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Potential life lessons of burlesque dancing

Burlesque dancing may be in my future. 

Some of us gals at The Smoky Mountain News have been invited to attend a burlesque dance class. As we were mulling around the idea recently, I told them I could only do it on a weekend my boys were with their dad. 

My two colleagues looked puzzled and the following conversation with one of them ensued. 

“The boys could just come with you,” she pointed out.

“Um, no. That would be weird, them watching me dance like that,” I said. 

“Really? Think of the stuff we were exposed to as kids in the 80s, and we’re fine.” 

“Are we fine?” I asked her. 

“I think so,” she said. 

This conversation made the think. 

I certainly feel more rigid and protective with my children than my parents ever were with me. And in doing that, am I somehow holding them back or disallowing them to stretch their wings and see the world’s true colors? 

When I was a little girl, my dad taught an evening GED course at Craggy Prison in Asheville. When the inmates were released, they would often contact my dad to thank him and sometimes a friendship manifested. 

My dad would become something of a mentor to many of these individuals. In fact, a few became friends with our entire family. We trusted my dad to not bring hardened criminals around his daughters, so if he felt they were safe, my sister and I embraced them. 

Two gentlemen, in particular, stand out in my mind. One of them was tall and lanky with a gaggle of red wavy hair. His name was Jimmy. I don’t remember a lot about his story or what led him to prison, but I do remember him helping me pull two of my baby teeth and me being very appreciative because it meant the tooth fairy would visit. 

Another guy was named nicknamed Blue. I’m not sure about his birth name. He was a large black man with the sweetest heart. He never learned to read, so my sister and I spent hours reading Dr. Seuss books to teach him simple word blends and sounds. When he finally read a book on his own, we gave him one of our beauty pageant trophies. 

Interacting with people like Jimmy and Blue no doubt developed my character and taught me compassion. Had my parents been horribly overprotective, none of this would have happened. 

When I told my boyfriend, Matthew, about the burlesque classes, he wasn’t exactly sure what burlesque dancing was. I told him it’s where a person dresses rather scantily and dances around chairs and other props sort of in a dramatic or comedic way. 

He asked me if we were planning to perform somewhere. When I said no, he sighed a breath of relief. We then watched burlesque dancing videos on YouTube so he could better understand what I was talking about. 

I turn 40 this year and am the mom to two young boys, so I don’t foresee myself moonlighting as a burlesque dancer. With that being said, the experience will be fun. Further, the consideration of whether or not my boys should sit in the lobby and possibly catch a glance of us really made me reflect on how tight I’m holding their leashes. 

One time I heard President Obama say that watching his daughters go into the world was like watching his very own heart grow two legs and be openly exposed to all of the hurt, hate and possible dangers. As a parent myself, I knew exactly what he meant. But, if we hold on to our babies too tightly, they may never develop the skills and wherewithal to survive in a world that’s becoming more and more challenging to navigate. It’s a complicated balance, for sure. 

The dance class is in a few weeks. When you grow up with parents who offer fun and unique experiences, like I did, you develop a thirst for newness and adventure. I’m still not sure I want my boys to watch us practice, but if they catch a momentary glimpse of me dancing, it won’t be the end of the world. In fact, years from now, one of them may write his own column about the many life lessons learned from having a mom who dabbled in burlesque dancing. 

(Susanna Shetley is an salesperson, editor and writer for Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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