Picture the average gran on a Saturday night… sitting on the sofa watching Strictly, or out at bingo with her mates. You’re probably not imagining her wearing nothing but a G-string and nipple tassels, dancing in front of a wildly cheering crowd.
But for Kathy Rowan, 53, this is a standard weekend activity. The daring granny loves nothing more than shedding her clothes before an audience, complete with a sultry sway and a shake of her hips.
Kathy, who goes by the stage name of Kosmic Kitty, loves to shimmy on stage covered in balloons and pop them one by one, revealing saucy undies beneath. But by far her most popular act involves setting her nipple tassels alight and twirling them in perfect circles.
It would be easy to assume the mother-of-two was born brimming with confidence, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just five short years ago, she was crippled with body hang-ups, and emotionally and physically drained after a hysterectomy.
“My self-confidence had hit rock bottom, and I felt less like a woman than ever before,” says Kathy with a sigh. “I was bedridden for six weeks, and my husband, Kevin, had to do everything for me. I just felt so low.”
It was around this time that Kathy, who teaches classes in astrology, saw an advert for a new burlesque class in Blackpool. Kathy was keen to give the light-hearted form of sexy striptease a try.
“As a youngster, I’d harboured a secret desire to be a sexy stripper and convinced myself that even as a granny pushing 50, it was never too late to learn some seductive moves,” says Kathy with a smile. “I was certain my husband wouldn’t complain either!”
She managed to persuade a friend to come along to the first class, and the two giggled their way through the one-hour session.
“I was really nervous the first time I walked through the door, but the teacher was amazing and put me at ease,” says Kathy. “Plus, once I realised I didn’t have to take my clothes off straight away, I felt more relaxed.”
Soon, Kathy had fallen head-over-heels in love with burlesque. When she went to see her teacher perform in a live show, she was completely in awe and realised she longed to be on stage too.
So, after a few more lessons and a lot of hard work, she searched for a show in her area that would take on a beginner. She found one an hour’s drive from her house, and was over the moon when she passed the audition.
“Standing backstage, I was a complete mess,” she remembers. “I was utterly terrified, and had butterflies in my tummy, but I couldn’t let the show’s organisers down. It all changed when I got on stage though – from the moment I saw the audience’s reaction, I was hooked.”
After that, there was no stopping Kathy. She picked her stage name, Kosmic Kitty, and spent her time polishing her dance routines and learning advanced moves. Her flaming nipple tassels set her apart from the other performers, but there’s an element of danger to the act.
“I occasionally smell burning hair, then realise that it’s mine!” she laughs. “I’ve burnt myself a few times, but you can’t stop when you’re on stage, so I just power through.”
Kathy has won herself many fans, and now performs about once a month. Very occasionally, there’s been the odd negative comment in the crowd, but Kathy is quick to shake off criticism, and luckily friends and family have been supportive.
“Everyone thinks I’m a bit bonkers, and one or two friends have thought it was a bit strange at my age,” she says. “My grown-up children [Mimi, 35, and Sean, 28] are quite proud of me, but they’ll never watch one of my strip shows, because I’m their mum, after all.
“My grandson Tyler is 10 now, but he doesn’t know about my dancing – he’s too young to understand.”
Kathy even began to teach burlesque alongside her day job, and was a bit surprised when a friend, Mark, 51, approached her after a show and said he’d love to learn ‘boylesque’ – the male version of burlesque. They spent hours together perfecting his ninja character Ian Incognito.
“Spending hours stripping together, it was only natural there was a bit of sexual tension between us,” says Kathy. “At the time, my relationship with my husband Kevin was floundering, and we eventually ended our marriage amicably.”
Within a few months, Kathy realised her feelings for Mark were more than just professional, and she told him she
“When Mark admitted he felt the same, our relationship blossomed quickly – after all, we’d already seen each other in the nude,” says Kathy. “I thought burlesque would boost my confidence, but I never expected it to find me a new partner.”
Kathy and Mark now live together happily, and are even planning to do their own burlesque double act next summer. Kevin has met a new partner too, so there’s no hard feelings between the former couple.
For Kathy, burlesque started out as a way to get fit and have fun. But it’s turned out to be much more than just a hobby.
“There’s no better feeling than being on stage,” she says with a grin. “It really takes you out of yourself. Because you’re playing a character, it gets you away from your everyday life, and it’s strangely relaxing. I want to keep performing for as long as I can, I just hope my body holds out!”
Maybe one day we’ll be looking at a burlesque great-gran…