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How Burlesque Fitness Taught Me to Love My Body

Ophelia Flame

I'm stuck in a rut. I haven't wanted to admit it, to myself or anybody else, but after months of denial, I've come to realize that I've hit that dreaded plateau that haunts many dieters at some point in their weight loss journey. (Try one of the Plateau-Busting Strategies to Start Seeing Results at the Gym.)

For me, that journey started in March 2014. Driven largely by an impending trip to Las Vegas, where I knew I would be surrounded by gorgeous women and men shamelessly flaunting their perfect bodies, I joined Weight Watchers. (Nervous about getting started? Find out What to Expect at Your First Weight Watchers Meeting.) And it worked. I actually lost 30 pounds—and looking back on the pictures from the trip, I love the way I look. Or, looked, I guess.

Since then, the scale hasn't budged—or at least it hasn't in the direction I want it to. In fact, I've gained back about half of the weight I originally lost—16.4 pounds to be exact. Yikes, that number isn't fun to type.

The worst part: I know why I've fallen off the wagon. I've stopped tracking my food, which is a hallmark to success for any Weight Watchers member. What I can't figure out is why I can't get back on track. I know what works; I've experienced the succes firsthand. But I've lost motivation.

I've learned from my meetings, which I still attend every week, that the best way to get over a plateau is to mix things up. Eat different foods, go back to the basics, switch up your workout routine.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to try a new class. I was writing a story about fun, non-cliché bachelorette party ideas when I first spoke to the woman known as Ophelia Flame. She teaches dance/performance classes at a studio in Minneapolis, where I live. Toward the end of our conversation about brides-to-be getting dressed up in feather boas and posing like pin-up girls, she mentioned her burlesque fitness class. It instantly piqued my curiosity. After training and completing a 10K last year and realizing that running was not for me, I'm all about finding new ways to get in a sweat sessions. I decided to give it a try.

Arriving at her studio on a chilly morning in November, I knew I would be learning from the best. Ophelia is an internationally recognized performer, after all. Besides founding The Playful Peacock Showgirl Academy, she's headlined festivals in Colorado and Toronto, been named as one of the top 50 performers in the world by 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, and has even been selected as a top contender for Las Vegas' Burlesque Hall of Fame on multiple occasions.

I was a little intimidated, to say the least. I had my preconceived notions about this style of dance—mostly of the Vegas showgirl variety—but I had no idea what to expect. Would elaborate costumes and feather boas be involved? When I asked Ophelia what I should wear, she jokingly said that a thong and nipple tassels would do nicely. I'm sure she could hear my nervous laughter through the email.

It was an intimate class of about 10 women, all of whom were different shapes and sizes, ages, and experience levels. Some were performers themselves, while others—like me—were simply looking for a unique workout. As they filed into the class one by one, the vibe was lighthearted and social. It was clear these women were all regulars to Ophelia's class as they swapped stories of the previous evening's escapades and asked about each other's personal lives. I was the only newbie, but they were totally welcoming, offering up tips and advice.

As I do with any new fitness class, I checked my inhibitions at the door and jumped into the unfamiliar routine with nothing but effort. I felt a little self-conscious at first, but once Beyoncé's "Naughty Girl" started to blare through the speakers, I was shimmying and shaking with the best of them. In fact, it was easier than I expected to catch on. (As is this Yoga-Meets-Dance Flow Workout you can do at home!) I recognized bits and pieces of Ophelia's routine from other fitness routines, like Zumba, barre, and yoga. This just had a sexier edge to it. I was hooked. (Did you know dancing is just one Science-Backed Way to Boost Your Body Confidence?)

But what really made the class "burlesque" came at the end of class. We had begun to stretch, and I assumed class was coming to an end when Ophelia said, "Now, the part you've all been waiting for." As I looked around the room, everyone seemed to know what was going on but me. Oh god, what is she going to make us do? I thought nervously.

"We're going to do a little improv performance," she smiled. Despite my sweaty palms and extreme self-awareness, I followed along as Ophelia called out our next moves: Seductively stare at each other from across the room! Walk toward each other slowly! Crawl on the floor!

It was a little awkward, but it was also the best part of the class. Watching myself in the mirror, I felt so sexy. I realized I didn't need to be a size zero to enjoy the way I looked circling my hips and striking my best pin-up pose with the rest of the girls in class. And when I showed my fiancé what I'd learned, he loved it too.

As for my weight loss, I'm still trying to get back on track—but burlesque fitness helped me remember that my body is beautiful at any size.

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