The GlamourCat Interviews… A Burlesque Dancer

The GlamourCat interviews Jem Ayres, a Burlesque Dance Teacher
With February being the launch month for this website we have kicked off with a saucy burlesque dancer and teacher, called Jem Ayres. Aptly, she has her own Burlesque troop named Burlesque Jems and here, she tells us how the journey all began. 
The GlamourCat– How did you get into Burlesque?
Jem-   I grew up as an all-singing, dancing and acting child and was supported by my family to take up amateur dramatics at the age of 7 and this continued through to my teens. During my childhood years my Nana encouraged me to watch ballet and my Grandfather played jazz in his garage. I have always seen these seemingly opposing forces as the start of something special!
I was always a natural performer, regularly showing off to my family but as I grew up a ‘chubby’ child I quickly realised that my body wasn’t the same shape as other slim built dancers. So dance was put on the shelf for a few years only to be picked up as a hobby here and there. As a student I studied Performance Art and Theatre at college and university, believing this was my way into performing.
I flung myself back into dance at the start of my twenties and booked myself on every course going; Salsa, Belly dancing, Jamaican dance hall, to name but a few, spending all my spare time at various studios and festivals of dance.
I remember then seeing a Burlesque performer being showered with gold glitter flakes fluttering down from the ceiling, and thinking ‘I want that!’
The draw to Burlesque was the glamour and cheekiness it brings. More than just a dance routine; Its an act, a show, a character, a story- its funny, saucy, sassy, classy and can sometimes be rude, political and grotesque.  I love the character and comedic quality of it – ladies empowered enough to have no shame about their naked bodies and not take themselves to seriously.
Burlesque was a natural progression for me- an opportunity to mix my dancing, performance, comedy and acting side.
I had also been working with disadvantaged young people for lots of years, using art, dance and theatre to build self-esteem, so working with ladies using Burlesque as a route to achieving better body confidence was an instant draw for me! I just love watching people blossom and grow to their fullest!
With Burlesque its all about the individual so the performers do not need to fit into any stereotype (like the stereotype I encountered as a teenager which lead me to believe I was too ‘big’ to dance), so I get the opportunity to work with some really inspiring women from all ages, shapes and sizes.  I find each ladies journey an inspiration to keep my work going and I am honoured to be working with so many different, gorgeous and unique ladies! I’ve taught full time mums, teachers, business owners, paramedics, chefs, hairdressers, shop owners, fire fighters- every women needs time to dance out her sexy side and find her inner vixen!
The GlamourCat – If you were not doing Burlesque what would you do?
Jem- Wear my Marabou slippers to the supermarket…
The GlamourCat – How did you start your Burlesque group?
Jem- I fell into it by accident.  I lost what I thought was my dream job teaching young people arts due to arts funding cuts and I needed to find something I loved doing just as much. Something which involved teaching and the arts and which allowed me to lead a fabulous, fun filled lifestyle. Now my days are filled with boxes of corsets, bags of feather boas, sparkly shoes and looking glam!
The GlamourCat- Describe your first Burlesque lesson you taught and how it all went from there?
Jem- The first class I taught was just a bit of a project for myself, something to take away the boredom of the UK in mid-recession.  I never expected to make money out of it.  I was blown away by the popularity of it! My class loved dressing up, dancing and just having a place out of real life to be sassy, saucy and a little sexy! Before long ladies started asking; “When can we wear nipple tassells?” and “When can we dance with fans?” to “When can we take our clothes off?!”. So I just choreographed more and more dances to meet the demand.  A one-off 6 week course has turned into a full time job almost a year later.  
This April will see the birth of ‘Strip Club’ (the place for women to learn the art of empowered striptease), which was inspired by my class ladies who were just dying to learn striptease and perform. Unlike other performance groups the ladies are not required to audition, as I do not believe this brings out the best in people. We already have our first troupe performance booked on the Festival Folly stage and it will be on the 1st birthday of Burlesque Jems.
The GlamourCat- What advice would you give to women who want to get into Burlesque?
Jem- Do it! I always get ladies phoning me saying they are older, bigger, not a good dancer, or not confident and asking would they still be able to do it?  My reply is always the same: “Of course, get to my class!”
My advice for a first timer is to not worry about anyone else. Ladies are really nervous when they arrive to the class, but it’s such a supportive atmosphere in the room that the nerves soon go and girls turn up in frilly knickers and corsets by week 2!  The variety in my class ladies and my performance troupe is what makes it unique and special, and completely un-intimidating. I am proud that my participants champion ladies of all ages, abilities, shapes and sizes!
The GlamourCat- Tell us some Burlesque trade secrets for performance…
Jem- Ooooh –
  • Vaseline your teeth- when the nerves hit, your mouth dries up, your lips will stick to your teeth and your smile won’t go all wonky.
  • Smile with your teeth showing, otherwise from a distance it won’t look like you’re smiling at all.
  • Make every action 10 times larger than real life including facial expressions.
  • Use a pause in the music, or your dance for effect- sometimes not doing anything but a ‘look’ is very powerful.
