We spent 5 minutes catching up with the showgirl blending retro burlesque with a modern edge.
Scottish burlesque artist Scarlett Flame tells us why you don’t need to look like Dita Von Teese or be a trained dancer to become successful in the world of burlesque and how her performances, which are accompanied by a punk band, are received by an audience.
When did you first discover the world of Burlesque? And when did you decide you wanted to make being a part of the industry your job?
I can't remember when I first became aware of burlesque. My Godmother used to call my Mum Josephine Baker (her name is Josephine but she doesn't resemble her in any way) which of course meant I was intrigued by the whole thing. And I remember when we were in Paris on holiday going to see the Moulin Rouge (only from the outside sadly). I recently found out my Godmother was a cabaret singer when she was younger, which makes a lot of things make much more sense.
Growing up, it feels like I always knew names like Josephine Baker, Gypsy Rose Lee and Faith Bacon. They were never called burlesque dancers; I really don't remember when I heard that term first.
Performing has always been a part of my life. I started dance classes when I was three or four and as a family we regularly went to the theatre and shows. I was always intrigued by the showgirls and drag queens we saw when we were on holiday. It all just seemed so glamorous - wonderful costumes, such confident performers who really owned the stage. And I really wanted to be one of them!
I even changed school in sixth form to focus on performing arts. But there is a pressure to get a 'real' job, and I didn't know how to find the opportunities. And though I wanted to be a showgirl, it didn't seem like I could - I wasn't tall enough, skinny enough or pretty enough. And I didn't live in America!
Once I found the burlesque scene in Scotland, it just went from there.
How do you plan your acts?
It's always different and I'm very lucky that my best friend gets involved in it all and helps me come up with ideas, make costumes and props and choose music.
One of my routines, Burlesque Bones, came about because I was asked to dance to a live band. Originally it was a one off so I put together the costume from pieces I already had, but they liked it so much I perform with them regularly now. The costume’s been refreshed a couple of times, but the routine is pretty much the same.
Sometimes all you have is a concept. I knew for ages I wanted to do an absinthe fairy act, but it waited for years. I could never find the right piece of music or dress, so it just needed to wait until I gradually found them and it all came together.
And then, sometimes, there's something that someone gives you, or someone says, that just gives you a starting point. A few years ago I was very ill, ended up in hospital, and had to miss two of my own shows. I can't tell you how gutted I was, even though I knew the fantastic team I had would run the whole thing without me. But I was so sad, knowing it was going on without me. I was on Facebook talking to a performer who I had never met but had been in touch with because she was interested in performing at Flaming Tease. She talked to me online for ages, which was so sweet of her, and ended up sending me her veil fans because she wouldn't use them and she wanted to cheer me up. They are beautiful red, orange and yellow veils (I call them my fire fans).
It was the first routine I worked on when I got better, and it means a lot. Every time I perform it I'm reminded how lovely she was that night, and how lucky I am to still be here. It's like my phoenix dance.
What makes for the ideal corset to wear during a Burlesque show?
Make sure it's been broken in a little. There's nothing worse than that 'pit of the stomach' feeling when a corset is too new and it gets stuck! I don't have one type; different corsets work for different acts. But the more crystals the better! I have two acts I'm starting to work on just now, and both will need thousands of rhinestones and crystals.
What are your thoughts on Waist Training?
I used to waist train, and I loved it, the way it looks and the way it feels. And I used to wear mine (which actually were Vollers) every day. Sadly I had to give up when I was ill but I'm hoping to get started again soon because I do miss it.
You do find that you hold yourself differently, and it just brings a bit of glamour into your everyday wear. I've always felt more confident when corseted - it's a bit like a suit of armour. It also helped my back, whether just through better posture or the extra support I don't know.
What is your greatest achievement to date through your work on the Burlesque scene?
