‘It’s the least sexy thing in the world’: The bare faced cheeks of burlesque life models in Tooting

Stripping naked for a bunch of strangers while listening to the Rocky theme tune may seem like a strange hobby to some. 

But if you climb up a grungy flight of stairs detached from the main entrance of The Antelope pub in Tooting at 8.30pm on a Thursday evening that is exactly what you will find.

But it’s not as sleazy as it sounds. Honest.

If you do venture up there, you will be greeted by two beautiful women, the Salacious Sirens, modelling for their weekly burlesque-inspired life drawing class.

Each week the ladies choose a theme and poses are inspired by suggestions taken from the group — this week is sport.

Classic 80s tunes provide some relief in what could potentially be quite awkward and sketch pads and drawing materials are offered out.

Behind a thick curtain a jumble of wooden chairs and tables are laid out in a semi-circle as the artist’s line up their instruments of choice and slowly nurse their drinks.

Completely unfazed, the models stride into the centre of the space.

“Five minutes!” a Siren announces and they freeze in their position.

This is the cue the artists are waiting for — they now have just 300 seconds to draw the women posing for them.

The girls halted in the act of undressing and from then on the only movements came from hands sweeping over sketch pads and heads bobbing up and down.

Life drawing 8FEARLESS: The sassy Sirens hold their poses like pros

When the five minutes is up, another countdown begins and another layer of clothing is shed.

This time the artists have just four minutes and the models pose with boxing gloves and pads adhering to this week’s theme.

Once again a stillness falls about the room and the only sounds are The Eye of the Tiger and the rustling of pens and pencils over paper.

The countdowns continue with shorter intervals and there is an intensity to the artists’ movements as their hands glide over the pages to an aptly chosen soundtrack including the Rocky theme and So You Want to be a Boxer.

After a flurry of quick drawings, the statues come to life again and one calls for a 30 minute pose. There is a sigh of relief around the room.

One model leaves the floor and the other sits looking contemplatively into the distance.

Life drawing 7CONCENTRATION: The artists have time to take more care in the longer poses

While everyone sits intensely staring at the solitary Siren, New Order beg the question via the medium of Blue Monday: How Does It Feel?

As her partner Josephine Tremelling stays motionless, Jessica Playfoot reveals how it feels to bare all.

She laughs loudly: “It’s the least sexy thing in the world!

“It’s really empowering though. When I trained in musical theatre, casting directors would tell me to come back when I’d lost two stone.

“I think that in life drawing, people like to draw what is considered ugly.”

By far the more challenging thing, Jessica confirms, is the art of staying still.

“Sometimes I will stand in a position and immediately regret it, but I am getting better at being able to stay still for longer,” she said.

There is a definite sense of camaraderie between the Sirens and the handful of regulars who turn up every week as everyone examines each other’s work in delight.

Life drawing 3RELAXED: The artists and models alike are unfazed by the nudity in front of them

By day both ladies have equally creative day jobs, with Josephine a stage director at the Pleasance Theatre, and Jessica an actor at the Shrek Experience.

But this does not stop them from pursuing their passion of burlesque.

The pair have been running events for five years, even taking their show The Powder Room to the Brighton Fringe earlier this year.

They have been running this group for 15 months and were previously based at The Gorringe pub in Tooting.

“The thing I love about this group is how beautiful they make me look in their pictures,” Jessica said with a smile.

Life drawing 2ACHIEVEMENT: The models like looking back at the sketches made of them

After a quick break, Jessica takes to the stage as Josephine grabs a pad and is the only one to acknowledge the music by mouthing along to Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain.

People watch Jessica with a detached, almost clinical eye, as though she is not human, and form these amorphous blobs on the page which suddenly become a likeness of the woman standing in front of us under heavy lighting.

To re-appropriate the Elvis Costello adage, writing about life drawing is like dancing about architecture, and everyone attending the session is enthusiastic for more people to pick up a pencil and just try.

Josephine rejoins Jessica for the final pose, completely ambivalent about being naked.

The whole room seems to be equally blasé about the nudity. There is no Victorian awkwardness about the human form, and no sordid undertone.

Many of the artists have been in that position themselves, and confirm there is nothing erotic about it.

Life drawing 6STRENGTH: That does not look like an easy pose to hold

“It’s quite an experience,” says Tim, a former life model and art enthusiast.

“You can just sit there and observe everyone. They make some interesting faces while drawing.”

In fact, there is only one person who voiced an opinion contrary to this relaxed approach to wearing your birthday suit in public.

When asked if she would pose nude, graphic designer Sue Davies Pearson answered almost before I had finished asking the question –


“It’s the stuff of nightmares.”

Related Articles