By: Michelle Spencer
Recently, I had the chance to try Dakota Ferreiro (a.k.a. Miss Dakota of Bravo’s Forty Deuce)’s Burlesque Body Workout at Equinox in Woodland Hills, California. After taking my share of cardio-striptease-pole-mounting-chair-humping classes, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would her students arrive in platform heels like they do at Crunch West Hollywood’s Pole Dancing class? Would we have to come up with burlesque stage names? (I think mine would be Cheeky L’Amour.) Would we slink across the room in feather boas to David Rose’s “The Stripper”? While these elements would definitely be entertaining, what I really wanted was to learn some titillating moves and burn a few calories. Knowing Dakota’s impressive dance history (from performing in movies and music videos to headlining at Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce in L.A. and Vegas), I had a good feeling about this one.
I arrived at the sleek, upscale gym, and the first thing I noticed about Dakota was how tiny she was – compact, strong, and graceful. Yet, for her small stature, she had a huge presence. While we waited outside the studio, she animatedly shared stories from a recent burlesque gig in Japan. Obviously, this performer/teacher loves what she does.
There were about ten ladies in our class, all different ages, shapes, and sizes – older, younger, curvier, skinnier, shorter and taller (okay, I was the only tall one). It was the perfect number to allow us space to…ahem, work the room.
Class began with a series of head rolls, hip stretches, and shoulder shrugs to Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” Once our muscles were warmed up, we performed a simple grapevine move to another sultry jazz number. From there, we did kicks and hops to “What Lola Wants,” followed by sashays and hip swivels to a Christina Aguilera ’40s throwback. Then we picked up the pace with a little cha-cha-cha, followed by a Charleston-type move. Note: All of the music, regardless of era, evoked images of smoky, dimly lit lounges with crimson walls, fringed tables, and velvet chairs. It was the perfect soundtrack to get us into the spirit of burlesque.
Dakota made sure to inject a hearty dose of goofiness into the hour-long class to keep the mood upbeat and fun. She said that was how she helped her students feel at ease so they could be themselves. After all, burlesque isn’t just about smoldering glances, sex-a-licious stilettos, and shedding layers. It’s about exuding your personality through your moves – essentially, being comfortable in your own skin and having the ability to laugh at yourself.
One of our final songs was a rousing number that got us shimmying our ta-tas and shakin’ our ass cheeks. Bring on the tassels and fishnets! Although there were no accoutrements in this particular class, Dakota said that, at one time, she had brought in feather boas, but the room got so hot that everyone ended up with sweat-drenched feathers all over their bodies. (I would imagine that it’d be difficult to feel comfortable in your own skin when you’ve got feathers stuck to it.)
We spent the last ten minutes of class on our backs, doing floor work to “Woman,” “Hey Big Spender,” and others. As we drew a seemingly endless series of circles in the air with our legs (one leg at a time), I felt the steady burn in my booty. Yeah, I was pretty sure this wasn’t what Shirley Bassey had in mind when she sang sultrily, “Wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun?”
Overall, the class offered a lively mix of dance combinations and va-va-voom moves. Each step was repeated three additional times so that, as Dakota, explained, “Even if you’re not a dancer, you have four times to get it right.”
At the end of the workout, I was sweaty and glowing – which meant that this class provided the perfect balance between dance and fitness. It was definitely an exhilarating way to get your heart rate up. Hell, it was about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. Well, until you take ‘em off.
After class, I sat down with Dakota to talk about turning it on and taking it off.
Michelle Spencer: If burlesque is all about the art of the tease, what do women take from your class that they can apply to their everyday life?
Dakota Ferreiro: Well, confidence. It’s like the art of the tease, but really it’s using the playfulness and the comedy. I’m not teaching you how to take your clothes off. Because I’m a dancer, the workout is very dance-based. And when you’re utilizing the playfulness of it all, that’s what “the tease” is. You’re bringing out your personality. Everybody kind of does their things…their way. That’s what brings out that self-confidence. Don’t be so serious about things. Relax, have fun, play around, shake your boobs.
MS: Have you always felt comfortable in your own skin, or did dance help bring that out of you?
