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Bijoux Burlesque

2 April 10 words: Janine Pounder

"One of my boobs popped out and said 'hello' to the audience before it was supposed to"

Unless you've been locked away in Fritzl’s love nest, you'll have noticed that Burlesque has made a strong comeback. And it’s not only Dita von Teese and the Pussycat Dolls who are making their tit-tassles go in opposite directions - women all over have started to embrace this vintage art form, and one of which is Claire Robinson.

Better known as Wanda Handful, Claire is the owner of Notts-based Bijoux Burlesque - and while she prepares for an up-and-coming charity gig, she took time to talk titilation...

Hi Claire, how’s it all going?
I’m well thanks - a little tired. I have to drive to Derby for my next class after this. It can be quite time consuming, but very rewarding.

What inspired you to become a burlesque performer?
My friend, who was a burlesque performer, inspired me. I love that burlesque is so inclusive of all women, regardless of age or shape. You don’t have to be a stick-thin model to do it - you're allowed to have a women’s figure. The idea is to celebrate your curves.

Tell us about Bijoux Burlesque...
It started when friends asked me to teach them Burlesque, and the idea of teaching professionally started to appeal to me. Bijoux Burlesque started in 2009, running beginner and intermediate classes over the Midlands. We also do hen nights where women can learn Burlesque with their friends and family, professional photoshoots where ladies can get glammed up and shot in sassy poses. We also run hair and make-up tutorials based around 1940’s glamour and retro-style, led by a stylist called Claire Shipman. So we have lots going for us.

How long have you organised charity gigs?
The first charity night we did was in 2009 - now we run them every three or four months. We choose different Charities for each show; the next will be for Haiti, Help the Heroes and Unicef.

So who are the people who perform at your gigs?
They are my students, which include complete beginners and the intermediate girls who have been dancing with Bijoux Burlesque since the summer. All of the girls have none or very limited experience of performing. The idea is to have fun, push the ladies out of their comfort zone a little, raise money for charity, and have a great time.

What can we expect on April 8?
We'll have Dixie Black performing with a vintage strip tease. Dixie's an ex-student of ours who is now a very successful burlesque dancer. We'll also have Amy Scott, who is a fantastic jazz singer and of course the Burlesque Belles and myself who will be hosting. There'll also be a charity raffle, and I'll also be giving a short beginners lesson on how to shimmy and shake - with a rockabilly after-show.

What next?
On 29 April we'll be are starting a monthly night called The V Spot at the Royal in Derby. It's a professional vaudeville cabaret night;burlesque performers, aerial artists, lindy hop dancers, a jazz band and hopefully more acts which we haven’t confirmed yet. The theme is ‘Forces Sweethearts’ - so dress will be 1940s glam. We'll continue to hold classes in and around the East Midlands, and we're also looking for teachers to hold classes elsewhere.

Bijoux Burlesque
Bijoux Burlesque

Do you have any tips for budding Burlesque performers?
The main tip is to enjoy your performance - if you look like you are enjoying the performance the audience will also enjoy it. And if you're not enjoying it, fake it! Also practice, practice, practice. If you want to become a burlesque dancer, just make the jump and do it - the scene is very friendly and it is very supportive of new performers.

We have to ask: what mishaps have happened while you were performing?
Well recently I was performing and lifted my hands over my head, and one of my boobs popped out and said 'hello' to the audience before it was supposed to. I just laughed along with the audience, told off my boob, pushed it back into place and carried on. Burlesque is fantastic for that; if you do make mistakes, just incorporate it into your act. Burlesque is prominently about making the audience laugh, so if there are amusing mishaps, then you are doing your job.

Bijioux Burlesque presents 'Shhh...' at Bistro Live, Barker Gate, 8 April. Tickets £7.

Bijoux Burlesque website

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