Interview with a Burlesque Artist

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When we think about Burlesque, we tend to think about the 2010 film starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, or more traditionally a variety show that is both provocative and comedic, bawdy and satiric. However, Burlesque is about so much more than that.

Athena Beauvoir is a London-based cabaret performer and finalist in Miss Burlesque UK 2019, the UK’s biggest burlesque competition. She has been in the business for five years and in that time has built a reputation across the city and beyond as an all-around showgirl who exudes old school glamour and retro vibes. I caught up with Athena to talk about the upcoming competition and her career highlights so far.

First of all, huge congratulations on reaching the final of Miss Burlesque UK! How did you feel when you were told the good news?

I was so shocked! It’s such a blessing to be performing alongside some of the best UK performers. The competition is high, and I am full of nerves and excitement!

I can imagine! It’s such a fantastic opportunity and deserved. So how long have you been doing burlesque and what got you into it?

I’ve been performing for five years now, so I started in my third year of university at the age of 21. I received my student loan but invested it in going to The Cheek of It! Burlesque School instead. So it meant that I lived off 25p packets of noodles for my last term of uni, but the sacrifice paid off. I did start quite young compared to other performers. I always loved dancing and wanted to be a dancer, but my body shape wasn’t a typical dancer’s body, so I was always going to struggle. When I went to uni I missed it so much, and with burlesque, you can be whatever body shape you want, and you own that!

That’s great that burlesque allowed you to continue doing something you love. How would you describe your burlesque style, and where do you get your inspiration from?

My style is very bold and feminine, drawing inspiration from Parisian and Vegas showgirls. My style changes depending on the routine so it means I can play a Bond girl one minute and then a sixties sci-fi space babe the next! I love badass characters in films, especially the Tarantino women or strong female leads like Roxie Hart in Chicago. I love the idea of women being deadly and sexy at the same time. This is the vibe that I go for in my acts.

I love that blend of showgirl glamour and cult icons. What’s the story behind your burlesque name?

So it was hard finding a name, and it took me a while to be happy with it. I used to use my real name, but I found that a stage name is a perfect way to bring out your alter ego. I chose the name Athena, and she is the Greek goddess of war. I wanted something powerful but also beautiful as I believe women can be both. My last name Beauvoir is from Simone de Beauvoir. I studied Sociology at Goldsmiths University, and she was one of my favourite feminist authors. It also has a Parisian feel to it which could be seen to be Moulin Rouge-like. But I like the idea of being linked to a feminist writer, and it’s one of those things where if you know, you know.

Exactly, if you get the feminist references, then you know what this girl’s about. There’s so much meaning behind the name, and it must feel very empowering to step into the role of Athena Beauvoir when you’re performing. I’ve seen some of your shows, and your routines are always fabulous! Do you have a favourite?

I will always love my first ever routine that I made called ‘Roxanne’ from the film Moulin Rouge. I think because it was my first ever act, it was my most raw bit of choreography and I have developed this act for years and years. It’s an act that I know like the back of my hand. I can let go and express myself fully when on stage. It’s a very passionate and fiery act, and I enjoy the drama and tension and how it makes the audience feel.

And it must feel particularly special as the routine that started this whole journey. Speaking of which, what’s been your most memorable gig so far?

My most memorable gig was when I was flown to Ethiopia to sing Happy Birthday like Marilyn Monroe at the Hyatt Hotel. Then the party transformed into a Studio 54 party where I performed my Donna Summer disco act. I always look back at the pictures of Studio 54 and wish I could teleport back in time and boogie with Elton John and Cher. I am obsessed with that era. I love how burlesque allows me to be part of the world that we only see in film or pictures. It really can be the best escapism.

That gig sounds epic. The ’70s disco era is so iconic, and you got to be Marilyn Monroe for the night – living the dream! So, what made you want to enter Miss Burlesque UK at this point in your career?

I have been performing for five years now, and I always want to keep growing and pushing myself. It’s also rare to have the opportunity to perform in such grand theatres, so it has allowed me to be creative with space and lighting, which will bring my acts to life even more.

Can you give us a little hint of what you’re planning for the final?

For the final, I am revamping my second ever burlesque act that I made years ago. And I shall also be transporting you to sixties space as Barbarella. There will be a few surprises for sure!

Athena Beauvoir will be performing in the final of Miss Burlesque UK 2019 on Friday 22nd November at The Crescent Theatre in Birmingham. Follow her on Instagram.

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