A mum-of-two from Liverpool has revealed how taking up burlesque at the age of 35 helped her feel “sexy” again.
Nicola Chan, now 39, has long had a complicated relationship with her body, having suffered from an eating disorder when younger that was so bad she could “barely keep food in the house”.
In a bid to embrace a healthier lifestyle, she began weight lifting and became a bodybuilder – but still had trouble with her confidence and self-esteem.
Burlesque became Nicola’s saviour.
“Burlesque dancing is very liberating and empowering but also really scary,” Nicola told NeedToKnow.online.
“I am owning the stage at that moment, all eyes are on me.
“After having low self esteem, being encouraged to show up unapologetically is liberating!
“Coming from the fitness industry where there is always so much competition and pressure, and having suffered an eating disorder, this has opened up a whole new world for me.
“I finally feel sexy again.
“Women in this community are often curvy and don’t talk negatively about themselves, or their bodies, which has helped me heal.”
Nicola first came across the dancing style – which goes back to the 1800s and usually features erotic, sensual movements without full nudity – in 2016, when attending a body confidence event.
Now, she performs burlesque as a hobby and takes part in shows two-four times a year.
As part of her raunchy routines, the mum-of-two wears “sexy” lingerie along with stockings and gloves.
She said: “You even get to choose a burlesque name and it’s almost like having an alter ego or persona that you can explore and play with.
“My stage name is Alice Blue Flame.”
Dancing burlesque has seen Nicola surround herself with women of all shapes and sizes, which helped her view bodies in a different light – including her own.
Slowly, she began to recover from the deep physical and emotional scars of her past.
She said: “My first-ever performance was on a huge theatre scene in Florence in 2018, with a group called ‘Frostie Bitches’.
“I was so scared that I felt sick and couldn’t stop shaking.
“But once I was on and the music started playing, it was automatic, like any performance you practise so much so your body knows it.
“I was also surrounded by a group of attractive, confident women who didn’t count calories and exercise every day.
“They enjoyed their bodies and accepted their human ‘faults’.
“A fellow performer saw my stretch marks and she called them beautiful, it’s the first time that’s ever happened to me.
“We all ate normal foods, like ice cream, which might sound like a normal thing to most people but to me, having denied myself treats for years, this was a step forward.
“I was shocked but also felt so grateful to meet a community of such open-minded, lovely people.”
During her time as a burlesque dancer, Nicola has seen some very unique shows too.
She said: “I have seen people wear animal suits, cardboard boxes, balloons, rubber heads with politician’s faces on, literally anything you can imagine, which is why I love it so much.
“Its really creative and some people go for comedy, not sexy, so even the theme is open to your imagination.
“You can tell a story, which I did with my first burlesque, I was playing a trauma with a former partner.
“It was a cathartic way of expressing what I had been through.”
Burlesque has not only improved Nicola’s body confidence but through the dance, she has also discovered her sexuality following her divorce.
She said: “Thanks to burlesque, I have even felt able to come out as bisexual.
“I think I always liked women but I felt that, having been in a long-term marriage, it was never okay to have those feelings.
“In burlesque I met people who were more open-minded, the community led me to so many more things which as a single woman I now get to explore.”
Although burlesque includes an element of stripping, Nicola wants people to understand that the performance is not about the nudity – nor is it ‘conventional’ stripping.
She said: “It’s really not about stripping in the traditional sense, it’s about female empowerment and body confidence and 90% of the audience are women!
“Burlesque makes me feel sexy and empowered and I do it for no one else but me.
“The burlesque community is very body-positive and includes women of all shapes and sizes, abilities and race.
“This community really helped me find self-love and self-acceptance.”
Self-love has not been an easy journey for the mum, whose disorder saw her hit the gym obsessively and became so extreme, it even made her infertile.
Nicola, who now works as a body coach and runs her own company, Wai-Shee, credits burlesque for playing a huge role in her recovery.
She has now also written her own book called Imperfect, which is aimed at improving body confidence in children.
She added: “Because eating disorders can become your identity it can be hard to give it up, It can become your label and society defines you with it.
“So after recovery, comes discovery and that is where you get to decide who you want to be.
“Trying burlesque or fire eating and spinning, which I also do now, are ways in which I get to move my body and be free, creative and expressive.
“I recommend others to try it too. It will change your life!”