Burlesque classes in Nangwarry could be one of the more unexpected benefits of COVID-19 as tree-changers like Melody Montgomery (pictured) become part of the local community.
Stepping into one of her lessons it’s easy to see why on a wintry week-night women of all ages leave their homes in Mount Gambier, Naracoorte, Millicent, Penola and Casterton to participate.
Inside a classroom at Nangwarry Primary School the ladies are energised and welcoming even before the warm-up.
Melody’s eyes sparkle almost as much as her eye-shadow as she leads.
“Teaching burlesque is really exciting,” she said.
“It does not matter what size you are, you can be beautiful and express yourself to music.”
After ongoing lockdowns made her Melbourne performing arts school unviable, Melody moved to the South East.
“There was really nothing holding me there,” she said.
“I felt like a big change.”
Her experience in Nangwarry has been overwhelmingly positive.
“This place just called me,” she said.
“I feel like I have always been here. I’m overwhelmed by everyone I meet – and I’m amazed at how nice they all are.”
In addition to burlesque, Melody offers contemporary, jazz and jive classes for adults and musical theatre, drama, singing and jazz/hip hop classes for children.
As the daughter of a stage mum, Melody joined her dancing siblings as soon as she could walk.
Then at the age of seven she began performing professionally and at 14 she began teaching singing and dance.
“It’s my calling,” she said.
Referring to her years performing professionally, Melody said “there’s nothing like it – every person in the theatre in the palm of your hand”.
She said being able to help grow the skills and confidence of her students was an “honour”.
“I have had parents come to me in tears and say, ‘thankyou so much. My daughter is never going to be a professional dancer but she went into the school poetry competition and won. She could never speak in public but now she has the confidence’,” she said.
Melody says she loves seeing adults gain confidence too.
“We dance, we laugh, we have fun,” she said.
“Because they love our classes so much, they practice all the time and they’re becoming really good dancers.”
Ensuring people feel “comfortable” has been key to the way she teaches.
“Everybody is at a different level,” Melody said.
“Some people come for fun and some people take it a bit more seriously – I cater for everything.
“If you want to dance, even if you have two left feet, I can teach you.”
Melody said she is here to stay, with her eyes set on hosting a Christmas showcase at the forestry museum.
“I love that I get to bring people joy,” she said.
“I feel blessed that I am able to do what I love and love what I do every day.”