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Backstage with burlesque dancers at S.African 'sexpo'

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Pretoria (AFP)

The dancers are getting ready by unleashing a blur of feather boas and corsets on the dressing room, where stacks of eyeshadow form a shimmering kaleidoscope of colours beneath mirrors framed with bare lightbulbs.

They are preparing for their burlesque performance -- a combinination of dance, comedy, theatre and often-skimpy costumes meant to challenge conventions, which rose to popularity in prohibition-era America.

While it has become tame in other parts of the world, one of the dancers, Vegas, says it remains a misunderstood artform in often conservative South Africa.

"They see us as strippers or something," the actress-turned-dancer says as she covers up in a black silk gown backstage at the annual Love Sex Expo in South Africa's capital Pretoria.

In addition to performances, the four-day event features strip poker, shopping, sexual health workshops, legal weddings and even "world famous penile artist" Pricasso, who paints portraits of visitors with his penis.

Vegas says several men at the sexpo had got the wrong idea and offered her money for a private performance.

"Money for what? It says burlesque," says Vegas, who once took her parents to the show to demystify the performance.

"After the show they were like, hmmm nice job."

Another dancer, Sapphire Flex, says burlesque is about "the tease" rather than "the strip".

She says her mother struggled to accept her new career, until she took her to one of her performances.

Now "my mom is my number one fan and she comes to every show," she says.

Sapphire also won over her partner: "I've had him on stage which is pretty cool."

After warming up -- "we've gotta be able to do the splits" says the group's leader Francesca -- the dancers take the stage.

"We are all immersed in our art, so for us it's all about passion," she says.

Another dancer, La Minx, joined the Tre Magnifique burlesque group just two weeks before the sexpo.

She says the burlesque shows have given her new confidence in her body, although she had to down a shot of Jaegermeister for courage before going on stage.

"I'm very self-conscious," says La Minx.

She did not give her real name because her involvement is a secret.

"My parents are pastors. They know nothing about this," she says, wearing ripped stockings and a bedazzled silver bra.

"They won't understand it... To them it's like, what are you doing? You are showing too much!"

"But I love it! It's been what I needed to be honest," she adds.

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