Swatties Learn to Shimmy at Burlesque Workshop

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Swatties with a hankering for the unconventional learned some new moves at Thursday’s burlesque workshop, which was hosted by Drama Board and taught by Jo Weldon of New York’s School of Burlesque.

Burlesque, for those who don’t know, is a cousin of vaudeville that involves bawdy physical humor, short skits, outrageous costumes, and dancing, sometimes including striptease. It was very popular in the 1920s and is currently in the midst of a comeback.

The workshop was the brainchild of “Wild Party” directors Jackie Vitale ’09 and Dan Perelstein ’09, who had originally intended to include some burlesque dancing in the production. Although that plan proved unfeasible, their fascination with the dance form led them to approach Drama Board to try and schedule the workshop. They proved very receptive to the idea; Judy Browngoehl ’09 said in an email, “Drama Board is open to hosting any type of workshop that is exciting and informative for performers on this campus, and burlesque is something that hasn’t really been taught, so we thought it was really exciting for students to have this opportunity.”

The workshop was taught by Jo Weldon, founder and head of New York’s School of Burlesque, which offers regular classes to people interested in learning how to do classic burlesque moves like the shimmy and tassel twirl. An experienced teacher and dancer with a string of accolades to her name, Weldon has been named, according to the school’s website, the “Best Burlesque Teacher and Mentor” as well as the “Best Bump n Grinder.” Browngoehl said that she was “really impressed with her dedication and eagerness.”

Although Vitale and Perelstein originally thought of burlesque as just another element of character formation, they found themselves impressed by the style as an art form in and of itself. Although they were initially skeptical, a trip to a burlesque show changed their minds about burlesque and the men and women who perform it.

“We thought the whole thing was going to be really terrible and demeaning,” Vitale said in an email, “but we were totally wrong. All of the woman were super empowered. I always thought of stripping as the ultimate example of objectification. But burlesque is a completely different animal.”

While burlesque can involve pushing boundaries, Drama Board made sure that no one would be made uncomfortable by the workshop. Browngoehl, who posted the signup sheet for the event, said, “I let everyone know what kind of activities would be going on (ex: bump n’ grind, tassel twirl) and that there could be possible partial nudity,” adding that these things are “part of a respected artistic dance form.”

Both Vitale and Browngoehl said that they had received very positive feedback about the workshop from the students that participated, and are hoping that this won’t be the last burlesque event at Swarthmore.

Correction: The Gazette reported that Jackie Avitabile was an organizer for this workshop. In fact, Jackie Vitale was the organizer. The article has been changed to reflect this.


  1. i could argue that stripping may be empowering to some women but I don’t have the time or energy to do so in this comment box

  2. how can you call a striptease workshop burlesque? just call it what it is, a striptease workshop. sheesh!

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