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

Posted on: Sep 5th, 2013 By:

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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Kool Kat of the Week: Rebecca Deshon On Living THE HOOPING LIFE

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2012 By:

Rebecca DeShon of HoopEssence. Photo credit: Stephanie Anderson.

Hula hoops made of willow, grapevines and stiff grasses date back all the way to prehistoric times, but most people today probably think of them as the girls’ must-have plastic toy manufactured by Wham-O starting in the late 1950s. The quintessential toy, however, has made a comeback in recent years into hoop dance, and if you missed this twisting trend, you can catch up at the Atlanta premiere of the acclaimed documentary THE HOOPING LIFE (2010) at 7 Stages in Little Five Points on Friday Feb. 24 (doors at 8 p.m.; show at 9 p.m.).

THE HOOPING LIFE not only delves into hula hoop history but also tells eight extraordinary stories of hoop enthusiasts who have embraced it as an art form, a teacher’s aid and even an instrument of redemption. The screening will be accompanied by live performances including a spectacular aerial number by Emerald Dove (Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret); hoop dance by Maria Valentin aka Riahoopaleena all the way from New York City; stunts by Luna Trix Hoops Performance & Fire Arts of Columbia, SC; hoops and juggling by James Abele; and acts by Gesche Anneliesa of Musee du Coeur and  Ashly Connor of Imperial Opa Circus.

The entire night’s festivities have been organized by this week’s Kool Kat Rebecca DeShon, proprietress of HoopEssence, Atlanta’s own Hoop Dance performance company and school. ATLRetro recently caught up with Rebecca, to find out more about THE HOOPING LIFE, as well as how she got into hooping, how hooping has transformed her life and what it’s like to live la vida hoop dance.

ATLRetro: Hula hoops seemed to be less popular for a while, but now are enjoying a Renaissance of sorts not just with girls but grown-ups, too. Why do you think it’s back in vogue?

Rebecca DeShon: Hoop dance and hula hooping have really exploded into so many scenes. What was once thought of as just a fad in the underground club scene has really blossomed into a tool for dance, self expression, fitness, meditation and so much more. In my opinion, we are only just beginning to see this full immersion of society in hula hooping. Some hoopers like to call it a “Revolution,” if you will. I think part of the reason it is becoming so much more popular is the development of hand-crafted hula hoops which open up hooping to people of all ages and fitness levels. Besides, it just feels like a lot of fun, which is more than you can say about a lot of other fitness routines. Who doesn’t want that?

For the uninitiated, what’s the difference between hula-hooping and hoop dance

Modern hoop dance has come such a long way since the stereotypical image most people think of from hula hooping in the ‘50s. People are now completely expressing themselves in dance both inside the hoop and using the hoop as a prop to tell a story through dance. We are repurposing an object that was only to be flung around the waist in endless rotation or simply rolled on the ground into what is now a vast array of styles and forms of hooping or hoop dance. Today we see hoopers not just simply flinging dozens of hoops around their waist like you see in the circus, but truly dancing in and with the hula hoop as a dance partner. It is now such an extraordinary companion for artistic self expression.

Hoop dance just means that we are actually dancing with our hoops and at times incorporating many different “tricks.”  Hooping has expanded so far between styles that we are actually seeing entire “genres” of hoop dance styles. It is an incredible art form! With the proper hand-crafted hoop, patience, practice and determination, I know that anyone can be a hoop dancer. I, for one, have no professional dance training, so I can assure you that you don’t have to be a “dancer” to become a hoop dancer.

I understand fans from all of the Southeast are coming to Atlanta for the screening. What’s so special about THE HOOPING LIFE as a movie?

We are thrilled to report that we have fans and performers coming from all over the US for this event! They are coming from as far away as CA, NYC and Texas! Chicago, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and all over the state of GA. THE HOOPING LIFE is a feature-length film that has been six years in the making. It is a labor of love in the form of a documentary film which has not been released for public screenings until Jan 2012. We have been waiting for this event for so long and are so super thrilled to see its final release. THE HOOPING LIFE documentary is important not just for hoopers but for those who don’t know its amazing life-changing benefits. The film has been shot all over the world by the hoopers themselves. This film covers eight story lines from eight very different aspects of just how dynamic hooping can be. It is the first film of its kind!

Will any of the filmmakers be there?

