FHM : As an act, what do you see burlesque as - ludicrous or exotic?
Sukki : Well, burlesque started as a way of making parodies of high society. The literal meaning of burlesque being “to poke fun at”, so in that way it’s certainly a light-hearted, perhaps ludicrous art! My style of burlesque, however, focuses more on glamour, poise and a heavy infusion of my cultural background - many people have called it ‘exotic burlesque’.
Do you think most people often confuse burlesque with other more sexual forms of dancing?
It’s certainly a common misconception, particularly here in India. There is a big difference between sexual and sensual. People often don’t realise that over 70% of my audiences are female! Burlesque isn’t an art created to satisfy any sexual agenda, it’s an art which celebrates femininity and the right for women to take control of their sexuality.
You must get a lot of male attention doing what you do. How do you deal with it?
It’s always flattering to have male or female fans of course! The down side is the negative male attention, which does happen unfortunately. I find it’s usually because men are feeling uncomfortable with a woman choosing such a bold path. Perhaps they feel threatened. It does tend to be worse in culturally traditional or strict countries.
Are there some particular stories pertaining to male fans etc that stand out in your head?
There was this one fan, a Muslim gentleman, who not only caused a fabulous stir with his vivacious love of my art, but also because he wrote to me several times asking for a burlesque makeover! I’m honoured to have a large gay male following, and even more so considering this particular fan had fought so hard for acceptance of his sexuality within his community. Fighting for the right to choose our paths is what makes me so passionate about burlesque.
What part of you is Indian?
I’m Indo-Singaporean - my grandparents were from South India and then moved to Singapore where my father was born.
Would you like to head to India for some work?
Absolutely! I’ve been approached by several Indian lingerie shows about performing in India, so that’s likely to be on the cards very soon.
What sort of work would you be interested in?
Aside from my shows, I’m an avid fan of Formula 1, so would love to pop over to see the Force India team at some point in the near future.
How did you end up doing burlesque? Are there other forms of dancing you have tried? Which according to you is the sexiest form of dancing?
I actually trained in classical ballet from a young age, and always loved performing. But it wasn’t until I reached adulthood and discovered vintage fashion that I heard about burlesque. With my background in dance, I was immediately hooked. For me, any dance form in which a woman feels truly confident in her skin is sexy. There’s nothing sexier than a woman exuding confidence with a smile?
How do you stay fit?
I am fortunate to have a personal trainer who puts me through my paces! He’s a no nonsense, blood, sweat and tears guy! I combine that with plenty of dance rehearsals and a healthy diet.
A lot of people are taking to pole dancing. Are you any good at it?
I’ve given it a try before, but I think it’s better left to the experts! The upper body strength required is mind boggling...
It sounds like a charmed life but is it a tough world to break into?
Of course, it’s not all Swarovski crystals and high kicks! I think what makes it especially difficult is that when I began my journey, I had no idea I was the first Singaporean to become a professional burlesque dancer. I knew that as an Asian woman, it would be tough going up against traditional values, but I had no idea just how ground breaking it would turn out to be. With no one to take support and advice from before me, it was a matter of forging Asia’s place within the industry - so no pressure! Now that I’ve done it though, I take my position as a role model extremely seriously. It’s why in addition to burlesque, I’m also a Global Ambassador for South Asian women’s rights charity, The Sharan Project and my own Singapore Burlesque Society.
What do you do to relax?
I’m a workaholic, so I have to discipline myself into taking downtime! When I do, however, I enjoy settling down with my two cats!
Some say that Burlesque is not an industry which is growing phenomenally. What do you think about it?
I think the great thing about burlesque is that it still has an element of mystery and intrigue to it which comes from being an art. However, the desire for women, and men, to take up burlesque is certainly increasing at a rapid rate since the film “Burlesque” was released.
What do you like most about burlesque?
It’s ability to transform an individual by unlocking their body confidence. Did you always want to become a burlesque dancer? Before my teens, I had no idea what burlesque was! I come from a very conservative family, so no, it wasn’t until later I discovered I had a passion for it! I knew I always wanted to perform though, I just had to find my calling.
Your favourite burlesque dancer?
Without a doubt, Asian burlesque legend Barbara Yung. She was one of the first Asian women to become a burlesque star in the 1950s, and such an inspiration.
Would you like to do burlesque/ dance numbers in movies? Do you think India is prepared to witness such a thing in a Bollywood movie?
It’s something I’d love to do - and I think with films such as Dedh Ishqiya being released, burlesque is just another medium for women in Bollywood to celebrate their sexuality and empowerment. Of course, controversy still exists, but now more than ever, our generation is bold enough to dispel unnecessary discriminatory taboos.
What do you do to maintain a burlesque-friendly figure? Do you workout?
All figures are burlesque-friendly! I work out to stay fit, but the beauty of burlesque is that it celebrates every aspect of the female form, be that svelte to voluptuous.
Tell us two things that are not known about this industry?
Most people do not realise that almost 80% of burlesque audiences are female, and that burlesque can also be performed by men, an art known as “boylesque”.