You’re standing in the middle of a studio dance floor. A couple of steps away a pink, heart-shaped, blown-up balloon with marker-drawn eyes and an O-shaped mouth attached to the back of a chair is staring back at you.
Feather boa in hand, sexy panther print bra-strap protruding from under your tank top and high heel pumps adorning your feet, you strike a pose.
The music starts. “I’m too sexy for my love…”
You take a bold step forward while sashaying your hips and, before you know it, you’re bumping and grinding in front of your makeshift rubber partner.
Not if you are learning how to give your lover a lap dance under the guidance of Montreal neo-burlesque dance instructor Velma Candyass (not her real name).
The lap dancing movements of this vaudeville-inspired teacher double as a self-empowerment tool for women who may be too afraid to “bust out” of their shells.
Candyass admits most women entering this how-to-physically-seduce-your-partner realm feel a bit off-keel at first.
“Oh! My gosh, am I really here? Am I really doing this?” she claims is their initial reaction.
Sarah Ashley certainly doesn’t come off as the shy type. The third year Concordia theatre student, all dressed in black with fishnet stockings embracing her legs says she knew coming in that she’d be having a good time.
“I was hoping to improve my lap dancing skills,” she boasts, “because my usual lap dancing procedure tended to knock people off their chairs.”
She wanted to improve because Ashley performs with a dance troupe called The Dead Dolls, through which she met Candyass. The theatre student danced a number on stage with the group at the Sala Rossa Meow Mix Cabaret in Montreal, which she describes as “burlesque revival stuff with a modern sensibility.”
On the other hand, her friend, 26-year-old events planner and public relation agent Melanie Dee Marshman admits she didn’t know what she was getting into when she agreed to accompany Ashley to a lap dancing class.
Sporting comfy sweat pants, black high heels and a tank top showing a bit of cleavage, Dee Marshman says she’s not an introverted person but when it comes to that intimate moment with a partner, it could take two or three glasses of wine to loosen her up.
“I’m very shy about a lot of things and that’s definitely one of them, [lap dancing is] definitely nothing I’ve ever done for a lover.”
During the workshop, Candyass introduced props such as feathers, gloves and night-gowns as a way to make the women feel more at ease with the idea of learning how to gracefully peel off their clothes and strut their stuff without looking clumsy.
“There is a whole theatrical element of putting your costume together and giving yourself a personage, whether you’re like this cat or a more savage female, or the shy one.”
Candyass even shows her girls how to move their derrire as if it were a spoon scooping up ice cream.
She’ll also tell them to make bigger scoops if she sees that their butt-action is lacking oomph!
“I’ve had a number of women who told me, at first they were a bit resistant in the class about doing some of the larger hip and pelvic movements because that’s going to show off their butt too much and it’s like, but you have a beautiful butt! Show it off!” she says, her eyes widening.
Candyass knows “there are a lot of women who have issues about their bodies.”
She suggests even in this day and age, some people believe that “pelvic movements [are] naughty and bad.”
“It is really an issue of self-confidence and being able to express yourself sexually, sensually to another person.”
Expressing yourself sexually isn’t always a given. Montreal sex therapist Tobi Klein cites that “50 per cent of all partners having sex have a partner with a problem.”
Klein also suggests that people who are not pleased with their body image tend to be more shy and reluctant to learn about sex.
Klein surmises that in most societies, the idea is you shouldn’t have to learn about sex, it’s supposed to be innate.
But Klein believes that you need to learn how to do it and know your body enough to know what you want.
“I’ve always said, people share recipes in all kinds of other things but they rarely share their best recipes in sex.”
After the class, Ashley and Dee Marshman, both single, exchange critiques about their performances. Dee Marshman notes that Ashley was too aggressive and that might scare off a partner while Ashley notes that Dee Marshman was too self involved and that if she was going to give someone a lap dance, she better involve them in the process.
Candyass says she sees her three-hour course as a confidence boosting adventure. “I think it is quite therapeutic actually.”
But, where does the genesis of sex education for women in Montreal stem from?
Well, as Sebastian Yeung, founder of Montreal-based Joy Toyz, calls it, “the little Montreal company that could.” Joy Toyz, was started in 2000 to fulfill a specific mandate: be a non-judgmental outlet where women can safely and comfortably express themselves and learn about their sexuality.
According to Yeung, the company that offers this lap dancing workshop, organizes parties and sells sex toys, making sex education available to the general population and bringing it out of its underground culture into the mainstream culture was a success. “We are about ordinary people pushing the boundaries in their personal lives.”
Yeung says there are taboos around sex toys and lap dancing because it is still seen as red light and triple X rated but when it comes to women’s empowerment, the sky is the limit.
When asked about what they thought of lap dancing, Dee Marshman and Ashley expressed different ideas about its negative connotations.
Dee Marshman says when she thought of lap dancing, she mostly associated it with sleaziness and strip clubs like Super Sex.
Even though she has a background in belly dancing, she perceived the Mediterranean dance as a hard discipline that has to do with a woman’s art and self-expression as opposed to pleasing men.
“To me, a lap dance was kind of the tacky version of not being able to belly dance.”
Taking the class has made her more opened-minded about lap dancing as a private seduction tool but not in the context of a commercial market that “objectifies women.”
Ashley doesn’t see lap dancing as sleazy.
“I think people are too ready to dismiss something as dirty or trashy as a way of avoiding their fear about it and I want to tell everybody to not be afraid to be dirty because it is fun,” she says with a girlish laugh.
Although, she agrees with Dee Marshman in stating she doesn’t condone lap dancing when it’s only for monetary gains.
Candyass sees people of all ages, body types and confidence levels in her classes and says what’s impressive to her is the transformation she sees in the body language and attitude of these women from beginning to end.
“This one woman came to my class three times,” she remembers.
She says this woman was a very shy, mousy person but each time she came, she progressed. This woman even ended up taking a private lesson with Candyass because she was determined to do this for her partner.
Candyass recalls that not only did she do it for her partner but also she brought him on a stage in a club where she performed in front of a crowd.
But, not everyone is necessarily made for a workshop.
Sex therapist Tobi Klein thinks that it is the people who are good and want to get better who will have the initiative to go to a workshop.
Someone with a sexual problem might not be that ready and willing.
So, how can people put in practice the acquired knowledge from a workshop?
Candyass suggests that the element of surprise can help spice things up, and not just on Valentine’s Day!
“You can do it for St-Patrick’s Day. Paint yourself green and put on a four-leaf clover,” she suggests.
“Do a nice, sexy Irish jig!”