Women, Never Allowed to Dance as Girls, Live Their Dreams Performing Burlesque

While dance lessons for young girls may be commonplace today, for a group of women in their 60s and 60s on the NSW North Coast, dancing was once not encouraged, even frowned upon.

Now they realize their dreams: burlesque dancing, cabaret, belly dancing; perform in shows, halls and retirement homes; and is part of several dance groups.

There is a noticeable lack of inhibition as these dancers use a large room in Valla Beach to change into and dress up during their dress rehearsals.

Virginia Whitehead, aka Berika, dances every day except Friday.(ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

Virginia Whitehead was never allowed to dance as a child, coming from a strict religious background.

“So when I was 40, I learned belly dancing and I haven’t stopped. It uplifts my soul,” she said.

Her stage name is Berika and she dances every day except Friday, doing cabaret, burlesque, Zumba and line dancing.

She taught belly dancing for years.

“My elder [belly dance] student was 90, so age is not a barrier,” she said.

Ms. Whitehead loves being able to dance with women and doesn’t feel judged.

A woman in red holds a fake dagger pointed at the audience with a mischievous smile.
Virginia performs the song Cell Block Tango from the musical Chicago.(ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

She said she would try stripping at their next performance.

“It’s very confronting and it’s going to put me out there. But that’s okay, it’s a challenge,” she said.

“Just to know that no one can touch me, I can.”

Ms Whitehead said her goal was to enjoy dancing every day.

Woman in the 70s with short white hair, sparkly earrings and necklace, a pink rose on her dress and a lamp and feather boas behind.
It’s been a longtime dream of Colleen Wood to dance.(ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

Colleen Wood has always dreamed of dancing.

“I remember being about 10 years old wanting to dance in the main street of Bellingen of all places,” she said.

“[But] we were on a farm out of town so [I] never had this opportunity.

Now in her 60s, she dances in three troupes and performs in care homes for the aged, bringing smiles and a smack to residents.

Her stage name is Chas-titty, but she says she’s not ready to say it the way she spells it.

“Doing nursing homes is fabulous because you get such a great response from people,” Ms Wood said.

“It makes your day interesting and you put a smile on someone’s face.”

Why burlesque?

Amidst feather boas and daring costume pieces, Anna Atkinson dons her glittery stockings and heels and has her corset hung behind the back by another dancer.

Ms Atkinson, who jokingly claims to be 52, says burlesque allows her the freedom to move as she pleases.

Four women standing on a stage in skimpy sassy dresses, a feather headdress heals and sparkles
Dancing was forbidden when they were girls. Now these women are in a burlesque cabaret.(ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

“All my life, like most women, you’ve been told, ‘Oh, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, oh, you mustn’t do that,’ and burlesque gives you a chance to break get out… and do it,” Ms Atkinson said.

When she heard about burlesque lessons starting near her, Ms Atkinson said she would go and see what it was like.

“And from the first moment, I thought, ‘I love this.’

“I absolutely loved it and thought, ‘This is what I want to do,'” she said.

Ms Atkinson, whose stage name is Saffron Allspice, said she wanted it to be a little more than fun.

“I want to be good at it, I really do,” she said.

Dressed in feathers, high heels, fishnets and satin, these women strike a pose in their dance hall.
The band Northern Rivers Burlesque during a dress rehearsal for an upcoming show.(ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

Ms Atkinson said some of her friends approved and others strongly disapproved.

“I don’t care,” she said.

Woman in her 50s wearing cat eye class, with cropped gray hair wearing a black T-shirt, feather boas behind her
Linda Wiltshire says she loves her group Silver Vixens because they are so much fun.(ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

Striptease routine

Northern Rivers Burlesque teacher Linda Wiltshire will host a cabaret night for their students’ graduation, including a striptease element.

“It’s optional if you want to show off how well you can twirl your acorns, or if you just want to join in on the teasing part and not reveal,” Ms Wiltshire said.

“[They’re] so inspiring, and I just hope I’m still out there doing it when I’m ’52’.

Three women in late 60s and 70s with belly dancing costumes in dance poses.
Nothing stops these women.(ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

“There’s nothing wrong with me so why not?” Ms. Atkinson said.

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