The quiet of the Monterey Centre's Oak Room fills with music. Michelle Hoekstra cheerfully leads her "Burlesque Fit" class as ladies of all ages, shapes and sizes, unabashedly shake, shimmy and stretch to the music. Burlesque Fit is the newest fun fitness to hit the Oak Room.
"I wasn't really surprised at the response I got," says Michelle. "I think every woman has an erotic side. I can see the difference in the ladies after they've attended a few classes they're more confident, in touch with their bodies and feeling good about themselves."
Michelle's earliest memory of being on stage was at the age of four, dressed in a tiny white tutu, dancing with a group of little girls. From that moment, she was "hooked," and she knew the stage was where she wanted to be. Dance lessons included tap and ballet, followed by full attendance at London, England's two Colleges of Theatrical Arts, Grandison and Corona, when she was older.
Michelle recalls those early days, "As a student, you had to try out for parts, but I also had an agent who would send me to other auditions too."
Michelle's film credits include feature parts in The Avengers, Jason King, and several episodes of Doctor in the House, as well as the Carry On films.
Even after a brief stint in pantomimes, some modelling, a fleeting moment as a London Playbunny and a serious career as a professional make-up artist, Michelle's first love remained dancing. Beginning with London's prestigious Bluebell Girls, Michelle also performed with other groups in London, Paris, Monte Carlo and Tokyo. She recalls signing a short contract with "Miss Doris's Girls" for a show in Monte Carlo. Miss Doris organized shows for Princess Grace when she held her Annual Red Cross Charity Ball. Flashing a mischievous grin, Michelle remembers one incident: "My first time in Monte Carlo, Josephine Baker headlined the show. She did her famous ˜Banana Dance' where Miss Doris's Girls would accompany her wearing these ˜banana skirts.' I ran in late and was in such a rush. I was tying this banana skirt on seconds before dancing on stage. Well, everyone's bananas were hanging one way but mine were hanging in the opposite direction! I got into terrible trouble because of that."
Michelle has danced in all the famous London nightclubs including the Pigalle with headliners like Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme and Peggy Lee, as well as the Churchills Club, a regular haunt for royalty.
"To me it was all part of the working environment, meeting celebrities and royalty," says Michelle. "My mother would remind me saying, ˜Don't you remember when?' and I would say, ˜Oh yes, that's right.' But at the time, it was all part of the job."
Moving with her husband from London, England to Calgary, Alberta in the early seventies proved to be a challenge.
"Calgary was so different from cosmopolitan London. I tried to express myself a few times and people wouldn't know what I was talking about because some of the expressions I used had a different meaning for Canadians." Michelle explains with a chuckle, "In London, I use to buy make-up removal pads called 'Quicky.'
The first time I stopped at a Calgary drugstore, I said, ˜Could you give me a Quicky please,' and the druggist replied, ˜Quicky? What would you want a quicky for?' We soon got that straightened out!"
Adjusting to life and winters in Calgary, Michelle became a licensed Alberta fitness instructor. She and a friend decided to hold noon-hour classes at a rented church gym in downtown Calgary.
"We were green as cucumbers and had flyers made, handing them out to everyone on the downtown streets and delivering them to office buildings. We started with 35 people the first day and ended with 90. This was during the Jane Fonda fitness era. It was great fun."
With her husband's work taking them back to England, Michelle passed on her share of the fitness studio to her partner. Later, moving back to Canada and eventually settling in Victoria, this energetic woman searched for her niche. Licensed as a fitness instructor in B.C., Michelle found that fitness had morphed into greater levels since her days in Calgary.
"I'd love to work with clients on a one-to-one basis because there are people who don't like the group setting. With one person, the program would be very flexible, geared to the client's abilities."
With her professional dancing background and her passion for music, fitness seems like a natural fit.
"I prefer teaching fitness to music using a choreography of steps or movements to make it interesting. When I hear a piece [of music] being played, I can visualize the dance movements that should go with it. When the music starts, I move because I can really feel the music. I want people to feel the music from the depth of their souls and move with it too."
Pondering her love of dance, fitness and music, Michelle decided to try campy, vampy and fun by introducing Burlesque Fit to Oak Bay.
With their 21 dance mates, Frances Lefevre, Edith Sangster and Joan Heron vamp across the Oak Room floor, flinging their boas and long scarves with carefree abandon.
"I thought it'd be a fun form of exercise and it certainly is!" laughs Frances.
Sounds of laughter fill the room as Michelle leads the class through their final slinky struts.
With no regrets for leaving the glamour of stage performance behind, Michelle looks eagerly to the future.
"I would love to teach Burlesque Fit to ladies in the privacy of their homes," she says with an infectious smile. "It would be a nice surprise for their husbands!"
For more information on Burlesque Fit classes at the Monterey Centre, call 250-370-7300 or contact Michelle directly at www.burlesquefit.com or 250-592-0260.