An Interview with Vanity Dare

My name is Vanity Dare and I "fell into" burlesque. It became a sort of glass slipper moment for me. I took burlesque classes with Lady Wildflower and after creating an act during the intermediate course, she asked me whether or not I'd ever wanted to go on stage. ‘Absolutely not - never, not up my street at all!’ She said, ‘well, that's stage ready if you want to do it. I'd put it in a show’. I asked if she meant "a proper show in a theatre with velvet curtains and an audience". She laughed and said, ‘Oh yes, this is a this is a proper theatre’. One of her Frou Frou club shows. She really believed in me, so not one to turn down an opportunity, I thought, right, well, this is another bucket list moment. So I said yes. I always say yes first and panic later!

The début of Vanity Dare was performed at Lady Wildflower's Frou Frou Club, August 2016

I spent months rehearsing over and over so that I knew my act. I wanted to relax into it so I could concentrate on facial expressions and not think about the movement. On the night Lilly Laudanum squeezed my hand as I waited my turn backstage and calmed me greatly.

Despite the preparation, I zoned out and lost track of the music. I looked to the wings for Lady Wildflower, carried on and came off thinking I'd really messed up. She said ‘that was phenomenal!’. I asked "didn't you see me panicking?’ She said ‘that's not the look you gave.’

In the bar afterwards, so many people were saying my act was incredible, ‘We can't believe you have not performed before!’ My husband filmed it. I hadn't heard the applause; I realised nobody knows what your act is supposed to be like, only you do, and it appeared a great début.

Being a perfectionist, I told Lady Wildflower I wanted to do it once more the way I choreographed, but how? She told me to apply for ten shows, you will get one of them. I got them all. I panicked but my husband said ‘You can't say no, just do them all and see how it goes.’

Six weeks later I was making my international debut in Prague. After that I didn't really look back. It’s six years this year [2022] that I’ve been performing and I started late. I’m often the oldest performer in the room; I started just before my 48th birthday. I still get nervous! My mouth is dry, I feel sick. I look like I own the stage and I connect with the audience; I feel like they are mine for those moments, but I come off that stage shaking like a leaf. I can't even take my jewellery off, I can't use my hands. Then that adrenaline moment (I still get it) ‘Oh, I've just done something terrifying. And it was amazing’. I feel invincible for a while, it's the same when I've done things like parachuting!

Had my début gone perfectly I would have ticked it off the list and never performed again. Knowing I could wing it when it went wrong helped.

Vanity Dare made her international début in October 2016 at the Bohemian Burlesque Festival, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Agience Photography

The things I love about this is getting glammed up to the nines, going to events, and meeting all the really interesting individuals. We have so many people in our lives. My husband's a musician, so we have the music scene and we're bikers, so we have fellow bikers and I find all humans I meet to be really fascinating. Burlesque is just a whole new world of that. It's enabled to us to travel across Europe and America performing, and each time you meet more appealing people, so many creative souls! I love to watch their acts. Sometimes it makes me think, why am I doing this? But you do feel inspired and it's just great to see that outlet for people.

Giving good face - always. Photo credit Neal Rylatt

What drew you to burlesque initially?

It was literally to get me out of the house. I went back to drawing and painting for a while, just sketches really, I hadn't done that since school. It wasn't enough. I was very involved in a big charity project that was taking up an awful lot of my time outside work and I was running the household, with kids and everything. I thought I had to do something that removed me one day a week, something that I could do on my own, just for myself. A Facebook ad for a burlesque class came up just after Christmas and I thought I'll treat myself to that. So, I told my husband, ‘right, I've booked into these classes’. He'd seen the ad and almost bought me the course as a gift!

I was pleased I’d booked the classes, but I didn't really know what to expect. For me, it was just the way Lady Wildflower described it. It was about movement, increasing confidence, dance, sociability. I thought that's what I need you know. I did two of her beginner courses, then an intermediate. She taught so "completely". A little history, movement, technique, performance, laughter, respect - "giving good face"! I knew so little about it before that.

I delayed my début for a year because life was all about this project. A dear forever friend of ours, Dan Price (now sadly departed) had a wonderful idea, wrote a song and of course starred in it's production whilst I created and ran the website and social media, and with Mr Dare spent 2 years of our lives working to get this out there. A talented cast of local people united Band Aid style to perform this original song and raise money for our local Bury Hospice [2015] I shall be eternally proud of what we did here, and every one of the people involved hold a special place in my heart. I still think it's a damned good Christmas anthem, too. Take a listen - it continues to raise funds in perpetuity and you might just spot us in there!

