It’s gloves off, as burlesque hits South Yorkshire

Rachel Lightfoot as Deadly Nightshade
Rachel Lightfoot as Deadly Nightshade
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HER name is Deadly Nightshade and right now she is sat in a quiet Sheffield cafe demonstrating how taking off a simple pair of gloves can be sexy.

HER name is Deadly Nightshade and right now she is sat in a quiet Sheffield cafe demonstrating how taking off a simple pair of gloves can be sexy.

It’s all about accentuating the fingers, apparently; and then using those fingers in turn to accentuate your arms, legs and hips.

It’s about teasing too.

“It’s not just what’s underneath the gloves,” she smoulders, all black hair, red lipstick and blue gingham. “Hands are very sexy, of course, but taking off gloves is also symbolic of what else is to come - suspense is key.”

Blimey.

Waiter, a glass of cold water, please.

This is Burlesque South Yorkshire style.

There’s nothing new, of course, about this most risque of entertainments but it seems in 2011 it has become all the rage with Sheffielders seeking to empower themselves through suspenders, fishnets and toy guns in garters. And that’s just the chaps.

More than 200 girls (and the odd guy) are signed up for lessons at two separate ‘burlesque schools’ this summer where they are learning the arts of de-gloving and stripteasing, and the theory that, as Gypsy Rose Lee said, “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing slowly”.

For those who prefer to watch, meanwhile, there have never been more shows to attend.

“The rise in popularity has been extraordinary,” says Lara Jolley, of Wortley.

She should know. For 20 years, Lara - or rather her alter-ego, the “man-eating Amazonian Goddess” Hells Belle - has been professional promoter, performer and teacher of burlesque, not to mention proud owner of 300 corsets.

These days she takes seven weekly classes - including one at Hype Dance Academy - attended by more than 180 people.

“But when I first started it was very much frowned on,” says Lara. “There was this idea it was sleazy. Certainly in 1991 I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d end up teaching so many people.

“But now I get all sorts - my oldest pupil is 74, and she has her own corsets.

“I think it’s growing popularity is because of Dita Von Teese. There are teenagers who grew up with her as an inspiration now becoming old enough to learn burlesque themselves. They see it for what it is - sexy, yes but not at all sleazy. Just great fun, a bit bawdy and very empowering. And, let me tell you, some of the dance routines provide incredible workouts.”

Indeed, it was that sexy, bawdy and empowering aside which first attracted Deadly Nightshade - her of the gloves.

The 25-year-old Mexborough lass - better known to her parents as Rachel Lightfoot - runs the fast-growing club night Secrets Of The Boudoir and has just started her own weekly lessons.

“I discovered burlesque because someone told me I looked like a dancer,” she says. “I didn’t even know what it was then but I found out, went to a couple of shows, and just wanted to do it myself. I love that glamorous 1940s thing.

“I’m quite shy really but it allows you to become someone else.

“I sometimes think what would Deadly do in certain situations but that would probably lead me to walking around a supermarket dressed in just underwear and a feather boa so it’s just a stage persona.”

She set up Secrets in 2008 with the first show attended by less than 50 people in the back room of city centre pub.

Fast forward three years and next month will see her biggest show yet, featuring 16 dancers, two fire eaters and a glass walker, at West Street Live. She reckons, incidentally, about 80 per cent of those audiences are female because it can be intimidating for guys.

“Whoever comes along, though, is always welcome,” she says, hands now gloveless. “It’s great more people are getting into it. It’s an amazing art form that deserves attention.”

Secrets of the Boudoir Burlesque House of Horrors show is held at West Street Live on September 4. Details at www.secretsoftheboudoirburlesque.com

Details of classes by Hells Belle at www.velvetburlesque.co.uk