Posted: May 1, 2011 | 2:10 a.m.
It's hard not to be captivated, and a little intimidated, by a tall brunette wearing little more than high heels, a G-string and a microphone, especially when you're standing next to her.
But the seven women on stage with Shakeera Onstead pushed their trepidation aside as she showed them how to tap their inner burlesque.
For 75 minutes on a recent Thursday, they soaked up every lesson and tip offered by the showgirl in Bugsy's Cabaret at the Flamingo Las Vegas. They learned where to buy G-strings and how to decorate them. What to do with a feather boa. How to strip while dancing and use glitter to make them look more alluring and sexy.
By the time the women graduated from X Burlesque University, they had been well-schooled in the art of the tease.
"I actually have a boa at home and, finally, I know what to do with it," said Christine Washburn, 42. She was visiting from Salt Lake City recently and had tickets to see "X Burlesque" at the Flamingo with her boyfriend. Washburn heard that the dancers from the show taught classes on how to dress and move like a burlesque showgirl, so she signed up.
"I thought it would enrich the experience to see how they do it," she said. "And I wanted to get on stage. It may be my only opportunity to play a Vegas showroom."
Producers started offering X Burlesque University in May in response to audience feedback, Onstead said. Classes, which are taught by dancers from "X Burlesque," are offered at 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and cost $35. They've had as many as 27 students in one class.
"We always have people come up and say, 'How do you do this?' " Onstead said. "The class is doing well. Burlesque is so hot right now and so popular."
There is no one reason people take the class. Some want to do something distinctively Vegas or learn a few showgirl moves; others are fascinated with burlesque.
Tomi Watkins, 63, came from Atlanta to Las Vegas to celebrate her 16th wedding anniversary. Since she teaches voice and piano to Georgia beauty pageant contestants, she thought the class might enhance her skills.
"I took a dance class from a choreographer who taught Catherine Zeta-Jones," said Watkins, who studied opera in Italy. "I wanted to compare the stage and moves and see what I know."
Since she's representing Kentucky in the Ms. Senior America pageant later this year, Watkins also wanted to get a few makeup tips for herself.
The class started off with makeup. First, they applied fake eyelashes: "Oh, it feels really weird," Washburn noted.
Lipstick and glitter came next, with Onstead showing them how to rouge their cheeks with lipstick instead of powder blush. It lasts longer, she explained.
Then they coated their lips with red lipstick and blotted them with red glitter, making their mouths the color of a juicy red apple.
"If you get the glitter in your mouth, the only thing that's getting it out is brushing and flossing," Onstead warned, too late. Sounds of polite spitting were heard around the showroom as some women learned that glitter is neither tasty nor easy to work with.
Next came the stage, where Onstead gave the women costume tips and showed them some classic burlesque moves with a feather boa.
"We make all our own costumes for the show," Onstead said. "We bought lingerie from Frederick's of Hollywood, cut the boobs out and (decorated) it (with rhinestones).
"This G-string I'm wearing," she said, gesturing to her black, fringed garment, "I got it at Walmart. I sewed the fringe on myself."
Onstead gave a quick lesson in how to undress to music and move like a dancer -- "Walk with pride and self-confidence. Hold your chest, if not out, at least up." -- before wrapping up the class by posing for photos with her students. They all received diplomas and goody bags to commemorate their experience.
"I'm so excited, it was fun. It was out of the box for me," said Chrissy Elms, 33. A member of a charity burlesque group in Augusta, Ga., Elms usually sings. "Now I have some dance moves to use."
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.