Currently the filmmakers are super busy working on the music video for “Hooping Life”, the original music by Basement Jaxx which was created just for this amazing film. While nothing has been set in stone, we have heard rumors of interest in them making the trip. Honestly, with an event like this, you really just never know who might show up! Surprise guests will be there and you just need to be present to see exactly who!

Rebecca DeShon hoop dances with fire at Hellbilly Family Reunion (Elliott Street Pub 2011). Photo credit: Erick Jara.

What else is happening Friday night at 7 Stages in addition to the screening?

We have a spectacular evening of entertainment planned for our guests!! Doors open at 8 with live entertainment right from the start! We will have hooping gifts, hoops and merchandise for your shopping pleasure, a “red carpet” photo session for guests, HUGE prize giveaways, a carnival-like atmosphere with jugglers/stilt walkers/hoopers and that is just the pre-show!! At 9 p.m., the stage shows begin with live performers for your pleasure Maria Valentin from NYC, Lunatrix Performance & Circus Arts (SC), Ashly Connor (Imperial Opa Circus), Emerald Dove on aerial silks (Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret), Gesche Annelesia (Musee du Coeur) and many more performances. After the live performances, we have the Atlanta Premiere of THE HOOPING LIFE film. Directly following the film, we will invite all guests to come up on stage and give the hoop a twirl themselves for a huge hooper dance party. We also have visuals being projected on the screen from start to finish. This is going to be an incredible evening like no other in Atlanta.

How did you first discover that you loved to hula hoop?

I was actually gifted my first ever adult hand-crafted hula hoop in 2008 from a friend, Beki Bear, as a going away gift before embarking on a journey to New York for a while. That first northern winter, I found myself stuck indoors buried under snow and very cold with nothing but my hula hoop. I picked up my hoop, began playing with it and really found myself embracing it. I was so surprised at how much I was enjoying playing with the hoop. I felt great about learning a new skill and have always loved dancing so I was hooked right away, head over heels. I began searching online, hungry to learn more about hooping. At the time there were very few resources to learn from and, unless you lived in California or were willing to travel many miles, not many instructors around. I found a great resource called Hooping.org which I like to call “the holy grail of Hooping.” You can find endless information about hooping from this site. I didn’t realize then that I would use the hoop as a tool for self-empowerment or use it to help others to do the same.

How did you start performing professionally and what’s your favorite gig so far?

I guess you could say I just stumbled into performing during my hooping development. As a hoop dancer beginning my journey inRochester,NY, performing came pretty naturally for me. Hoop dance was so unique that people couldn’t help but stop and watch. I love what I do and want to inspire others to try it out and experience the joy, so performing just came with the part. My first gig was just a couple of months after beginning my hoop dance journey. I got to perform as part of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY. At first I was terrified, but I really enjoyed the crowd’s response and the adrenaline rush of performing so after that first gig I was instantly hooked. I have been blessed with a lot of really fun gigs.

Rebecca DeShon performs at The High for College Night with Dance Truck. Photo Credit: Matt Gilbert.

Many of my gigs are corporate events, which gives me the opportunity to perform in some really exciting venues. Last year I was hired to perform at The Georgia Aquarium dressed up as a mermaid. I also loved hooping at The High Museum of Art a couple weeks ago for College Night. Next month I am particularly looking forward to a gig at Chateau Elan for Verizon Wireless (we are conducting an LED Circus of sorts). I also participate in a lot of smaller gigs in club style settings as well as my work with charity organizations such as East Atlanta Kids Club, Atlanta Streets Alive and Atlanta Women’s Foundation.

On March 3, I will be performing and doing class demos for Atlanta Dance Marathon at Zoo Atlanta – which is a benefit for Atlanta Children’s Network Hospitals. I really love community-based work and feel hooping can be used as a tool for outreach on so many levels. It is simply a joy to share what I do! I dedicate a lot of time and energy into my practice, sometimes at the cost of sleep. It brings me so much joy to share the experience of hooping that I really find it is worth the effort.

You’ve said that hula hooping has changed your life. Can you talk just a bit about how and what is it about hula-hooping that you personally find so special?

Hooping or hoop dance has changed my life in dramatic ways and I continue to grow daily through what I learn inside the hoop. Initially I saw the physical benefits of hooping right away. My body is more fit and trim with great muscle tone – all from what I once thought of as just a simple child’s toy. Later, I noticed my stress being melted away from hooping, anxiety being relieved, and, of course, exercising produces endorphins that helped to naturally chase away any blues or depression.

