The revival of burlesque dancing in the Midcoast

Posted:  Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 12:30pm
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Dance instructor Jenny Cobuzzi (left) and burlesque enthusiast Rae MacNair (right) help coordinate interest in reviving the dance in the Midcoast. (Photo by Kay Stephens)

Burlesque dancing, like many other fringe art forms, enjoys a mysterious, titillating reputation, because most people only have a vague idea of what it’s all about. Burlesque embodied a particular female performance usually in a variety show featuring bawdy comedy and a bit of a striptease. Going back the 1860s, it became a staple of Prohibition entertainment, until it phased out roughly the 1950s.

Today, the costumes might be similar (lots of corsetry, feathers and pasties), but the art form has morphed into a representation of female empowerment. From Belfast to Rockland, a group of burlesque enthusiasts has emerged, reviving the dance form with classes and, eventually, a public performance.

Jenny Cobuzzi, a professional dancer with a Broadway and Las Vegas-style show background, recently moved back to Maine from New York City. Before she left for New York, she had been running burlesque classes at the Belfast Dance Studio since 2013.

“When I came back to Maine in 2016, I heard there was more interest in burlesque up in this area,” she said. “And dancer, Jessica Libby from Swing and Sway in Rockland was running a class, as well.”

True to the ideal of the burlesque art form, neither woman saw the other as competition, but, instead worked collaboratively, with a third woman, Rae MacNair, a fan of burlesque, to offer classes in both areas and to set up a network. MacNair serves as the liaison between the two dance instructors and runs a closed Facebook page for burlesque enthusiasts in the Midcoast with approximately 20 members.

“It’s my goal to have it be a very supportive environment so women can express themselves artistically,” said MacNair.

Libby added, “I ran my first class this past December for about nine women, and I call it my ‘Inner Diva Class’ because I feel like a lot of women either don’t know how to or feel like it’s not acceptable to be sexy, so this is an opportunity to let them get more comfortable with themselves and feel OK about themselves.”

Cobuzzi said: “Burlesque has really changed over the years. It started as a parody and transformed into showing a little leg, then into showing a little more than leg. It really incorporates the art of the tease. For me, it’s not about just being sexy. I’m a dance/movement therapist, so I’m really interested in having a place for women to come in, start to feel comfortable with their bodies, start to own their sexuality and be able to express themselves by integrating all of those pieces.”

A typical class in Belfast and Rockland runs about one hour in which Cobuzzi and Libby teach the participants classic burlesque moves. (See our accompanying video for several G-rated moves!)

“Some women come in shy and some come in rarin’ to go,” said Cobuzzi. “They’re usually worried about how much dance experience they need, and I always reassure them they need to have none; they just need to have fun.”

The typical age range of Cobuzzi’s classes is from 20 years old to 60 years old.

“Every once in a while a teenage girl will join, if it’s fine with her parents,” Cobuzzi said and added, “We had a 74-year-old woman join our class who had a ton of fun, but she said her body hurt from all the moves she practiced.”

To join the Midcoast burlesque troupe, search for Midcoast Burly on Facebook and request to join. All requests are accepted.

For more information on Cobuzzi’s next classes with Belfast Dance Studio email midcoastburlesque@gmail.com

 For more information with Libby’s next classes with Swing and Sway visit www.swingnsway.com


Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com