Aislinn Canarr, Lori Kogut, Taunya Cook, and Ashley Raye White (left to right) from Eye Candy Dance Studio in Bangor perform a belly dance during the studio's first public performance called Hot Summer Nights at Next Generation Theatre in Brewer Friday night. The studio plans to hold similar showcases in the coming months as they develop new routines. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

After her first-ever burlesque dance class about four years ago, Brewer resident Taunya Cook found herself basking in the afterglow once she got home.

“I could literally feel my confidence just go through the roof. I feel it in my step. The way I walk, how sexy I feel. I feel like a ray of femininity and sunshine,” Cook said. “It’s an internal vibe, and I’m loving it.”

That’s one of the big reasons why, earlier this year, she and her business partner, Searsport resident Megan Crochere, decided to strike out on their own and start Eye Candy Dance Studio in Bangor, specializing in burlesque, belly dance, dance fitness and, soon, pole fitness.

Ashley Raye White hugs her dance partners from Eye Candy Dance Studio after their belly dance routine at Next Generation Theatre in Brewer Friday night. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

In a colorful third-floor studio on Central Street in downtown Bangor, amid the fishnets and feathers, Crochere and Cook are creating a body-positive place where anyone can learn the basics about the more sensual side of dance — and get exercise and have fun in a supportive environment while doing it.

Crochere and Cook met while taking burlesque classes through Red Hot & Ladylike, a Portland-based dance studio that offers classes and performances all over the state. When the pandemic hit, in-person classes were canceled, of course, and over the course of that year the pair felt the absence of dance in their lives. They resolved to start their own dance studio in Bangor and started by renting studio spaces around the area before opening their permanent location in downtown Bangor in March of this year.

Though Eye Candy offers more traditional dance fitness, yoga and strength training classes, its most popular offerings are burlesque dance and belly dance. For burlesque in particular, students learn, initially, some simple dance steps and movement using chairs and other props — no nudity, but plenty of innuendo and sexy costumes, though yoga pants and sports bras are also welcome. The studio had its first public showcase performance this month and plans to hold similar showcases in the coming months as they develop new routines with students.

Burlesque dancer Kinky Slippers, from Portland, performs with Eye Candy Dance Studio of Bangor during its first public performance called Hot Summer Nights at Next Generation Theatre in Brewer Friday night. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Modern burlesque, like the kind popularized by the film “Burlesque” starring Cher and Christina Aguilera or famous performers like Dita Von Teese, combines the campy, vintage aesthetic of the early 20th century with contemporary performance elements.

The only rule is that everybody — literally every body — is welcome. The wave of body-positive celebrities and imagery from the likes of Lizzo, Ashley Graham and Demi Lovato has certainly helped to create a culture in which people of a certain size can feel comfortable in their own skin.

“Every body — any shape, any size, any age — is beautiful and welcome here,” Crochere said. “It’s a safe space, first and foremost, to get in touch with yourself. It doesn’t matter what kind of class you come to, you’re going to feel that vibe.”

Ashley Raye White waits for her dance routine at Next Generation Theatre in Brewer where Eye Candy Dance Studio of Bangor held its first public showcase called Hot Summer Nights on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Eye Candy also offers line dancing and hip hop dance classes, and recently started offering pole dance conditioning to help get people in shape for the pole dance fitness classes the studio intends to start offering in July. Eye Candy will be one of only a handful of studios offering that style of classes — a combination of dance and strength training — in Maine.

“We’re really excited to expand these offerings here in the Bangor area, because there’s a lot of it in Portland, but there’s just as many people up here who want to do it,” Cook said.

Just as Crochere and Cook felt the lack of dance in their lives when in-person classes couldn’t be held, they both feel that after the long, mentally draining pandemic, many people need to add a little spice to their lives.

Taunya Cook, co-owner of Eye Candy Dance Studio in Bangor, which specializes in burlesque, belly dance and dance fitness, dances in a number called Vintage Vixen Burlesque during the studio’s Friday night performance of Hot Summer Nights at Next Generation Theatre in Brewer. The studio plans to hold similar showcases in the coming months as they develop new routines with students. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“Our classes are in the evening, so maybe if your kids are asleep or you’ve got some downtime, this is something you can do for yourself,” Crochere said. “When you love yourself more, everything in your life gets better.”

Eye Candy Dance Studio is located on the third floor of 9 Central St. in downtown Bangor. A full schedule of classes can be found at eyecandybangor.com.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.