Friday, June 21, 2024

Chicago burlesque artist Ann Weinert, who goes by Red Hot Annie, hosts fitness classes known as Vaudezilla in Ukrainian Village

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CHICAGO — Ann Weinert has been a performer since she was 15. But the Chicagoan became enamored with the art of American burlesque as an adult in 2007, and her perception of performing in front of audiences changed immediately.

“I was doing theater, and I was kind of over it,” Weinert said. “I was actually pretty burnt out, mostly by the male-dominated negative energy. I wanted to feel like I had complete control over my creative expression. When I found burlesque, it was life changing for me.”

Weinert became one of the pioneers in the revival of burlesque, which started in the 1990s, and has continued to grow in the 21st century. Along with other veteran burlesque artists in Chicago, like Angela Eve, Weinert has spread the art form throughout the country and internationally, performing as the character “Red Hot Annie.”

Now Weinert stages regular burlesque shows, under the moniker “Vaudezilla.”

And in addition to those shows, she offers weekly classes out of a studio in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood, where she teaches the art of burlesque to students who want to learn the practice for fitness, for possible stage work and for more empowering purposes.

“I’m working with people to really harness their deep confidence,” said Weinert, who began offering the classes in 2010. “What I really want is for everyone who comes through my classes to feel that they have a deep self-love, a deep ability to really accept themselves.”

She calls the classes “Burlesque Parties,” but students say the classes are more than social get-togethers.

“It’s a great class for a lot of reasons, but it definitely works as a fitness class,” student Madeleine Brenner said. Physically, it involves a lot of stretching and high intensity movement.”

Weinert’s burlesque classes are around 45 minutes, and involve constant movement, primarily to a soundtrack of American standards. Most of that movement is mildly suggestive and colorful. Weinert and some of her students wear feather boas on the tops of their heads while working out, and fishnet stockings and other colorful clothing associated with the art form are also optional.

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“In the burlesque fitness class, we do not take any clothes off, but we do play with like gloves and veil fans and occasionally some other props,” Weinert said. “Burlesque is hard to sum up in just one or two words, but at the heart of it, it’s about feminine energy. And it’s about knowing how you feel in your body.”

“In my classes, you’re going to see a lot of bumps. You are going to see a lot of grinds. You’re going to see a lot of strutting, and you’re going to see, really, that coarse sense of confidence,” Weinert said.

Burlesque has a history as an American entertainment that goes back to the 19th century. It was first considered a cousin to vaudeville, the variety-based show where multiple acts are performed on stage in front of audiences.

As vaudeville began its decline due to the rise of mass media like movies, radio and TV, burlesque morphed into a bawdier entertainment form, which featured raunchy comedians and female striptease artists. Chicago had a number of burlesque stages, especially on South State Street, where theaters like the Gem and the Rialto were staples into the mid-20th century.

Weinert said that the women who performed burlesque back then had a certain flair and glamor that made the art form relevant to women today.

“I think part of what attracts a lot of women to burlesque is that when they were growing up, there was these beautiful images of Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe and these old-style Hollywood glamor queens. And the idea of putting on makeup, and putting on high heels and trying things on when you’re a girl, it’s just a sweet part of being a girl,” Weinert said.

Weinert said that burlesque helped her develop her sense of self-esteem.

“When I found burlesque in 2007, it was life changing for me,” Weinert said. “I grew up Mormon, so my family was extremely conservative, and the idea of showing one’s body was absolutely forbidden. And, through burlesque, I was really able to heal a lot of really deep pain that I had around, and shame that I had around, and got into it In my burlesque classes.”

Students say that sense of self-esteem is one of the main takeaways in the class.

“I’m taking the class for partly physical reasons. I’m training for a marathon right now, so I’m using this class as kind of a way for me to stretch my body out after my runs and just kind of prepare myself for the race,” student Simone Brenner said. “But I also have personal reasons for why I’m taking the class. It just awakened something within me, kind of opening up to your sexuality, and opening up to my feminine energy and really being able to experience my body in a different way.”

Weinert, who also has a book available on Amazon called “The Becoming Burlesque Workbook,” said that this idea of channeling feminine energy is a key one in her instruction.

“It isn’t about trying to force fit your body to fit into some sort of mold, but rather to accept it as it is and to love it,” Weinert said.

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