You mentioned that you used burlesque as a way to kind of escape. What were you escaping from?

Just boredom and the feeling that I was not living for myself. The thing is, as you get older, you gain many responsibilities in your life. A business to run, family life, the usual balancing acts. You tend to get a little bit bogged down. Even though I had things like the motorbike, which is freeing, I was also very involved in a big charity project, [The Spirit of Bury - Christmas For Everyone] a sort of a band aid fundraiser for a local hospice- and it took us two years to launch the single. It took a lot of work!

I felt everything I was doing was for other people. There was absolutely nothing I was doing for me at the time, I was keeping things ticking over. I was running the household, I was doing the family stuff, I was looking after the business and then all my spare time was involved in the charity thing. I didn't begrudge any of it - I just had this desperate need to have something that was just mine. A little time of my own and something that would help me grow and relax. Switch off from all that. Just travelling to the to the city and having that physical escape from the house, taking those lessons was time out for me, it was for my mind, it was for my emotional and mental wellbeing. We are all better people for having a little "me" time and remembering you are an individual, not just a part of something else.

Comparison is the thief of joy. We are all on our own path - we will all have our own times to shine. [Photo credit: Nicola Grimshaw-Mitchell sanitised for social media by me!]

The people who say they go to burlesque to keep fit, I think are going for the wrong reasons. It's not a keep fit lesson, it's not aerobics or weights. It's movement, yes - and perhaps you'll feel a little more lithe after many lessons - but it's more about learning to recognize and appreciate your body. Expression. For me that was a huge thing. Through my twenties I'd not had a full length mirror due to issues from early relationships. But when you walk into the dance studio, there's a whole wall of mirrors. There is nowhere else you can look, you have to look at yourself. On your first occasion you will feel awkward but by the end of the course, you will have made friends with someone, and you'll feel comfortable - happy, even! For me, it got to the stage where I didn't care anymore. You appreciate your body you know that it looks good doing this and it has done a lot for me. You know we're all wonderful, we should all appreciate what we've got. Your body is an amazing thing. It does incredible things for you. It's doesn’t just see you through life and whatever life throws at you, it doesn't matter whether you're injured, not injured, whether you've experienced accidents, childbirth, anything like that. The fact that it keeps you going every day and allows you to do what you want to do. It’s an incredible thing and I think too many people, especially women, put themselves down too much. They will look in the mirror and all you will see is negatives. I don't like this. You can't talk to You like that. You need to appreciate it. That scar is from this moment. It's a memoir. It's a track of your life, your body is the story of your life. You'll be bigger. You'll be smaller, you'll lose weight, you'll gain weight. You'll think you look terrible sometimes. You might just be tired or in need of a little more care. But the fact is, it's an amazing thing.

Contrary to what many think of me (largely because of the way I live) I was never a particularly confident person, and faked self-confidence. It wasn't until I was a lot older that I grew into myself. I was unfolding a lot of myself for years, from being the age of 40, really. My life did begin again, and by the time I reached 48, I was looking for new things. So when Lady Wildflower gave me that opportunity I just took it. It opened the door into a whole new world. So much so that a little bit down the line I ended up buying a business and now I sell rhinestones for a living!

I’d only been performing for about 2 1/2 years. I went rushing downstairs to my husband and said ‘I know it's a first world problem, but my rhinestone supplier is retiring. What on Earth am I going to do?!’ He said ‘See if she’s selling the business’ and I said ‘Why would I do that?’ and he answered ‘because you could do that’. So he sold his dream car and bought me the business for my 50th birthday. He's always backed me and encouraged me to be all I can.

I'm very much part of the world of burlesque now; performance and the arts generally. Obviously as a performer, occasional backstage "Bambi" or stage kitten. We work with shows, we go to shows, we promote the scene. We also sell internationally to theatres, performers, costumiers, television, film, artists. It's fascinating and it’s all from that one opportunity Lady Wildflower gave me. You never think when you're taking those first steps where it could lead, what could happen or how much it can affect your life, but I think a lot of performers have had life changing experiences by entering the world of burlesque.

Click here to check out my rhinestone business!