  • And as I always say, if it all goes wrong- you drop a fan, you forget the routine, your tassel falls off, the stage falls apart- Own it!  Don’t pretend like it didn’t happen- make something of it! Freestyle with conviction- those moments can be the times of genius performance.
The GlamourCat – Any performance style tips such as make-up, hair etc…?
Jem- Never use lip-gloss on stage- your hair will stick to it as you head flick or spin (I learnt that the hard way).
Fake lashes are a definite must- and tons of glitter spray!
My ladies love the Hair & Make-up parties I run, we learn pin curls and lash application, then sit around drinking tea in headscarves- its such a girlie, glam day!
The GlamourCat –What are your three best tunes for performing Burlesque to?
Jem- Burlesque is best know for its big band brassy tunes so my first fave would have to be Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing – higher energy and faster tempo than you would expect from a traditional Burlesque performance- but great for some shimmies and leg flicks!
Next up would have to be my class ladies favourite- Fever by Peggy Lee.  She just has such a sultry voice and the tempos great for our strutting, posing chair routine!  How can you not feel sexy taking a tie off to this?
My next choice would have to be Caro Emerald – its just a fun, cheeky, sassy track which really gives off the vintage, 50’s vibe and gets my hips bouncing!
The GlamourCat- What do you think about people who are negative about Burlesque dancing?
Jem- Maybe they just need to see a wider range of Burlesque…tee hee! 
I think people do make judgements that Burlesque is seedy as it involves people (not just women, as you get boylesque too!) taking their clothes of to music, but there is a lot more to it than that. My job is teaching women to strip for themselves, what they do with that afterwards is up to them…but I have seen through the process that the ladies involved grow in confidence! My belief is that every woman should love her body & own her curves regardless of age or size.
Some people see me as a dancer, some people think I’m a stripper and some have told me I’m inspiring- I’m just having a whale of a time! And my mum loves telling all her friends her daughters run her own Burlesque dance business!
The GlamourCat- What’s your favourite prop and why?
Jem- I love feathers- they’re so tactile and sensual!!  Whether dropping them, flinging them or rolling in them. Feather fans, feather costumes, individual ostrich feathers and of course the classic boa! My class ladies love dancing with the feather boas!  There is just never enough opportunity to wear one these days!  My trademark is leaving a trail of feather everywhere I go.
I am however running a Niptastic Nipple Tassel workshop in March, and I can’t wait! Ladies seem to have a mixed response to tassels they either love the idea or hate it!  Where else do you get the chance to learn these tricks whilst laughing so hard you’ll fall off your heels?
The GlamourCat- Who does the best Burlesque outfits?
Jem- There are loads of companies online but you can never be sure of the quality. I was getting regular comments from my class ladies who had bought corsets online but it was the wrong size- there is quiet an art to corset fitting! Often women have also told me they are intimidated by corset shops. So I bought a corset company and now my girls get to choose and try on corsets at their leisure or host a Corset & Cocktail party where I come to their homes!  So I suppose the answer is me!
The GlamourCat- Tell us about your group- Burlesque Jems?
Jem- Burlesque Jems is my dance community. I teach classes and taster sessions in Chelmsford, Harlow, Bishop Stortford & Ware.  The weekly classes do not involve stripping, but we get to learn dance technique with different props. I find opportunities for my class ladies to perform the group routines at shows, carnivals, festivals and charity events, and always encourage them to do so to inspire and empower others!  Burlesque Jems will be hosting their first Caberet night later on in the year where everyone gets the opportunity to perform the group dances and those who wish can also do solos. A fabulous evening celebrating wonderful women – All proceeds of the evening will go to Womans Aid.
Strip Club is the group for my braver women, who wish to learn the art of striptease with optional public performance opportunities!
Burlesque Jems also hosts one-off workshops like the Niptastic Tassel workshop in March, Vintage Hair &Make-up in April and our increasingly popular all female Boudoir photo-shoot!
The GlamourCat- What do you see for the future for yourself and your Burlesque group?
Things coming up:
Burlesque Glamourpuss Residential weekend
I have just booked a residential centre for the first Burlesque Glamourpuss Bootcamp in June 2012- where ladies can spend an intensive weekend making themselves look, move and feel fabulous- which will include dance workshops, character work, using props, costume making, make-overs, cocktail parties and more!
Strip Club documentary
I am working with a film-maker who is in discussion with channel 4 to make a documentary about Strip Club and the empowering and inspiring effect it has on the ladies who participate, from removing the first glove down to the final performance!
Moulin Rouge group weekend to Paris
September 2012 will see the first Burlesque Jems bus of beauties going to Paris to visit the awe-inspiring home of the showgirl – The Moulin Rouge!
Due to the overwhelming popularity of my classes I can only see Burlesque Jems blossoming- and I owe it all down to the ladies who support my work and attend my classes! They keep me going and I am humbled and amazed at their infectious enthusiasm. Women are such amazing, nurturing, powerful beings- and most new ladies come to my class by word of mouth, having seen their friends bloom and buzz about Burlesque.  I have built my classes more like a community, as there is no room for elitism – every woman is wonderful and should have the chance to shine!

                                 Jem and The GlamourCat talk all things Burlesque

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