DF: I’ve never been one of those dancers that had body issues. I’m fine with the way I look because everybody looks different. You always want what the other girl has…but it just is what it is. And [as a dancer] you’re always looking at yourself in a bodysuit, so you’ve gotta deal with it. That’s how you look, alright? But when I started doing burlesque, it was the first time, as a performer, that I was onstage by myself. And all eyes are on you. You’re not in a dance-shoot. You’re not behind a recording artist. You’re not in an ensemble. So in the beginning, you’re very vulnerable. You’re like, “I’m dancing, but I’m taking my clothes off.” The thing is, you’re up there in full garb: full gown, gloves, boa…you know, the whole nine. Normally, when you’re dancing, you’re used to being in nothing but a little leotard anyway. But it’s different when you’re actually taking it off. There’s something vulnerable about doing that in front of people. In the beginning, I was like, “Don’t look, audience! Don’t look!” But after a couple months of doing it, I started being like, “Whatever.”
MS: Do you connect with your audience when you do burlesque?
DF: Yeah, making a connection with the audience is key. In the beginning, I was like, “I’m gonna get on the stage and just dance, and forget that there’s a band and an audience to interact with…” When you’re performing burlesque, you’re bringing everybody into it. There’s something personable about it. And when you get that connection, that’s when everything becomes easy.
MS: Burlesque has been around since the 1840s, but in recent years, it’s really been brought back to life. Do you think it’s been modernized, or is it still the same burlesque?
DF: There are similarities. Obviously, in the 1840s, it was different. Really, I can compare it to the 1940s, when trained dancers and headliners would bring this beautiful performance to life. It’s been recreated over and over…but with time, you see other dancers do it, and you want to do it better. So you recreate it, but you put your own twist on it. Like Forty Deuce – they have their formula, as far as what works. And I still kind of use that formula because it’s very dance-based. But now I’m doing shows and adding a little more traditional striptease as well, and that’s kind of bringing it back to what the old school was. It’s like a large umbrella: Some people use props, others use characters. One thing I don’t understand is when some burlesque dancers play a character, and they’re always playing that character instead of being themselves. It’s not really who they are. When you see my performance, you’re getting a piece of who I am – not just this character that I’m playing.
MS: On your website, it said that you were teaching a Rock ‘n’ Roll Burlesque series at Equinox West Hollywood.
DF: Well, that was from Forty Deuce. They put that together for the VH-1 Rock Honors. They have a show in Las Vegas called Royal Jelly Rock ‘n’ Roll Burlesque, so they were taking from their show and bringing it to the gym, and I was teaching in that format. It’s pretty much what we do, only using rock ‘n’ roll songs.
MS: So is there any particular song that, when you hear it, just overtakes you…makes you just want to dance?
DF: It always changes. I do like “Feeling Good” from Nina Simone. It’s one of my favorite songs, but that’s been a favorite for a while. That’s the one where I’m like, “Let me just take ma clothes off to this song!”
MS: What do you think is the sexiest thing about women?
DF: Self-confidence. That’s it. As a woman, you could see the most beautiful guy walking down the street, but you might not look at him just because of the way he carries himself. The same thing goes for women: shoulders back, and whether you’re a size 0 or size 14, just own it.
MS: What are your future aspirations?
DF: Finishing the workout DVD.
MS: Rock ‘n’ roll too?
DF: Well, I would like to do a series. Traditional with jazz, Latin and rock ‘n’ roll. Burlesque really is individual stuff, so you should explore different elements of dance and movement. I’d also like to continue to perform, only I’d like to collaborate with other people and do things that aren’t being done. I think it’s harder to sit back and create something on your own and think, “This is gonna be so amazing, and I’m gonna be so fabulous.” I’ve already been onstage by myself, so I think collaborating with different artists and seeing burlesque in different forms could be another step [Laughs]…another step for burlesque-kind. You know, just offer something different. I don’t know what it’ll be, but when you collaborate with someone, it becomes this sort of organic creation.
MS: I heard you were doing a burlesque reality show.
DF: There was one in the works. I was approached by a couple of people. There’s talk. I mean, everybody’s doing the reality thing now, so we’ll see.
MS: Are you going to keep teaching your class at Equinox?
DF: I’ve been at this location [Woodland Hills] since it opened at the end of March. But after I taught my series at Westwood and West Hollywood, they both wanted to put me on the schedule. So hopefully that’ll work out in the fall. I love working for Equinox, so I’d love to add a class. Oh, and I’m also going to be teaching at a new studio that’s all dance fitness classes for adults.
MS: Anything else you’re excited about?
DF: My new cabaret show, Red Dakota Cabaret, is in the works. It’s something more choreographed, with three to five dancers, for events. I think everything starts in September when summer’s over. And there are a few new venues opening up in the fall, so hopefully there will be a place where we can be at regularly.
MS: Sounds cool! I’ll be on the lookout.