Rebecca DeShon. Body paint & photo by Stephanie Anderson (Neon Armour).

Hooping gives me a great feeling of accomplishment, even when I am not performing for others. It is nice to feel good about yourself and what you are doing. Hooping has led me to make some of the most incredible friends and expanded into what is today a global community of hoop dancers. My life suddenly had direction and purpose once I began hooping. I found myself thinking and living more positively and healthier. The list goes on and on… I could speak for days about how hooping has changed my life: from the most simple things to complexities even I find hard to believe at times. Hoop dance has literally caused a chain reaction of positivity and prosperity in my life.

The hoop has a way of changing your attitude. Once you get the hang of hooping and get past the initial learning curve – this only takes a few minutes with the proper hoop and instruction – it is so unbelievably difficult to not be happy and giggle while hooping. You will find that if you are in the presence of hoopers, we are generally pretty happy and positive. I feel most of us work hard to spread that love to others. I am so fortunate to have found an outlet in hooping that lets me get past the miseries and frustrations that life puts in our way, and focus that energy towards something positive for myself and for those around me.

How did hula hooping grow from a hobby into you founding Hoopessence? 

Hooping began as a hobby that I discovered I just couldn’t keep to myself. I wanted to share the love and joy with everyone I met. So I learned how to hand-craft hoops and began teaching everyone who would listen. I found it is not hard to get others excited about hooping once they see you hoop and hear/see the magical benefits of it all; they want to try it too. I found that hooping and sharing the benefits was a calling for me. I became a certified hoop dance instructor within my first year of hooping and since then have built my own teaching style.

Now, my own HoopEssence teacher trainings are in the works. I just want to share the love with as many people as possible. So it comes pretty easy for me. Turning any hobby into a business is very challenging however. What you once did for fun can feel forced and unnatural once you try to earn a living from your hobby. It is a very delicate balance. I love what I do so much that I am willing to work hard and make sacrifices to do what I do. I am also really fortunate to be married to an amazingly supportive man who assists in any way he can with my business. He is constantly empowering me to excel and grow. For that I am thankful. If it was just me on my own, I’m not sure could not make a living from hooping; a business needs the support of a great team.

Rebecca DeShon. Photo credit: Stephanie Anderson.

What types of classes do you offer at HoopEssence?

I offer classes in all things hoop at HoopEssence. Beginner basics, intermediate hooping, specialty hooping classes (i.e. minis, isolations, multiple hoops), workshops, hoop crafting workshops, private lessons, dancing in and out of your hoop, children classes and community jams. You name it, I hoop it! If you are just getting into hooping, I teach you all the basics of this great hobby in my Hooping 101 Series. Hooping 101 is four Sunday classes from 1-2:30pm with my next series starting March 4. You may find all the info about my next Hooping 101 series here.

I am also teaching intermediate and advance hoop dance classes at various locations throughout the Metro Atlanta area. You may find all the information and more through my website www.hoopessence.com. I am always looking out for new venues and private lesson students as well. If you would like to book a lesson or want to see hoop dance in your neighborhood, drop me a line and say hello. I am always here to help. With the upcoming spring and summer months, I have a lot of free outdoor events (called Hoop Jams) where I bring hoops, tunes and people can come join in on the fun with no obligations.

Any secrets to buying a great hula hoop?

A great hula hoop is a hand-crafted adult hula hoop. The hoops that you find in the dollar store just don’t cut it and can leave you feeling hopeless as a hooper. You can find hoops of all sizes and all the colors of the rainbow through my website  www.hoopessence.com/products-page. I hand-craft each hoop and fancy myself as somewhat of a “hoop sizing expert”. If you find yourself in the market for a new hoop or are just simply curious to what its all about, please feel free to call or drop a line with your questions. I would be more than happy to assist you in choosing. It can be a bit overwhelming for the beginner with all the options available from sizes, weight, colors, material, LED and even fire hoops. Check out my website and also be sure to sign up for my email newsletter where I send out coupons for deep discounts on all things hoop!

Tickets for THE HOOPING LIFE are just $15 when purchased online in advance before midnight on Feb. 21.  Any remaining tickets will be available at the door only for $20 each, but be warned, at press time, there were only 50 seats left so we highly recommend purchasing in advance here.

Find HoopEssence on Facebook and Twitter.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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