A new start after 60: ‘I lost weight, then lost myself – until I became a burlesque dancer’

After the death of her husband, Marilyn Bersey struggled with her identity. But she had been a performer all her life, and suddenly a new world opened up to her

When Marilyn Bersey, 74, stands on stage and removes her last piece of clothing to reveal her nipple tassels, she triggers the pyrotechnics. From the audience there is “the admiration, the affirmation, the claps, the whoops, the cheers”. Well, she explains: “When I retired, I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those pensioners who sit and knit.”

Becoming a burlesque performer may seem an extreme form of resistance to this stereotype, but Bersey, who lives in warden-assisted accommodation in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, had finally stabilised a huge weight loss. At the same time, she was adjusting to life without her second husband, whom she had cared for through Parkinson’s disease. She was searching for a form of exercise and self-expression that would fit the new shape of her life.

Tell us: has your life taken a new direction after the age of 60?

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