Laura Firby (Soup du Jour), a burlesque dancer who works in Belfast’s vintage shop The Rusty Zip, has organized the burlesque evening ‘Belfast Tease -O- Rama’ on the 30th of November in The Black Box.
How did you become interested in burlesque and how did you start?
I started at Leeds University when I was 19. I had never even seen or heard of burlesque before. A friend who knew I was into vintage fashion asked myself and some other girls to perform in a presentation at one of her lectures. All five of us had lots of fun and after the performance we wanted to pursue burlesque dancing properly so we formed a troupe. This meant that we could perform as a group but also do solo acts. After university everyone went their separate ways but I decided to carry on doing it.
The burlesque scene is quite small in Belfast, do you think it is continuing to grow in popularity?
Yes, I do think it is growing; it’s just about forming a community and getting people interested. I’ve lived in Belfast for over a year now. When I go out at night with victory rolls in my hair some women approach me and ask me about my hairstyle. When I say that I do burlesque they often reply ‘I’d love to do that’, but there isn’t a regular evening or established community here yet. There are 20s/40s themed cabaret evenings like Pigeon and Plums and also BelleHoppers that sample a taste of burlesque so it’s definitely getting there! People have this idea that burlesque is very competitive but it’s not. Other performers like to share, give critiques and grow together. I stay in touch with a group in Dublin who are organizing the Dublin Burlesque Festival and have arranged for a few dancers to perform in Belfast at the Tease -O-Rama.
Your performance style contains a surprise element of comedy, how do audiences react to this?
When I started I looked up what the word ‘burlesque’ meant. It began in the Victorian times and the word means satire. Women at the time used this form of art to make fun of the things that were going on. That’s what I got from it; when my clothes come off that should be the punch line. Even though I’m naked, it’s funny. It’s sometimes difficult but that’s the challenge. People always say humour is sexy. For me it’s just like a defense mechanism. When I get on the stage and I’m nervous the first thing I think of is ‘how can I make them laugh?’ I think it tricks the audience a little bit. People who haven’t been to a burlesque show before are going to expect something beautiful and glamorous. When you come out and do something hilarious it takes them a while because they don’t know you can laugh. I think it makes for a good atmosphere.
When composing your routines, where or who do you look for inspiration?
It usually comes from music. The songs are mostly modern and I like the idea that burlesque should be satire of the times. I’ll be at home listening to a song then an idea will pop into my head. I’d then research it, look up costumes (referring back to vintage from all eras and even artists). Occasionally I’d find a hat in work and that would spark a whole routine. From just one article of clothing you can create a ton of ideas.
What would be your dream costume, what’s on your wish list?
My weakness is anything girly like sequins and feathers. I’ve been collecting a lot of ostrich feathers and they’re waiting at home ready to be made into a costume. They’re bright pink and remind me of vintage follies costumes. I think I would die if I saw one in real life. I also love the creepy cabaret side of burlesque. The possibilities are endless, if I wanted to dress like a strawberry I could make a costume and perform it. I think that’s why burlesque is still going strong and that’s what inspires me: never-ending ideas.
What can we expect on the evening?
There will be three performers on the night offering a wide spectrum of burlesque, from cheesecake, comedy and some sexy/almost fetish styles. I wanted to show people a mixture and for future shows I hope to include specific themes alongside crazier performers. This is just the start….