Burlesque may have been the 19th Century equivalent of lap dancing, but the boudoir art is now being used to improve women's body confidence.
“Look at my shoe!”
Scantily clad in fishnets, frilly knickers and tight vest-top, Stephanie Heath cuts an imposing figure – despite being 5ft 3in.
As I gaze down at the killer patent leather heels she is pointing to, I begin to understand the allure of burlesque and why you don’t have to be Dita von Teese to perform a spellbinding routine.
Two hours from now the class of slightly bewildered, but very giggly, first-timers will perform a group routine that incorporates elements of military, showgirl and modern burlesque.
Perfecting a Betty Boo wiggle or Betty Grable’s alluring walk are just part of the taster session run at Birmingham’s Sports Cafe – in a strict only-girls-allowed environment.
While none of the 12 women taking part will admit to having any naked ambitions to become showgirls themselves, it is clear they all want to take something home with them – if only the ability to walk tall, in high heels, with renewed confidence.
But as Steph sternly points to her shiney stiletto, in faux dominatrix mode, I feel somewhat self-conscious – if for no other reason than I never quite mastered the art of walking in heels, let alone sashaying along gracefully.
Think Bambi on ice, except I am not as co-ordinated as a baby deer.
And clad in combat shorts and a vest, I felt strangely exposed.
First comes the Betty Boo wiggle, sticking my hips out in time to Marilyn Monroe’s I Want To Be Loved By You, followed by some exaggerated expressions including one dubbed “Oh no, naughty boy”.
Then comes the walk. Showgirl, complete with a fan that shed its feathers with every step, was relatively simple but then shaking that tail feather in a sexy way is a lot more complicated than I ever imagined. How on earth does Dita make it look so easy and effortless?
While many of Steph’s pupils have their own reasons for wanting to perfect the art of burlesque, why did she start strutting and shimmying?
“I’ve been dancing since I was three-years-old, when I first started ballet lessons, and went on to study contemporary dance as well,” explained the 19-year-old, from Sutton Coldfield.
“But I discovered pole dancing while I was at university in Wolverhampton when some of the girls went to a lesson for a laugh, a couple of us decided to take classes but when my friend dropped out I decided to carry on and eventually became a teacher with Polestars.
“Burlesque is a relatively new thing for me but given the profile it’s now got, thanks to personalities like Dita Von Teese, it’s no longer seen as being seedy instead people think it’s a glamorous and fun hobby.”
As girlish laughter echoes around the room, while the class practises “the drop” and coy “pick up” of the feathery fan, it would seem Steph is right.
Soon the class is working on their end of class routine, which despite the small numbers, is a terrifying prospect.
But soon time is up and the groups have to perform. The nervous giggles are somehow replaced by a quiet confidence as we all take our turn to strut and wiggle for our intimate audience.
Steph added: “We do get women of all ages and backgrounds coming to the classes, for various reasons. Some want to spice up their love lives, others want to learn a new skill and some come along to have a bit of a giggle, which is fine.
“No matter why they came in the first place, I’d say most if not all the women who take part tell me afterwards that they feel more confident, which is something they can benefit from every day, behind closed doors or not.
“I think you did very well and the whole class showed considerable improvement and much more confidence by the time you performed the group routines.”
But did the other would-be Ditas get a taste for burlesque?
Angie Nicholls, a 27-year-old planning analyst from Hollywood, Birmingham, thought the class would be more challenging.
“I’d done pole dancing before but I’d read about this class and thought I’d come along to check it out, and it’s been really fun,” she said.
“I like the fact we get to try different things and learn a variety of moves, it was much more like a dance class than I imagined.
“I did think the routine would be difficult but in the end, after a couple of hours, it was fairly easy.”
Chris, another budding burlesque performer, admitted the class had given her a confidence boost.
The 36-year-old, who also lives in Birmingham, added: “I’d never done anything like this before but I’ve had a really good time, it’s been a good laugh, so I might come again.”
* Polestars is running two more taster sessions at the Sports Cafe on October 30 and December 4, starting at 7pm. Each session costs £20.
A four-week burlesque course begins at the same venue on November 6 at 7pm.