Kool Kat of the Week: School of Va-Va-Voom: Ursula Undress Teaches Atlanta a Tassel or Two About Burlesque

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress. Credit: Derek Johnson.

Curious if you have what it takes to tease? This Saturday Sept. 7, the Atlanta School of Burlesque is offering a sneak peek behind its doors for a Grand Opening Launch Event Day with a chance from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. to sample a variety of classes for just $5 each (see list of classes and times at the end of this article) followed by a party from 2:30-5 p.m. with refreshments, prizes, vendors and discounts on School merchandise. The burlesque revival has been thriving here for over 15 years now, but unlike other major cities, Atlanta has not had its own academy for this art form until Studio Burlesque opened last winter. Unofrtunately, it was shortlived but the demand was so great that The Atlanta School of Burlesque has quickly taken its place, and veteran performers have a place where they can share their techniques, both classic and contemporary, with aspiring dancers and anyone who just wants to spice up their love life or enjoy a fun, different exercise program.

ATLRetro wasn’t surprised to learn that the headmistress and founder was none other than the dynamic Ursula Undress, regular performer with Syrens of the South Productions and co-consprirator at the first Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, which will celebrate its fourth year next spring. We’ve been eyeing Ursula as a Kool Kat for a very long time, so this week seemed like the purr-fect time to check in with this self-proclaimed “naughty girl next door” to find out more about the school, as well as her own secret origin story and what else she has up her sexy sleeves.

What drew you personally to the burlesque revival and when/what was your first performance?

I was a performer in musical and dramatic theatre for about 15 years. Personally, I was trying to find my identity again after returning to school and sort of immersing myself in classes and projects, etc., not to mention finding friends I could connect with when I first moved here and didn’t know anyone. So, burlesque – something I was already excited about – seemed a good fit.

Did you have any early role models, either classic or contemporary, who helped shape your approach to the art form?

Yes – Dirty Martini. The first performance I saw of hers was a YouTube video of her performance at the HOWL festival in 2007. I could not take my eyes off of her. She was the one who gave me the confidence to get on stage. But as for my performances being shaped by something, I would have to say that it was the music that did it.

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress. Credit: Nimh.

Some said that Atlanta just wasn’t suited to an annual burlesque festival, but you helped Katherine Lashe prove them wrong. How do you feel the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival (SFBF) has changed the burlesque community here and Atlanta’s burlesque reputation around the nation?

In some ways, SFBF has pulled down some walls that divided a lot of performers here in the city and showed performers that there is a fairly strong community here. I think nationally that it has put Atlanta and burlesque in the southeast on the map, and helped to inspire other cities around us to do the same. I am continually amazed at the talent and innovation that comes from Georgia and the surrounding states, and am so glad to have a place to bring it all together on one stage.

It seems like you’re now putting the bulk of your energy into the Atlanta School of Burlesque. Why are you so passionate that we need an actual school here?

Well, I was actually running the first full-time burlesque school that had a previous owner – Studio Burlesque – and the passion for this project comes from the hordes of emails and phone calls when it closed. It was apparent that we had created this community and this amazing place for women where they could come and explore other sides of themselves and just have fun. So, I pulled my resources and did what I had to do to re-open a school for not only these students, but for all of us performers to learn from each other and keep fuel on the creative fires we tend every day.

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress.

I understand the School’s students are a mix of aspiring performers and ladies who just want to get more fit in a flirty way. Can you talk a little about that? 

It is amazing – we don’t have a real target audience. We have women of all shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds. Of course, we have students that want to go all the way and be performers, but I think the common thread is that they all just love feeling glamorous and graceful and sexy, and most of all – CONFIDENT. I think all of the instructors provide an environment that really fosters all of those things.

Who’s teaching at the School and how do you select your instructors?

