Preston-based performer Miss Sally Vamp is on a mission to shift the stigma about burlesque. She talked to reporter Alannah Maher about her upcoming solo show, how she got into the art form, and why it’s not just about women taking their clothes off.
How did you get into burlesque? What initially interested you?
Before I started attending a burlesque society a few years ago and learning a bit more, I guess you would say quite a bit was lost on me. Having a background in performing arts, I loved costumes and I loved wearing wigs, and the idea of creating a character sounded really interesting. I thought it would be quite nice to go along and learn a bit of hair and make up – that’s all though. I went to the first session and I thought maybe I could learn to do a little bit more, just something to do behind closed doors, a naughty little dance, but certainly never perform or anything like that. They kept it quite low key; first of all you’d learn the makeup and the vintage hair – then the next month we were learning to do a basic removal of the gloves. It was really gradual but it was really helping to build the confidence. I got involved in one group performance, then another and another and next I knew I had the confidence to do unaccompanied routines.
What has getting involved in burlesque done for you?
Before that point in my life, I had been trying to hold onto my childhood. I wanted to be a girl; I wanted that innocence. Before the pin-up makeup lesson I went and bought this red lipstick, and I ended up buying a pair of red heels that just sort of took my interest. I took them home, put them on and I stood in front of the mirror. Suddenly I thought “Oh, that’s what they’re getting at!” For the first time I actually felt like I didn’t want to be a child anymore, I wanted to be a woman.
What do people say when you tell them what you do?
People might often say: “Oh Burlesque? I know burlesque! That’s the thing with the women in the corsets – or, where the women take their clothes off, isn’t it?” That isn’t what burlesque is all about. You don’t have to be a woman, and you don’t necessarily have to take your clothes off.
How would you define burlesque?
I can’t say my explanation of burlesque is the same as another performers, and I can’t say what it means to them is wrong either. ‘Burl’ comes from an Italian word meaning ‘to jest’, mock or bring up to ridicule; and ‘esque’ means ‘in the style of’ or in character. There are a number of different styles and I interoperate them with different characters I perform as. I use characters to show that these acts are not the normal me. I also use a stage name for safety and privacy.
What should we expect from your upcoming solo show Behind Silk Gloves?
I am going to be exploring the theme ‘what is burlesque?’ with a gradual strip continuing the whole way through the performance. There will be vintage pin-up hair and make-up tutorials throughout, audience participation and a Q&A session to end.
What inspired you to take on this theme?
Something happened to coincide recently, which has made me really go “wow, I must put on a show now”. The council of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire told organisers of an upcoming burlesque festival that they couldn’t use a local cinema they requested to hire for a burlesque performance because it would be “unacceptable” and “demeaning to women”. A lot of people have been kicking off all over the UK, saying that its too sexualised and we don’t know what were doing and all this kind of thing.
Why do you think there are misconceptions about this type of performance?
It has happened in the history of burlesque quite a few times. It probably hasn’t always been what it is today. It is so many things that it’s hard to say really. But it has always been that workingman’s art form, which is maybe in the shadows. It gets popular and it creeps up and then it gets too popular and then it gets shut down and then it comes up a bit – like the revival it’s had recently.
There are people who would say that burlesque contradicts the idea of feminism. What are your thoughts on this?
I find it interesting when people ask me about the relationship between burlesque and feminism, whether the two contradict. I can’t say I know thoroughly enough about feminism to comment. But I can say that burlesque is not just empowerment for women, or men – it’s for anyone of any shape, size, colour or gender. Personally I don’t think it’s for under 18s, but as long as you’re an adult that’s fine.
What do you think about the cancellation of burlesque shows?
It is incredibly worrying if burlesque shows start to be cancelled. Because at the end of the day, if you start censoring one art form you’re going to have to do that to other things. You’re going to have to look at musical lyrics, films, other art forms – in a drama and someone’s slightly nude, or the bum cheeks there in paintings – where do you stop? You can’t just censor one thing. You would have to carry on and it’s really dangerous when you start doing that, especially in the UK where you’re supposed to be able to express yourself.
How have you been promoting your show?
I’ve been going to societies around Preston and doing talks on burlesque, explaining it for people who don’t really know what it is. And you know what? It doesn’t matter if someone’s not going to come to my show, or if someone thinks that’s not really for them, that’s absolutely fine. But talking to people and getting them to know a bit more about it – that’s turned into a little mission outside the show, it gets that word out and I think that’s really important.
What keeps you doing what you’re doing?
I’m not at all in it to make money. Obviously everyone’s got to make a living, I’ve got rent to pay and I’ve got bills. But I’m doing this first of all because I really love performing, and secondly because there’s so much bad stigma and connotation out there that it’s good to shift a bit of that, just to get people questioning it.
EVENT – ‘Behind Silk Gloves’ A Sally Vamp Burlesque show
When: Sunday November 3rd.
Where: The Hidden Gem: Marietta’s. 134 Church Street, Preston. (Next door to Rumes Bar & Nightclub).
Time: Doors 8pm. No admission after 9pm
For show information and tickets….
Sally Vamp: www.facebook.com/Sallyvampburlesquecomedy
The Hidden Gem: Marietta’s: www.thehiddengem.co.uk
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/193467637500129/?fref=ts