Grab every moment and squeeze the joy of life. Fabulous photo from one of the Great Western Burlesque and Cabaret Festival audience members, Sorsha Emily - whom I recall wore a most wonderful sparkly gown on the night! #empowered #life #joy #woman #numbersdontcount

I think the biggest thing that appealed to me about burlesque is the fact that it is such a welcoming environment, it's so inclusive. It doesn't matter what size you are from a size 6 to a 26. You can be any shape, any colour, any sexual persuasion, any gender, orientation. You can express yourself freely in a safe environment. Whichever way you describe yourself, define yourself, you are free to be that in this world and that's what I love about it.

I've met so many who have this preconception of a burlesque audience: ‘Oh it must be full of dirty old men or young ones out for a bit of an oggle’. It's not that. I think I would say probably 60 to 70% of the audience are women. It's all very much about them feeling empowered by it, which is much the reason I continue to do it as an older woman. For me it was a case of a wanting people to be inspired; think if someone as ordinary as I can get up on a stage and do this, they can do whatever they've feared too. You know, we're not supermodels. We're not a defined size or shape. We're all different. The audience are again as varied as the cast. Wear what you want, be who you are - you are uniquely you and others have no right to dictate your life or behaviour. I think significantly, you'll find a lot of open-minded people there, which is a wonderful thing.

I really stand for those that think it might be too late because it isn't. Nothing's ever too late.

Osteoarthritis, slipped disc, cervicalgia, perimenopause, heartaches. I get knocked down, but I get up again - You are never gonna keep me down. To age is a privilege. (or alternatively, weebles wobble but they don't fall down!)

You know we had a friend paralyzed last year from a motorbike accident. It's one of those moments when you think, well, what would I do? How would I cope with that?

We were speaking to an an ex Olympic athlete who was in the same position who said ‘we always spend time concentrating on what we can do, and what IS possible, and what we'll try to do, and you just have to keep doing that’. You know, you can't say ‘well, I can't do that anymore and I can't do this. I can't do that. I can't - look at all those’. You need to think ‘I can do this, and I can do that, but in a different way,’ you know? And you will find a way through. There will be some activities that you can't do anymore, and you let them go. You've had that. You've been there now for something new. When you age, and you get arthritis, you can't do stripper drops anymore. Instead, you move differently and adapt and your body.

noun: imposter syndrome the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.

"You cannot serve from an empty vessel" - so you need to take time to refill. Take time out to breathe and appreciate what you have. A little time for gratitude. Be thankful for what you've got, whether it's family or a roof over your head, or your health, or friends, your voice, your imagination, it doesn't matter what it is. During lockdown, people have had completely different experiences, but one thing it did give to many was a little more time. People have tended to find ways to look after themselves, whether it's going for walks, reflection, reading, or taking time with friends. I mean I hate zoom, but I made the effort for a couple of birthdays and I made a couple of videos. I also don't particularly like social media, but during that time it helped stay connected with people. It helped - and honest conversations helped, because I think once you get into this industry, and it is an industry, there can be a lot of negatives involved and one of those elements is that people will stop talking so openly about how they feel. I would challenge anyone to generally meet any performer at any level that doesn't have the impostor syndrome at some time. The ‘Oh my God. I'm gonna get caught out. I'm not this person. I'm not as good as they think I am’, you know? You will always have that scared voice inside you. But when you are feeling like that, I think a lot of us won't say it for fear of someone confirming it - or saying , ‘Oh well, you clearly aren't very good, then are you? That's not very professional. Or if you're feeling like that, I don't want you on my stage’. We all go through it.

When you've had a long break, whether it's for illness or operations or just time out for your mental health. If you've been distanced from the stage for a while, you inevitably will get that ‘Can I go back?’ feeling ‘Would anybody want me? Has everybody forgotten me?’ And it's not necessarily that it matters a lot, but it's almost like being a beginner again, when you think, ‘can I really do that?’ I think having those talks behind the scenes with people you can connect with and trust, which through lockdown a lot of people did, helps greatly. Some performers think they have to have this persona where they're wonderful all the time, everything's amazing all the time. They're being booked every two minutes. You know, their videos are great, their photographs, abundant and impressive. And because you're on a constant advertising campaign for yourself, you have to keep yourself in the public eye at a certain level, keep your name out there. But at the same time, it would be healthier if people were more honest about where they are actually at. "My life isn't like this all the time - you only see highlights - the best bits". We've got a lot of normal stuff going on in the background, and we're all just the same, we're the same as you. This is part of a job that we're doing. Part of your job is to advertise yourself get the names of the shows out there. They are certainly downsides as a professional that you didn’t really have to think about when first starting burlesque. You'll also meet the odd person that's not pleasant but then it's like the rest of life; you choose not to be around them.

