The Slippery Belle Burlesque is the alternative to our alternative, and we love it. We wanted other forms of culture in our first issue and we think that we came up trumps here. We ask Bella Besame’s talented troupe of girls all about the art of burlesque and their experiences.
Bella’s sultry and sophisticated burlesque style has been at the forefront of Northern Burlesque for a good decade, she has taught most of her troupe to be masters of their craft. When we went to visit, Bella said that it is important to have a lot of drive and determination and added coolly: “People should never go into a burlesque event with pre conceptions because they will be surprised.” Bella’s students are complete showgirls and are always willing and very proud to share their bodies and create art through movement in front of complete and total strangers.
On this warm mid summer evening we find ourselves in Leeds Alternative venue The Subculture. One of the first people we speak to is one of the newest additions to the burlesque show that we witness. Miss Acacia Sweet, 20, a Leeds based office worker who only began performing three months ago. She graduated Bella’s class only recently. She says: “It’s comforting to have all the girls around me, it’s really close around here, and I do really enjoy it.” She adds that there is a real community element: “You are made to feel like you are part of something great, originally it appealed as a way to boost my own confidence, plus the glamour and the kitsch has a lot of appeal.”
Another performer who gives her all for The Slippery Belle events is M Brulee, 32, who by day is an administrator for the university of Leeds and by night when called upon she becomes the buxom leader of a revolution along with a shining group of woman of all shapes, sizes and ages within the walls of this tiny alternative venue in the centre of the city. Miss Brulee says that the greatest thing about the work is that nobody has an excuse to be afraid: “Burlesque takes all shapes and sizes; it’s about expressing yourself and becoming more confident in your body and also in who you are as a person.”
Veteran performer Willow Blue, 45 of Blackburn comments on the many positive elements of Burlesque, also adding that it is not only empowering but that it should be known that burlesque is nothing like the stereotype. “We are trained very well, we work on our own routines and it is a much more sophisticated form of art than pole dancing or striptease, it will really open your mind.”
Miss Blue also mentioned how the spirit of burlesque transcends different cultures within the North of England: “There is a huge community that comes together to celebrate Burlesque in the North, we get Goths, members of the gay scene, transsexuals and everyone is always welcome to participate and be a part of what we do.”
It is true that the “Burly” scene is constantly growing, over the coming months regular Burlesque nights will be established in Hull and York as well as Preston. Miss Blue is currently trying to develop the Preston night and hopes that her efforts will bear fruit and that she will be able to help develop the scene in her area.
Lilly Von Lush, 21, is a student in Leeds who sums up the opinions of all her companions: “Burlesque performance celebrates the female, and sometimes male, form in all its glory, what ever shape or size you are.” She continues to describe just how much Burlesque can really make a difference: “It helps to contradict everything that we are bombarded with in the media about what a beautiful woman is, and to understand that a truly beautiful woman is, one who is happy and confident with themselves.”
Acacia Sweet adds that whenever she performs she has a specific character for herself in mind: “There is something infinitely more sexy about teasing than there is about just showing everything off, in my opinion and in Burlesque there is a lot of chance for individual expression. Sex appeal is not the be all and end all.”
To watch an audience at TheSlippery Belle and the level of respect they give to performers is something to be proud of in itself. The quality of performance given by the aforementioned and the way that others, such as the savvy veteran Diva Hollywood, the sassy Crimson Skye and the Goth stunner Cherry Scorn, are able to loose themselves within their onstage identity is second to none. Each artist is free to embrace every facet of performance art ranging from emotive singing to hilarious comedy sketches which run nicely alongside their trademark duties acting as a whole feast for the senses.
The girls all move, shake and dance in such a way that the fact they are taking most of their clothes off plays second fiddle to the level of performance they are giving, although it has to be said each girl is absolutely breathtaking. We have to mention the great tunes too. Even SPHERE had a boogie to Ella Fitzgerald’s Dream a Little Dream of me when it came on during the show.
It is very interesting to hear the reactions from viewers to the show. Emma, 34 and a mum of two, will be taking Bella’s classes this month and is looking forward to working with the girls: “It’s really great watching these women taking control and I believe that it is really empowering for someone watching, I can’t wait to get started, this is going to give me a chance to escape and have fun for a night every month, not just taking off clothes.
The men in the audience also have a lot of respect for the performers, Dan from Manchester said that though he was intimidated at first (it was his first time, bless) but he soon relaxed: “I didn’t know what to expect but each performer had their own individual style and they were spurred on by cheering, there is nothing sleazy about it and nothing to be scared of once you start to get involved and cheer, I would recommend anyone come and see a
performance at least once.”
The nights are based in both Manchester at the M-Two on the last Sunday of every month and in Leeds at The Subculture on the first Saturday of every month. Contact Bella on: [email protected] if you feel like giving it a go.
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Photos: Helen Gilroy