I have achieved so many things that I am incredibly proud of since I started burlesque, including running my own shows across Scotland. It’s taught me a lot about what I can do both onstage and off. But I think my proudest moment was my showcase performance at Coco De Mer, on their famous window stage. It’s really unusual and has played host to some of the biggest names in burlesque so when they name you as Scotland's premier performer it really does mean a lot!
Do you think that the industry helps with body confidence?
On the whole, yes. Of course there will always be areas where you need to be a certain size and have a certain look. But overall I think we are moving away from one idea of what a burlesque performer should look like, and that's great for the whole scene because it results in so much more variety.
It's always going to depend on what the audiences want, but we had an audience member complain once because we didn't have enough "large performers" in our show. We all thought it was hilarious because none of us think of ourselves as small, but it was refreshing to hear.
There have been a lot of comments from audiences about seeing 'real women' on the stage. That doesn't mean larger women, it means all kinds! Different heights, ages, body types, colours, disabilities and inspirations.
Body confidence isn't just about size. Last year we ran a show in Perth to raise money for the Thistle Foundation and every performer (including me) had a disability or chronic illness. We didn't tell the audience until the end when we listed them all. They were stunned because none of them had guessed. But it was a powerful way of showing that burlesque is open to everyone.
I think the big thing is that so much of the burlesque audience is made up of women, and it makes most shows a really supportive atmosphere. Audiences want us to do well, and I get so many women talking to me after I perform telling me how seeing burlesque inspires them. It's one of the reasons I love talking to people after a show, because I can encourage them. And that encouragement isn't always to get on the stage, though I'm happy to help with that if I can.
Sometimes it's about inspiring them to do something that scares them, whether changing careers or leaving home to go abroad, because they've seen what happens when someone goes for it. And yes, I've had people tell me seeing me do burlesque and talking to me afterwards had inspired them to do both those things.
What do you think is a common misconception about the burlesque industry?
That you have to look like Dita Von Tease, or be a trained dancer. As it happens I am a dancer, but there are so many incredible performers out there who have never taken a dance class. You create your own character, and you bring what you love and what you're good at. I know some performers who have amazing comic timing, and that's what their routines grow from.
Of course everyone thinks it's glamorous and, let's be honest, that's what the audience expects it to be. And what we want them to see! It's meant to be a bit of escapism. But it's like the theatre, what happens on stage is very different to how it is backstage. I'd like to keep the illusion of glamour, even if sometimes it really isn't.
Did you find it difficult to find like minded people? And how did you find them?
I'm incredibly lucky to have met some wonderful people through burlesque. Performers, producers, photographers, sound and lighting engineers - and some have become very good friends. The more you perform, the more people you meet, and the ones you really get on with you always look forward to working with.
How would you say your image and performance is different from other artists? Do you have a unique style?
When I started performing, my image was a little edgier than many other performers, not totally mainstream. One compere described me as a cross between a showgirl and a bad girl, and I still use that tagline because I think it's perfect!
Although I do have some more traditional routines, I still have the more unusual side that continues through my work. Some people think it's surprising that I perform burlesque with a punk band. It's fantastic fun though; dancing to a live band is a completely different kind of energy.
How do you see the Burlesque scene evolving over the next 10-20 years?
I hope it continues to grow and evolve. I think we need to continue to promote burlesque as an art form and keep encouraging new performers, new shows, new audiences. Burlesque seems to have had ebbs and flows over the years and the 'burlesque revival' has gone on for longer than some expected. I remember being told 10 years ago that burlesque was almost over and I am really pleased that they were so far wrong.
As long as it continues to enthral and entertain I think audiences will want to watch it, and as new people come onto the scene and existing performers explore their interests it will only get more interesting.
Do you see yourself a part of the Burlesque industry for the rest of your life? Are there any others areas you'd like to move into?
I currently work as a model in addition to burlesque, as well as non burlesque events as an entertainer. But yes, I can't see me leaving burlesque even if I eventually stop performing. I'll continue to run events, teach and be involved in the next generation of performers.
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