WHOOOOSHHHHHHHHH…….. Blimey what was that ? That was your life mate Oh I wasn’t quite ready can I have another go ? Sorry mate only one per person. ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, I love this photograph popping up places. Inevitably this pandemic has most of us considering our positions as performers. I have reminded myself this month of all I have achieved as Vanity Dare - the fabulous shows I have been part of, the beautiful stages, interesting places across the world and wonderful people I have met and become friends with. This photograph is a reminder of all that is good in that potted history. Produced by Neil 'Nez' Kendall this was an unusual and lovely show to be part of for Henshaws Arts & Crafts Centre. When you're paid well to do what you love, what brings joy to others, and to spend time with some of the most glorious people, you know those hours and hours of costuming, creating, auditioning and rehearsing were worth it. I hope the industry survives, finds new ways and flourishes again. The artists of the world deserve it and the people of the world need it more than they know. Seedy Frills - Em Brulée Mason - Velma Von Bon Bon - Raven Noir - Vanity Dare - Ness Gracious

How could burlesque artists be better supported so they don’t feel like they always have to put on a persona?

I guess you could express how you feel in your acts. That would get you and your feelings across to the audience. Be brave and just be honest with your social media! Then that's a big step when you reflect on all the above. I think amongst performers it helps to have open minded groups and safe spaces to talk with and support each other. They do exist but not without being tainted occasionally - or totally collapsing in some cases. It's easier to meet in messages or in person in outside environments and just talk as people, not as performers. Because although you all do the same thing, as in you are all performers in some level, you also have your own lives outside of the scene. We're all human. We've all got emotions. We're all on our own path through life. These feelings make you feel trapped in some way and silenced, you think ‘I can't talk about that because it's not going to do my image any good.’ But you know, it's just an image, the stage is an image, it's all fancy lights and sparkle and costume. If you get really up close, if you see the inside of my costumes, you can tell I've made it because I'm not a seamstress. It looks great from the stage, but, you know, don't get too close. It's all for effect.

It's the same when you go and have a photograph taken. I try and always work with photographers who will keep me looking like me because when somebody books me, I want to walk into a room and then to be able to say, oh, that's her. I don't want to turn up and someone goes ‘Who's that?’ because I look nothing like my photograph. You can enhance too much and take away too much from a person. By all means, give me smooth skin when I'm having a bad skin day, you know, puff up my hair a little bit if I haven’t got it quite right, but don't give me an 18 inch waist because that's not who I am. And I am more than burlesque - we all are.

A later (more recent) photograph from Nicola @ MyBoudoir Photography. Marking my letting the dye go and transitioning to natural silver/white/grey!

People also need to realize that every photograph has just been tweaked to make them look their best. You know, if your costume's got a stain on it, they can wipe it off for you. Angles and lighting are absolutely everything. I've been to photo shoots very early on and the photographs were shocking. They made me look about 25 years older. The lighting was terrible. I was so upset and nearly didn't leave the house for two or three weeks, I didn't go to lessons. I just thought, ‘oh, the camera never lies’. Well, the camera does lie. My husband went through the pictures and he said ‘no, you're right. They’re terrible photographs’ and he bought me a professional shoot with Nicola at MyBoudoir and which changed everything. It was a huge confidence boost.

She hadn't shrunk me to a size 8 or anything. She'd just poised me in such a way that the lighting flattered me and the angles were great. She made me see myself differently. One of them I loved so much I've still got it on the wall in the living room. It's beautiful. Go to someone with a good reputation because the camera does lie, and if they don't know what they're doing with lighting and angles and everything else, they can make you feel dreadful about yourself. When you use a good photographer, you look at your photos and say ‘yeah, well, that is actually me at my best, I do look like that’ and you appreciate yourself.

"Burlesque is just posh stripping"

How would you describe burlesque?

It's an age old entity of expression. People see Dita Von Tease and think ‘well that's it’ but it's so much more than that. She's an incredible businesswoman and model.

It started in England before dancers went to America where it took off. Burlesque made a point. It brought things to the fore. They could get away with things on stage by making parodies of things that they weren't supposed to talk about outside and it gave us a freedom of expression that that wasn't available elsewhere. The whole point of burlesque has always been to express yourself, a lot of people use it to make political or social points. People use it as an emotional outlet. You can be who you want to be. You don't have to restrict yourself to norms at all. You don't have to make political points when you when you're performing. You don't have to parody something. You don't have to be satirical. Burlesque clowns have the ability to make people smile and laugh, it's an incredible thing, you know. It's expanded so much, it's open for everybody to just portray what they want.

