If there is one thing Bettina May hopes ladies take away from her pin-up class, it’s a sense of confidence and acceptance of their bodies. “It’s really amazing what a little bit of makeup and good hair can do for you,” May said. She added, “There’s a certain power in having control over what you look like.”
May, a burlesque dancer, pin-up model and photographer (not to mention a faux furrier and founder of a now defunct male pin-up magazine) all rolled into one, has been teaching ladies how to do their own vintage hair and makeup for the past four years in classes all over the world. Originally from Victoria BC, Canada, May got a work visa earlier this year to tour with a US dance company doing burlesque shows. Since that came to an end this summer, May has been in New York working on getting a permanent visa and finding locations to teach her class. This past weekend, on Sunday, December 5, she found a temporary home at the Parlour, a boutique salon on Greenpoint Avenue (that does a vintage roller set if you’re in the mood to be pampered).
May, accustomed to often working in shabbier conditioners, was extremely grateful to the Parlour for letting her use their space. “Everything is beautifully vintage and well put together [there],” May said. The supplies she needed were also easily accessible. “I’m used to doing this in nightclubs that have a cool style—they have everything I need to drink—but I’m like, I need a table, I need a chair that’s not covered in beer!” May added, laughter punctuating her words.
The ladies who sign up for May’s class range from moms who haven’t had time to spend on themselves in a while and want to get back into being glamorous, to women who never really learned how to do their own makeup to begin with. “Unless you’ve had an older sister or a friend who was willing to teach you; unless you figured it out from reading magazines, who are just trying to sell you a product anyway, it’s hard to learn all these techniques,” May said.
She added, “Some people just need someone there to say, ‘This is how you put eyeliner on,’ which seems so basic to someone who might know how to do that, but if you’ve never learned, how else would you [know] other than from having someone show you?” Others class participants include aspiring pin-up models, burlesque dancers in training and entertainers—perhaps not in a vintage style at all—seeking a nugget of truth pretty much every female performer (and undoubtedly some male, as well) wants to know: how to make hairstyles last throughout an evening of dancing and sweating and stage lights.
In addition to instructing her students on how to preserve hairstyles, important as that is, May also teaches them life lessons that can, and do, extend beyond the pin-up classroom—that you don’t need to have a perfect body or face (to pull off vintage pin-up style looks, or any styles), that everyone has something beautiful about them and that the most beautiful thing about a person is their self confidence. “The person who is the most comfortable with themselves is the person who’s going to own a room when they walk in,” May said.
May always likes to end her classes with a photo shoot to show people how great they can look in a professional photograph. “Having a photo that looks really cute and sexy, it may seem kind of shallow, but you see women who have been like, ‘No one is going to see this,’ go home and they’ve posted it on Facebook and tagged me, and I just see all the compliments that come,” May said.
If you missed May at the Parlour this past weekend, catch her at her next class in Asbury Park, New Jersey in January at “a really cool vintage bowling alley.” And if you can’t make that show, be sure to check May’s Web site for future dates: bettina.ca. She teaches full classes once a month in Brooklyn, and coming soon in Manhattan, as well; plus a once a month class for the New York School of Burlesque that is hair only. Find one that works for you!