Iowa School of Burlesque Offers Something for Everyone

Courtesy of Phoenix L’Amour Photo: Cody Osen/Des Moines Live
Phoenix L’Amour captivates the audience at the grand opening of the Des Moines Social Club.

Melissa Garrett

Welcoming dancers of all genders, backgrounds and sexual orientations, the Iowa School of Burlesque practices a new form of burlesque, known as “neo-burlesque,” and is an outlet for self-expression.

As the premiere burlesque studio in Iowa, the Iowa School of Burlesque recently opened a studio in the Main Street Cultural District and offers a variety of classes (to anyone age 18 or older) ranging from cardio dance and yoga to burlesque strip tease.

“Our group, specifically, is very comedic-based [so] we really try to keep that across the board with all of our performances,” says Phoenix L’Amour, founder and headmistress of the Iowa School of Burlesque. “I think a lot of times, art forms can really be closed and we just want to be open.”

Creating a space for everyone, burlesque-style dance has deep roots in satire and comedy, so neo-burlesque can be anything. Inspiration can come from pop culture, political satire, comic books or even famous people.

“Neo-burlesque will be anything from somebody stripping out of a yeti costume to somebody sitting on stage and eating spaghetti to no music,” says L’Amour. “You can really make it whatever you want it to be [and] you don’t have to take your clothes off to be part of burlesque.”

Established in 2011 by L’Amour, the Iowa School of Burlesque (ISOB) began in Des Moines and has expanded every year. ISOB opened their premiere studio in September at 300 Main Street, where the school shares a space with the Iowa Music Store in an adjoining suite.

“The Iowa School of Burlesque is an extraordinary contribution to our town,” says Nate Logsdon, treasurer for ISOB. “[This] particular type of performance class is not offered anywhere else in Ames [and] the Iowa School of Burlesque offers some training in different techniques for costuming and creating a persona for burlesque performers.”

With the opening of ISOB, L’Amour sees an opportunity to attract students to the Main Street Cultural District and considers Ames a really amazing place that provides a positive environment to be an artist.

“Most dance forms are very rigid, like ballet, [with] certain body types and things you can and can’t do. But with burlesque it’s whatever you want to do,” says Maddie Moiselle, director of education and co-owner of the Iowa School of Burlesque. “You can be whoever you want to be. All genders, body types, ages, different types of backgrounds—it’s really all-encompassing.”

Performances often involve hooting and hollering from the audience, which L’Amour says the performers appreciate to let them know the audience is enjoying the show.

“We encourage cat calling to a certain extent,” says Moiselle. “Sometimes being a performer is hard. We’re not everybody’s cup of tea, but that’s OK.”

Following their policy on “non-discrimination of any kind,” the Iowa School of Burlesque creates a safe place that is accessible to everyone by offering classes of all skill levels, for leisure as well as for serious burlesque performers.

“Anyone and everyone can do it,” says Moiselle. “We’re not Barbies or what people might typically think should or could get on a stage and strip off their clothes for strangers. It’s really about empowering women and men to feel comfortable in their skin and see confidence in how they want to present themselves.”

The Iowa School of Burlesque offers an apprentice program, designed by L’Amour to guide future performers to the stage with a strong education focus as well as weekly classes (with a burlesque spin), private lessons and custom party packages.

For more information on the Iowa School of Burlesque, visit their website at for information on classes, prices and ISOB’s apprentice program.