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Downtown Workshop Teaches Spiritual Side of Burlesque

By Della Hasselle | December 9, 2011 6:59am

DOWNTOWN —  Actress and former burlesque performer Victoria Libertore doesn't just teach her students how to strip.

Instead, her risque class at Dance New Amsterdam says she concentrates on the "archetypal energy work" involved in seductively taking off clothes. Her teaching method combines the psychology of Carl Jung, Jerzy Grotowski-inspired physical theater techniques and spiritual teachings.

In an eight-act performance that will culminate her latest two-week workshop this Saturday, called LateNite: GRRRlesque, Libertore, 36, will play hostess to a slew of burlesque performers who have taken her unique classes.

Burlesque artists Tallulah Luv, DapperQ and others will perform using the techniques that they've learned from Libertore onstage — namely, how to role-play by spiritually embodying various role models. Examples of the archtetypes that Libertore has had her students become while performing include the Queen, the Femme Fatale, the Prince, the Witch, the Child and hundreds of others.

"Going onstage and taking off clothes in front of strangers is very intimidating," Brooklyn-based Libertore told DNAinfo. "Archetypes in burlesque help the performer to be grounded, to be safe and to really have fun with the piece they're working on."

"I feel like it works on a physical acting level because it's working from the outside-in," she added. "It works on an energetic level, too, to make that alchemy happen onstage."

On Saturday, Libertore will impersonate Liza Minelli as her former students embody a slew of other characters, including Molly "Equality" Dyckman, a woman who combines her three loves in life onstage — women, poetry and Cheetos.

Other acts include Leg of Lamb, who has a complicated persona onstage — she acts as a hermaphrodite and goat farmer whose age fluctuates between 35 and 85.

Other performances include crying divas and butch cowboys.

Libertore has taught her students that, through archetypes and personas, they can re-imagine what it means to seduce an audience onstage.

"I would say that it's too much pressure to say that burlesque has to be sexy," Libertore said.

"There are ways to play with sexuality. I think that's what's so great about a burlesque performance. As an everyday, mainstream society we do have a limited view of what we think is sexy, and I think burlesque just blows that out of the water."

As part of the whole two-week burlesque extravangaza happening at Dance New Amsterdam, which began earlier this month, Libertore held one of her lauded classes for new students, called "Goddess Burlesque and Performance Workshop."

In the Dec. 4 class, she stressed to aspiring burlesque dancers that most performers "inherently" know how to take off their clothes, but that it's much more difficult to be open and connect to an audience on a deeper level while doing so.

Once her students learn the technique, however, she says that the performance can be much more liberating.

"You can create whatever you want," she added. "Absolutely everything goes in burlesque. It's about people being in their own bodies and expressing sexuality in their own terms."

To prepare new students for the exposing art form, she taught her technique of embodying various personas, which involves opening the heart chakra — one of the body's seven, according to Eastern philosophy.

Although Libertore's method is unique, she uses the archetypes as they're interpreted in "Sacred Contracts," a book by spiritual leader Caroline Myss.

She also had her students use a variety of physical theater techniques, which included staring at audience members for one minute straight, without twitching or turning away.

In another exercise, she had her students manipulate their facial expressions while they moved through the room in various tempos and styles. Often, she encouraged them to make gruesome faces and try to tell a story with their body language based on how their movements made them feel.

At the very end of the workshop, her students combined all of the methods and performed a short burlesque piece of taking off a single satin glove while embodying a randomly-chosen archetype — whether it was a "sexy" character or not.

The result was definitely powerful, student and television set designer Andrea Ivory, 28, said.

"I always just thought of the sexy aspect of it — I never thought you could really dig in and tell different types of stories with it," said Ivory, an aspiring burlesque dancer whose stage name is "Poison Ivory."

"It made me feel a little bit more free with the process, because I know I'm not just limited to trying to be sexy."

GRRRlesque, hosted and curated by Victoria Libertore, will start at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10 at Dance New Amsterdam, located at 280 Broadway and Chambers Street. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 in advance.