At the end of the day, it's very core is that you're there to entertain people and what you're doing ought to be entertaining. Somebody said to me ‘Well, it's just posh stripping’ - and I had someone try to make it more palatable to them that I was performing by saying "it's like stripping, with A'Levels"! We take our clothes off. We are paid to. Yes, there's often more costume and choreography, less lapdancing and venues differ but the fact is IT IS STRIPPING - and hats off to strippers who paved the way to freedom of sexual expression! They usually also earn far more money!

You could have an improvised costume that cost you £5 or one that cost £150. It can be an act you've rehearsed for three days, or worked on for years. Whatever it is that you're doing, it’s to entertain people. You can be sexy, you can be evocative - you can make people think and you can make people laugh.

Photo credit: David Cummings

The ability to make people laugh is priceless. I have performer friends who look at me and say ‘I can't do what you do. I couldn't be raunchy or sexy or couldn't portray myself like that’. I look at them and say, ‘well, I can't make people laugh like you do, I can't throw myself about a stage like you!’ I have tried but I’m too self-conscious, or I literally can't get my feet right. I just can't do it, you know, and whereas you can learn to move in a certain way, you can't learn to make people laugh. I find burlesque clowns to be the most valuable. Jack Stark is always incredible. And then my dear friend Seedy Frills, she is brilliantly bonkers. It's so wonderful to see the progress that they make, and I am always excited to see her next act as well as Jack’s. If I have the opportunity to workshop with an established performer, I will and Jack's workshops are wonderful. You will always take something away from it - you can always learn. It's fun to see how other people evolve too.

If you go into burlesque with a certain picture in your head of what you want to be, over time, that changes and it grows just like your acts will. Your costume will change over time because either you'll think of something you want to improve or make more presentable because your first costume might not be everything you wanted it to be. You might want to enhance a movement or add a piece. And the moves will change because although you begin by rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing, and choreographing and learning those moves, once you know it, you feel the music more and you become more fluid and you'll move more easily. It might not be exactly the way you choreographed it, but it will look great because you are expressing what you're feeling through the music. Your acts will change and so will you, because you will meet people, you'll experience new things and you will grow as a person - and with experience, as a performer. Which is what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to change.

The first costume change was the addition of feathers in the hair. Photo credit: Neal Rylatt Photography [Burlesque Noir's Rising Star 2017]

My costumes are important to me simply because one of the things I love is to get dressed up and be glamorous. I love the sparkle, and I love the stage presentation. My issue was always, especially as not a particularly confident person, having to "go big". I tended to hold back. In the past I stopped wearing hats because they drew attention to me. I wouldn't wear big earrings for the same reason. I wouldn't even wear eyeshadow when I was young because I thought that was too much makeup. For stage the more the better to make yourself seen. You're making a statement. As a solo performer you need to fill a stage with movement, with costumes. Though nothing works as well as "presence".

At first it was a case of ‘OK, this is a a bucket list thing. I'm gonna perform once so it's got to be great’. I did spend a lot of time on my costume. I mean my bra took six months to make. Admittedly a lot of that is because I didn't know what I was doing and there were an awful lot of rhinestones to glue on. I took the approach to "razzle dazzle 'em" as Shirley would say. My very first act was actually going to have a long PVC coat, but then I realized when I moved, it lost its shape and definition, it didn't flow the way it was supposed to. So, I went to a costumier and had her duplicate the coat, but in duchess satin, so it flowed better. I'm quite short at 5'1" and it fit me perfectly. Then I spent time stoning and embellishing it. That same costume, I've since removed all the sequin parts and I've rhinestoned it instead. After the first performance I noticed from a video that when I turned my back, because I had dark hair at the time, my head seemed to vanish against the backdrop of the of the stage. So I had a flame headdress made so you could see where I was and even that changed over time. Today's incarnation was made for me by a friend Marla Singer of The Secret Garden. It's rather fabulous. If you think you don't evolve, compare photos of the same act over time!

Latest update - rhinestone headdress, corset, nails on gloves....and wear will mean replacing the pants and bra soon! Photo credit: Neal Rylatt 2022

This amazing video showcases Vanity Dare's USP

Your costume changes with you.

