Let’s get one thing straight: Rodney James, aka Mr Burlesque, doesn’t want you to just have some fun in his workshops… He wants you to be your fiercest, sexiest, most fabulous self possible! Oh, and he Really wants you to keep your shoulders and core engaged… (image)
Over the weekend I attended his 3 workshops (Burlesque Bonanza Party Time, Choreography & Artistry, and The Chair Challenge, aka Class for the Ass) at Bobbi’s Pole Studio in Singapore, the first stop in his current world tour. (Are we lucky, or what?!) And they were amazing! He taught some killer choreography, worked us sore, and managed to draw out the sensuality and confidence in every girl in the room.
After the last workshop, he very graciously agreed to be interviewed about how he got started in burlesque, despite having only a few hours before being scheduled to perform at a club! (The same club where Dita Von Teese performed last week)
Tell us what you love about burlesque!
To me, burlesque is a celebration of women of all shapes and sizes. It’s very subtle, flirtatious and sexy without going too far. It’s also about the tease, and not the sleaze. And it empowers women!
Why do you think it has grown in popularity in recent years?
I think Dita Von Teese put it on the map. It was something that used to be quite underground, but she has glamorized it. I thank Dita! If she hadn’t come out and done it, it wouldn’t be as popular. The girlyness and glamour of it is also something that women are attracted to. And it really compliments pole dancing! Fitness wise, I think some people also don’t want to push hard in the gym, so it’s found that market that’s not into that aggressive gym thing.
How long have you been Mr burlesque?
Around 3 years.
What were you doing previously?
I was a dancer in musical theatre in the West End. I’ve been fortunate enough to dance with Kylie Minogue and I was also the lead dancer in Moulin Rouge.
Why and how did decide to teach Burlesque?
Besides being a dancer, I also used to be a nail technician, and my customers would ask me what else I did, so I’d tell them I was a dancer. And they’d all go, “oh wow, I wish I could dance too! And I realized there was a market for it. I literally had the idea for burlesque beat when I was in the shower one day… one moment I was thinking about colour themes for nails, and the next I had this idea to teach dance to women!
I actually did 2 different things before I started Burlesque Beat: first, a hip hop outfit called Urban Kick. But that attracted a lot of youngsters, and I knew I wanted women to be my students. Then I did rock and soul for a while, but nobody ‘Got it’.
So I did some research, and I saw that burlesque was a celebration of women, and I ran with it. I felt that there was a need to help women to feel confident. Because I didn’t feel society allowed women to feel good over the age of 18. So many women don’t like themselves! You’ve got all these magazines that picture thin young girls, so its hard for anyone who doesn’t look like that. I’ve always been sensitive towards women and what they have to go through. And I always say to the larger sized women: “If You love it, We love it. If You’re proud of it, We’re proud of it!” The reason I do this is to make them feel good about themselves! If I can help a woman feel good about herself and feel sexy and confident, then I’m going to do all I can.
How did you first get started?
I’ll tell you how it happened! When we made the Burlesque Fitness DVD, my partner and I went up to Sydney and launched at the fitness expo. We’d spent quite a bit of money, and I’d booked the stage for three shows with six sexy girls to dance behind me and demonstrate. Now the fitness industry is very conservative, so I did the first show in boys’ gym shorts, a boys’ singlet, and leg warmers.
But you know what? I didn’t feel right. I felt, “This ain’t gonna happen!I’ve gotta let them Have it… they’ve got to see the real me!”
So for the next show, I got out my leather cap, black leather gloves, and put my high-heeled boots on. And you should have seen the crowd! I got approached by so many big names in the industry, and I got our contract.
I also used to teach classes in this chain of Australian gyms called Genesis, with these big windows where you could see me all dressed up teaching people how to be sexy in the gym at 10 in the morning! It was hilarious!
Are there any challenges to being the fabulous Mr Burlesque?
Well, I do everything myself! I create, market, and manage everything. And actually I need help, I can’t keep doing it on my own!
What are your favourite things about touring the world as such a sought-after instructor?
There’s so much! I could talk about what I love about touring the whole day, but the best thing has got to be meeting so many different and amazing women, and seeing what I can do with them.
In most of the studios I’ve been in, I’m also the only male who’s ever been in there so I feel absolutely flattered that I can walk in there knowing there’s something these women want to learn from me and knowing I’ve got something for them. I just love it, I love my life so much!
Could you share a funny or memorable tour story with us?
When I tour I also like to perform in clubs, but I’m really naughty.. I never choreograph it, I just make it up as I go along! My most embarrassing moment was in In Destin, Florida, on my 39th birthday. There were all these drag queens performing and I thought, “I’d like to earn a bit of extra money too.” so I did a performance. But when when I was onstage, I fell over and hurt my bum! And I got nowhere as much money as the drag queens did!
Do you have advice about pole dancing?
Posture is so important! The greatest example is, you can have people wanting to be around you just from looking at your back. I’ve always been able to walk into a room, have everyone’s attention, and have them all only want to look at me. It’s all in the shoulders, the core, and the eyes. But if you hold your body the right way, they don’t even have to be able to see your head or face but they will still want to look at you.
How do you stay so fit?
I go to the gym maybe 3 times a week, but I don’t really push it. I’m not a gym junkie. And I just teach my classes!
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Oh, I could go on forever! But probably going out drinking and getting sh*t-faced!
Tell us something we don’t know about you
I have Indonesian relatives, as my dad’s half Indonesian. My grandfather and uncles come to visit Australia when I was maybe 7, and they told my parents and brothers that I was a ‘banji’. Which means drag queen! They picked me out back then! So I was brought up being called ‘banji’ by my brothers and sister. And it came to a point where if they didn’t called me ‘Banje’, I felt weird!
Rodney is currently on his 2011 world tour in the U.S.A and might drop in to a studio near you very soon. You can check out his tour dates and workout DVD or get in touch with him on his website.