, amongst other props in the corner of the room.
“The routine that we’re doing today is Christina Aguilera’s Express. We have a routine for Candy Man; we select stuff from different genres so we’ll work with Def Leppard, some nice Etta James… We change it up a lot and use props like fans, hats and ties. It all features around the chair, though.
“There’s a lot of stretching. A typical class will start with a nice warm up and stretching. By Christmas I’m hoping to have this lot do the splits. Then we have a dance routine that we’ll do for four weeks. We always refresh it though, so it doesn’t matter if you walk in on week two, we’ll still go over it with you.
“It’s different genres. We get a lot of core work in there and the girls don’t really realise that they’re exercising, that they’re stretching. They’re having too much fun. It really helps to build confidence.”
For Lady Pink the group has been essential in making new friends and expanding her horizons. “We’ve all become friends outside of this. I moved up from London a few years ago but everyone I know from around here have moved to other places. It’s not like you can walk up to someone on the street and ask to be friends. Coming here, I’ve made lots of them.”
A sentiment echoed by Daisy Von Raven. “Everybody makes you feel at home and comfortable. Even if you come on your own and you’re really nervous, by the time we’re finished you feel like you’ve known these ladies for years.”
“We’ve recently done our first show for charity,” Marguerite adds. “We were in Hamilton Square and helped raise money for the armed forces. We’ve donated from raffles for cancer research, and have helped Alder Hey, too. We have a charity event on Bank Holiday Monday – I love supporting people and raising money.
“We take ladies as young as 15 provided they have adult consent and ladies that are more mature in my classes. Anybody that’s really nervous should come and give us a try. They’ll walk out with a new family.”