My first act? I knew what track I wanted. A lot of a lot of the time with me I feel the music first, sometimes it's the music and idea but then I have no idea what to do with the costume. It’s rare that I think of a costume first, it tends to come afterwards. That depends upon:

A- how I'm feeling and what I want to express, and then
B- how you're moving and what you need it to do.

It's no good creating a routine with a costume that then won't move the way you want it to. Or you rehearse and then realize, 'oh, I've got a headdress with this, but then it falls off when I do that'. You always need to rehearse in the shoes that you're going to perform in and with your headdress on. Otherwise you can end up re-choreographing everything.

For me, because it expresses part of the act, the costume has to be right. It has to flow right. It doesn't even need 100 different pieces, it's about what you want to reveal and what you want to express and what you want it to do to.

My very first act hasn't many pieces to be removed, and yet people blown away because I have a little personal trick of muscle isolation; that's all I needed to show. At first I thought everybody could do it. When I was first showing Lady Wildflower the act I flexed my boobs to the very last two notes of the music and she said, ‘What was that?’ and I said, ‘What was what?’ ‘That thing you just did’ and I said, ‘Well, everyone can do that’. And she replied ‘They can't! So take that bra off earlier and do that a lot more!’ And that became my USP (or gimmick) for me, which I didn't think I had.

It's not something I can teach, I've always flexed individual muscles. I've done it since I was seve my dad used to tell me off for it [laughs]. When I first performed with Cleopantha she asked me - I did give her tips which she uses it in her acts now. I do love that girl. People said I shouldn't have "given that away", but it's not the same trick and she's a star anyway!

doing it yourself....

A lot of people will think that of themselves. They think, ‘well, I have nothing to offer’. You will look at a performer from an audience point of view and there will always be something about them that you think is just them and you'll remember it. There are certain tracks which when I hear them on the radio I think of a certain performer straight away. I will always connect that song to them because they've been memorable even if they think they haven't. They've created something that is memorable to other people.

For me the process of making and rhinestoning my costumes is important because it draws me into the art. It's a part of the expression of myself because I'm making it all and it's coming from my mind. It's also quite therapeutic. I won't do it for other people because that'll put too much pressure on, and it takes a long time, and people aren't willing to pay for time. I'd compare it to I dislike cleaning, but I love a really sparkly house. I don't like decorating, but I love looking at my things thinking ‘I did that’. It's frustrating making your costumes, but when you get to that point on stage wearing the thing you created that that came from your imagination it’s really great. I'm not saying I make every piece because I'm not a seamstress - I hand sew everything, I don't even own sewing machine. There are pieces like the coat where I will have the framework made so that it's made to measure to fit me perfectly, and then I'll do all the rest of it. I recently upgraded my first act, I just brought a new under-bust corset which I've had made to measure. It’s totally different from the original, bought cheap online. I invested in bespoke and then I created the design with rhinestones.

Every piece lovingly hand made... [photo credit: Tony Barrett Powell]

You can see your own growth through your costume and your acts, especially if you've kept an act going for a long time. You can become just as excited by it, you know? It's one of those things where you will look at yourself and think ‘right, well, I did that and it was hard work, but it was worth it’. It's like anything else, nobody wants to spend three weeks decorating, but at the end of that, you've got a spectacular looking house.

The début of Then Came Woman @ Firebug, Leicester (Glitterbug) Photo credit: Philip Vernon

I do enjoy the creating of the costume, but honestly for me the hardest part about creating any act is the choreography because I'm not a dancer by my own definition - though the lovely Rubyyy Jones changed my view there during a workshop! I've never been trained as a dancer. When I was 14 or 15 after school I did "dance-drama" sessions. They were fun. Unlike a lot of people that I meet in the industry, who have come from ballet, tap, or modern dance - any performance background - I haven't had any of that. And people can make you feel inferior if you let them. But a lot of that's an attitude problem. I tend to think, ‘well, that's your problem, not mine’. I'm happy with where I am now, I'm happy with what I've created. I'm happy with the way I move.

My grandma taught me to waltz when I was about 8. She said "you'll never be without a man if you know how to waltz". Well, I've never met a man that can waltz yet and it’s been a long time! If you love music and you have some kind of rhythm you can feel the music. You don't need the training; you need to listen to yourself. Burlesque classes (well certainly Lady Wildflower’s classes) teach more than just poses and movement. You’re taught about pacing, about how to move from one pose to another move, about stage transition about filling a stage, walking in heels, even something that simple. I’ve worn stilettos since was 14, since I was allowed to buy my first pair, I've walked in them for years. One of her first classes is how to walk in shoes, and it's surprising how many people look like baby giraffes, at first. And certainly can't dance in them or move particularly elegantly in them. It's that moving with purpose and being elegant and thinking about every last detail because people notice even the position of your hands and your fingers. Burlesque is more about that than about your ability to do Foxtrot or disco moves or whatever it is that you've had training in. The "dance" is expression above all.

