The Burlesque Experience, led by East Dallas’ Lisa Carmen. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Lisa Carmen felt like a floating head for the first 40 years of her life.

“I was just living up in here,” says the East Dallas resident, tapping her temple. “I’d become disembodied. I wasn’t really in my body, enjoying my body and my sexuality — my nerves, my skin, my curves. Like a lot of women, I’d look in the mirror and just criticize my body and say it wasn’t good.”

Then she went to a burlesque show. There was art, theatrics, storytelling, beauty and glamour. “I saw women using their sexuality and their sensuality as a way to express themselves, and I was really attracted to that,” she explains. She knew she wanted to be a part of it.

She started learning burlesque and at first it was terrifying and emotionally painful. “I didn’t feel safe being sexy,” she says. But as her focus shifted, she discovered sides of herself she never knew were there — confidence, sensuality, pleasure and power.

She formed a burlesque troupe and before long they were invited to showcase their skills on Halloween in front of 500 people. It was her first performance.

“I got up on stage one person, and I left a different person,” she remembers. “It’s hard to even put words to the exhilaration and the access that I had to courage. You just move differently in the world after that. I was suddenly strong enough to do some very difficult things in my life that I’d been avoiding.”

She and the other women in the group began making big changes in their personal lives. Some of them made dramatic relationship changes by opening themselves up to love, or by finally ending relationships. Some of them made much-needed career changes.

“And I realized there’s something here, something potent,” Carmen says. “I wanted to do that over and over again with a new group of ladies every time.”

Out of that desire she created The Burlesque Experience, a six-week course for newbies, in which Carmen and her team strive to help other women tap into the same inner power they found in burlesque.

In five years, Carmen has taught more than 200 women in Dallas. Often the participants in her class are just as nervous as she was the first time, but that’s OK, she says. Actually, it’s kind of the whole point.

“It includes two of the most vulnerable things you can do with your body — dancing and being naked,” she says. “It definitely pushes women out of their comfort zones. It lets them reconnect with their inner badass.”