Sassy sense of empowerment

THEY look the pretty picture of an ideal 1950s woman.

The blonde bombshell “pin-up” with the pearly white smile, fire engine red lips, lustrous curls and fishnet tights.

It’s this vintage style that has been embraced by Gippsland’s own ‘Paper Dolls’, a sassy gang of dancers that must be introduced. 

Meet Diamond Jewels, Tallulah Lou, Lady Soleil, Miss Bombshell Betty, Lacy Dangerpants, Cutie Kopow, Coco Laroux, Pixie Willow, Kitten Le’Bow and Poppy Playdate.

Underneath the glamour these women hold day jobs: a nurse, a teacher, and even a banker.

But at night they’re glamour pusses, learning vintage styles of dance, including Burlesque, Bollywood, Charleston and GoGo. 

The characteristics and sultry dance moves would have once been criticised as stereotyping women or commercialising their femininity, yet in a shift of new generation feminism the style has been appropriated by women for their own empowerment.

“We do a lot of vintage styles of dance and the reason we do that is because the vintage ideal woman is very different to the ideal woman we have today,” Julia Lambert, also known as Poppy Playdate, said of the Paper Dolls Dance Studio.

Julia pointed to her fellow dancers, a cross-section of personalities, sizes, backgrounds, and a wide age range from early 20s to 50s.

“If you look around today, you’ve got all kinds of beautiful women in front of you, but the fundamental thing is that we’re all beautiful and do these style of dances because it makes us feel glamorous,” she said.

“It’s the love of getting a bit fancy and we do it for ourselves. We don’t do it for blokes. That’s not what it’s about for us, it’s about self-esteem and a bit of a release.

“We don’t do nipple tassels and G-strings, it’s more frilly knickers and fishnet tights. We don’t do anything that would embarrass your grandmother.”

The women are also a local tribe with a strong community focus.

It started as a few friends dancing in Louise Van der Velden’s, or Tallulah Lou’s, lounge room, after too many long trips to Melbourne to take alternative dance classes.

“There was a gap and a need and Lou filled that need,” Julia said.

As interest increased, the ‘Dolls’ started meeting every Tuesday night in a hall at Morwell’s Ronald Reserve and attracting women from Trafalgar, Traralgon, Yinnar, Churchill, Drouin, Rosedale and Sale. 

The seasoned performers are now central to the community festival circuit, including a flash mob at the Latrobe Performing Arts Centre, and dancing at the Rosedale Vintage Festival and the Latrobe Says Thanks event following the Hazelwood mine fire.

When discussing the women’s previous dance knowledge, Julia said it was varied, some with no dance experience, as well as former ballerinas and tap dancers.

“From my perspective, I’m not the world’s greatest dancer, but that doesn’t stop me from dancing and doesn’t mean I’m any less fun to watch,” Julia said.

The Paper Dolls will be running classes from the Traralgon Courthouse Tuesdays from 6pm to 7pm. Like its Facebook page for class details.