I can even see the use of cheap fancy dress pieces. I mean, this is an iconic dress, paints the picture for the audience perfectly just gets ripped off pretty quickly anyway - then everything underneath was customised/made from scratch. The thing is, you really shouldn't take life - or yourself - too seriously. None of us are getting out alive! Photo credit: Shaun Derry from the début of Girl Power at Hoots 'n' Hooters Burlesque and Cabaret

I view each new act as an opportunity to make something different. I have less acts than ideas, because my mind flits a lot so I could have six acts in development at one time and only ever work on the one that I'm "feeling" at the time. And because they're also different, that depends on the mood I'm in - and the amount of "free time" I have. Performing is the result of idea, manifestation, choreography, music, costume, admin, applications, rehearsals, marketing, investment of time and money - it's business whether you're a full time or part time professional!

There are occasions where I think ‘I really need to get my new act ready for X date. I'm gonna have to pick one and really work on it’, and it's hard to do that. I find that it takes a little bit of the joy out of it for me because I feel like I’m working to deadlines or to some kind of stipulation.

My costumes are as varied as my acts. With my first, for example, my corset stayed on because I wanted to prove that I could do something without just taking all my clothes off. Which is what I did and it's been a great act. That act has taken me all around the world. One good act will take you far.

You can be edgy, sexy, provocative, gentle, fierce, hilarious, silly - and the attire you choose should be part of that.

The début of Girl Power at Hoots 'n' Hooters Birthday Bash 22nd June 2019 and a reason to celebrate with the fabulous Dis Charge and lovely Trixie Whipp. A début of any act is scary and invariably is never the way it ends up - choreography or costume! Photo credit: Ian Squires

The flowing pieces and music were starkly different from the début act.

My second act was designed for specific show that I was requested to do where I was asked to be a little more tame. I really wanted to do a very classic act. I had a piece of music that I grew up with. I absolutely loved that music and I knew it had the right kind of build-up, and feeling, and passion in it which made it perfect to use. I ended up with just stage knickers, you know, because I wanted to go to the other extreme. I thought ‘OK. This is what I can do when I don't have to take everything off’ and the next act was ‘OK. This is me. You know, I'm not holding anything in. You can't say all “You only look like that because of your costume”’. More of my costume came off, it's was very freeing.

My second act was very traditional. It was kind of a nod to Old Hollywood, so the two were very different acts with very different costume pieces. I also have a bit of a penchant for long coats and gowns, because I think they create an entrance and are a good cover up for what comes beneath. So your reveals can be much more impressive.

Vanity Dare débuting Girl Power - the act has evolved again since this! @ Great Western Burlesque Festival, Somerset

My third act was different again. I wanted to do something that showed I could be light-hearted and don't take myself too seriously. Something a little bit more up-to-date and that would open new doors, other opportunities. It was a Girl Power Act. I did 4 costume changes in one act with a lot more dancing and time specific movements in it. I moved around the stage an awful lot more and getting the costume right took a lot of trial and error. I've only just got back into it after lockdown because again, there are so many layers to it, and I have made changes to it with every performance - but it's such a lot of fun and the audiences have loved it each time.

It's hard doing things that haven't been repeated in burlesque because, oh my goodness, there's so much out there! We have this game as audience members, we play burlesque bingo (my husband and I - he came up with it). You'll hear the music start and you'll think ‘This again! Yep - I’ve listened to this ten times before’. So I try and use music that's not so well known, that's not been used a lot, that's a little bit more out of the norm, you know. A lot of people will use go-to songs or pieces of music and it takes a little bit out of the production because it feels like they haven't investigated enough. If you come up with a new act, the first thing you must do is make sure nobody's used that music or version too much before, nobody's got another act to it that's too like yours. You make sure you’re not accidentally plagiarizing - and you don't want someone to do that to you either.

Sometimes one simple piece can make a big point photo credit: A Shot In The Dark photography

Do you think your burlesque costumes will continue to evolve?

