Saucy, red-hot and risqué, burlesquercise helps ladies discover their inner vixen

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Mention “burlesque” to some folks and they retract in bashfulness and dismiss the subject as some sort of taboo.

The image of scantily clad Christina Aguilera, perhaps even – heaven forbid – nude women flash into mind and usually blushing ensues. Enter burlesquercise – a modern adaptation of an art created over 200 years ago and taken to an entirely new level by instructor Diana Lefebvre, also known as Diva Di. This workout regimen strives to not only make women fit and healthy in an unconventional way, but helps ladies break out of their comfort zone.


“It’s a dance fusion exercise class. It’s half dance, half fitness with a burlesque twist,” says Lefebvre of her burlesque-influenced brain child. “The idea came about because most women are pretty busy and they get tired of working out in the conventional way of the gym. Ladies want to be fit but they want to have fun.”Hilary Stark strikes a pose during dress rehearsal.

Photo by: Guillermo Barraza

Classes infuse ballet, jazz, Latin music and even some Pilates to provide a full-body workout – in a technical sense. But, classes with Diva Di often misdirect the fact that the ladies are getting an intense callisthenic workout and make it a blast.

“They say their bodies are changing and they’re working out but they don’t notice that they’re working out,” Lefebvre says. “I try to do it in a way that they don’t really notice the pain.”

The workout is dance based with a foundation in ballet – which is Lefebvre’s root style – and ballet plié’s and squats allow ladies to build long, lean muscles, excellent core and butt strength and has a “lifting effect” for areas Lefebvre says “drop over time.” This fluid combination of attributes makes for a regimen that students feel the next morning.

“The other thing that encourages women to try this is no matter whether or not you have a dance background- it doesn’t matter your age or your size – when you learn how to move, every woman looks beautiful.” -Hilary Stark

But one of the most important attributes to burlesquercise, Lefebvre says, is that it can be done by any lady of any age, size and situation.

“It’s low impact,” Lefebvre says. “So I get a lot of people that have been in car accidents or plus-sized lades that don’t or can’t go to the gym for various injuries – anyone of any age with any ability can handle it and they can push themselves as far as they want.”

Donna Zarowny has been a student for a year and a half. As a lifestyle choice in an attempt to get fit she began to search for a way to reach her goals.

“I had just turned 50 and I knew I needed to get out there and exercise,” Zarowny says. “I knew I had to get in shape but I was tired of the traditional going to the gym and I thought ‘there has to be something else.’ One day I saw a little blurb on TV and that sort of sparked my interest.”

She says at first it was terrifying and mortifying to enter class where you had to dance sexily to music and use your body to make a statement. But, she knew from her first class that she was now hooked to this exercise. A year and a half and 30 pounds of weight-loss later, Zarowny recalls her feelings after her first day of classes.

“I felt so good about myself,” Zarowny says. “I felt good in my own skin and that was even thirty pounds ago and I felt good and I felt empowered and by the end of the class in an hour and a half my brain made a transformation.”

The exercise isn’t the only thing that keeps the ladies returning to classes week after week. There is an entire mental transformation – breaking out of shells and boundaries that enables women with a sense of self-confidence and esteem that Lefebvre calls a “freeing experience.”

“What other exercise is there where you go to class and you wear make-up?” Zarowny asks with a laugh. “As women, this is really empowering and fun to do in a supportive environment, and you’re working out and getting a benefit of mind and body.”

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Mother and daughter team Hilary and Brittany Stark, are in different stages of their burlesque transformation.The ladies at Diva Di’s Burlesquercise class have sexy, sassy fun while staying in shape.

Photo by: Guillermo Barraza

Mother Hilary Stark is a veteran of the art and says that it has changed her life since she started. “I started two years ago with Di, and this class makes me feel sexy and amazing. When you’re exercising, it’s not that calisthenics kind of stuff, it’s unique. I have a gym membership, but I choose this over it if there is a class.”

When daughter Brittany Stark moved from Scotland to Calgary, her mother encouraged her to join the class to experience it for herself. And even on only her third day of class, donning a smile from ear to ear, she felt there was something different about her attitude.

“It definitely builds up the confidence,” she says. “You get to dance around all sexy so it definitely pulls you out of your shell quite a bit.”

She mentions that not only is in the thrust away from her comfort zone, but it is an intense workout as well. “It’s killer, it works out absolutely everything!”

Together the mother-daughter combo laugh and dance with confidence and strength.

“The other thing that encourages women to try this is that it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a dance background. It doesn’t matter your age or your size. When you learn how to move, every woman looks beautiful,” Hilary Stark says.

As a class progresses, women sweat and pant but never lose the lustre of their confidence. Women with immeasurable smiles on their faces strut their proverbial “stuff” and the feeling of a burlesque attitude shines from the group like the hot lights of a bohemian stage or the crimson colour of the Moulin Rouge.

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