I am very adamant about people learning the art of burlesque from actual burlesque performers who have studied the history and actively tour, compete, and perform. I select performers to teach based on their love for constantly learning and working on their craft, along with their ability to lead a class and make it fun and interesting. I am very fortunate to have performers of the caliber of Talloolah Love, Lola LeSoleil, Katherine Lashe, The Chameleon Queen, Fonda Lingue, Rebecca DeShon [hula hoop] and Sadie Hawkins [aerialist]. I also love that I have the opportunity to bring in outside talent and their knowledge and expertise in with workshops and specialty classes.

What are you teaching personally this Fall?

I am teaching both Beginning Burlesque Choreography and a class called Slow and Steamy Bedroom Burlesque that is for intermediate students.

Is this Saturday’s event for current and aspiring students only? Who should come and why?

Anyone who is interested should come – it is going to be a blast! The first class – Burlesque Fundamentals is actually co-ed, so I do mean ANYONE.

I know you don’t want to play favorites, but is there one of your students who you’d especially recommend our readers to watch out for?

Wow – I think the awesome thing is that ALL of our previous graduates from the Spring are amazing on stage, and have continued to perform regularly. Greta Von Trollop is so charismatic. Nina Charrise and Roula Roulette are both competing at the Shakespeare Follies this weekend, and then Rena Rhinestone has some incredible stuff planned for her next number. Oh! And I am really looking forward to what A to Z does next; he seems to be this glue that keeps them all wanting to work together on fun stuff. So yeah,it is impossible to play favorites!

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress.

Will you be involved with next year’s Southern Fried, and if yes, can you share anything about it?

I think I will always be involved in some capacity. I really enjoy working with the legends and being a sort of liason with them and the headliners. It takes a village, and I am proud to assist Katherine with that.

What’s next for Ursula Undress performance-wise?

Well, I recently took a workshop with [burlesque legend] Gabriella Maze and am seriously in love with the cape! I have one number where I work with a large duster, and I am now looking to expand on that with what I learned from her. Combine that with some secret talks with burlesque legend Satan’s Angel, and well, that is all I am going to say. Yep, even in interviews, I have to tease!

Finally, what’s one thing about the school or about you that readers might be most surprised to find out?

Hrm….I think that people find out in our classes exactly how non-intimidating burlesque actually is.

Grand Opening Day Class and Event Schedule:

10:30 – 11:20AM – Burlesque Fundamentals with Syrens of the South & Southern Fried Burlesque Fest Producer Katherine Lashe.

This CO-ED class is designed for absolute beginners! Learn how to walk, bump, grind, and shimmy in easy, broken down steps, and then perfect them in drills and short combinations.

11:30 – 12:20PM – Classic & Glamorous Burlesque with Southern Fried Burlesque Queen Lola LeSoleil

This beginner class will help you to learn the grace and elegance of the early Burlesque style from the 1930s and 40s. This class begins with a simple, graceful warm-up, and then switches into the sultry but elegant moves of a Burlesque Queen. This class will also help you be a little more graceful in your everyday life.

12:30 – 1:20PM – Beginning Burlesque Choreography with Studio Owner & Performer Ursula Undress

This is the perfect class to get a taste of what burlesque can do for your inner and outer self while learning fun choreography to boot! Learn the basic standing and walking movements to start your journey into burlesque along with bumps, grinds, shimmies, and arm movements.

1:30 – 2:20 PM – Dance like a Mermaid with Professional Bellydancer and Mermaid Karma Karmelita.

As a professional mermaid and aquatic entertainer, Karma has gained extensive knowledge and experience in working in the water. This has given her a unique perspective on three dimensional movement when on the stage. This class focuses heavily on her original and innovative technique and teaches part of a breathtaking choreography. Recommended for people with previous dance knowledge in belly dance, but not restricted to.

2:30 – 5PM – Open Shopping and Grand Opening Soiree!

Join us for light eats, drinks, shopping, and hobnobbing with other students and performers!

Note: Wear comfortable low heels or flexible dance shoes to any class. Prices will be $5 per class, and advance reservations are not required. Due to the dramatically reduced class price, social deals will not be honored on this day. The Atlanta School of Burlesque is located at 1745 Defoor Place, Ste. D Atlanta, GA 30318. For more information, visit www.atlantaburlesqueschool.com

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