Absolutely - because I will. I strive to improve with each one, be bolder, bigger, more effective. I'll do the best I can at all times with what I have - necessity is the mother of invention! My skills are limited though I do enjoy creating something unique. I think I might be dangerous if I suddenly came into some money. I'd definitely get someone to make something amazing for me. I do use professional costumiers and creators when I can afford to and when I have something I know I must invest in. It can be a false economy to do some things yourself.

My underbust corset from Kiku Boutique (Manchester) was a new level of support and shape. I do like Lynn's creations. Embellishing it myself was the fun part - and I need that input. I need to be part of my own costume. Julie Stubbs (Yorkshire) has also made me some wonderful pieces for shows/curtain calls. If you want to see her wondrous works, just look at Raven Noir's costumes! Made-to-measure is a bit of a luxury but so worth it.

I've always said if this rhinestone business goes bang, even the walls of my house will be rhinestoned - never mind every costume - and my husband's suits; it’ll have to go somewhere!

Those nipple tassels were bought at HBBF market two years (Wildflower Creations) before I even débuted. The boa is deliciously decadent purchased in Prague (I regret I can't remember the maker's name). The bag took about 2 months to rhinestone but it looks spectacular in the lights! photo credit: the marvellous Neal Rylatt

Do you think that burlesque will change in the future?

It evolves with history, so you know, we are living history!

Things are going on all the time, the world changes phenomenally.

I have a little diary I bought on a trip to America when I was performing there. All you have to do is answer three questions every day and it tells you more about that time in your life than writing a page out in a journal. I started it at the beginning of 2020 before lockdown. At the beginning of this year [2022] I thought ‘Oh it's been the same the last two years. Nothing's changed. I'm gonna leave it a year before I carry on using it’. Then, of course, this year we've come out of pandemic, my mother won't be here by the end of the year, Ukraine is effectively in their World War three. The world is undergoing constant change. Because of that, there will always be something that needs saying or that needs to be challenged, and burlesque is a conduit for that, you know. Satire is born from what goes on around you and people need to argue points peacefully. You can do so through burlesque. People that want to express themselves, people that feel they have been restricted or invalidated, or feel marginalized, they can all express themselves and make those points in a peaceful, safe place through burlesque. You can also tell stories through the art. I think the world is forever giving you new material. It's the same way a comedian will always have material because life goes on around you, so you will always see something in it to use.

Is there anything else you would like to discuss or showcase?

The reason I continue to perform is because I am so passionate about the fact that we've got one life you really need to cherish it. All my life I've taken chances. If somebody gives me an opportunity, just take it and then try not to worry about it. Just do it and think about it afterwards. But in the last year, I've lost many friends really suddenly through different causes. Not all through Covid, other medical reasons or events. And they've all been young, they've all been in their 50s. One of them was 28.

Although you think you've got to live your life every day, you don't know how long you've got. This last year has really shown us you literally don't know when your last minute is. So you really ought to just cherish everything, you know, breathe in the air, look at the sun, try not to get stressed about things that don't matter. Try not to worry about things that there's probably no need to worry about because they can come and go and you may think ‘Oh that was alright and I've spent four days worried sick about it’. It doesn't help.

Honestly you can't sit there thinking ‘I can't do that’. Says who? You need to start thinking. ‘Yes, I can. You know, let's try it. Let's give it a go. Let's just go for it’. Whatever "it" is.

I'm about to turn 54 and I'll never lie about my age because I'm very privileged to still be alive. You just cherish every moment you've got. I always think, if you have a small child in front of you, you wouldn't look at them and start telling them ‘you're ugly, you're useless. You can't do this’. You don't talk to children like that. Not if you're a decent human. All you ever do with a child is encourage them and tell them how wonderful they are. And you need to do that with yourself. You need to look at how far you've come, what you've done with your life - just still BEING alive, being here, getting through hard times and heartache is an achievement. Just keep going for it.

I could have chosen any route - I love whipcracking, learned knife-throwing, knife-catching, rope twirling and taken lessons in hoop, poi and I really enjoyed fire-eating tricks and I loved my time with aerial silks. I'll always be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, because there are so many things I want to experience and so little time to do it all!

Burlesque allowed me more leeway, physically. It has been my way of expressing those feelings - getting the message out their by example. Just get on the stage. Do that thing that scares you. Get out there and enjoy it, go for it. Show other people - prove to yourself - that yes, you can. This can be done. If there's anything at all that you’ve thought ‘Oh I can’t do it or it’s too late’. No. just grab the bull by the horns and go for it! And sod the naysayers! We all die - but not everyone lives.