Miss Sweet Cheeks
1. Please introduce yourself.
Stage name: Sweet Cheeks
Occupation: Gender & sexuality researcher – currently working in the field of gynaecological cancer
2. When did you start attending burlesque classes and performing burlesque?
I started burlesque classes in January 2017 and I did my first show in April 2017.
3. How did you discover burlesque?
In 2015, I did a very brief pole dancing stint with the lovely Scarlit Hearts – although I quickly discovered that I am reeealllly bad at it! BUT during this time I took part in a burlesque workshop that was hosted by Lady Magnolia at the pole studio. I remember that day very clearly because I had a terrible cold but I still pitched up at the workshop even though I was so sick I could hardly stand up straight and I got ALL the steps wrong. I think something in my soul was calling to me though because despite all of this I did not stop smiling throughout the whole workshop and I left knowing that this was something that I had to do. A few months later I went to my first burlesque show and I spent the whole night on the edge of my seat because I was simply so enchanted. After that I knew I had to start classes but it took me another 18 months to pluck up the courage to join.
4. What attracted you to burlesque?
Initially, after watching the movie Burlesque, it was the glitz and glamour of it, but after watching my first show it was really the sense of empowerment that I felt from watching womxn own their bodies on stage and have such fun doing it. That first show was such an affirming experience for me from a body positivity perspective. The womxn on stage exuded so much confidence and joy and I looked at them and thought ‘I also want to feel that way’.
5. Did you have any reservations about starting burlesque?
So many. Having had absolutely no formal dance training during my childhood I was seriously concerned that I would not be able to pick up the choreography. I was also mortified that I would have to dance in my underwear with a bunch of strangers. And lastly, I was really worried that the cool and glamorous burlesque dancers would not accept me.
6. How did/does your family, loved ones react to you performing burlesque?
I am very very blessed to have an extremely supportive family and group of friends and it has been such a joy to be able to share this journey with them. I am particularly grateful to my parents for embracing this side of me so wholeheartedly and for coming to so many of my shows.
7. How do you cope with pre-performance nerves?
Champagne! But I also like to make sure that I am 100% prepared so I usually back my bags the night before and make many lists of all the things I need to pack. I am a very anxious person too so my anti-anxiety meds help A LOT too.
8. How do you reconcile your burlesque persona with your ‘day job’, do they ever collide/compliment or detract from each other?
I see them as complimenting each other in many beautiful ways. I work as a gender and sexuality researcher which means that I spend a lot of time thinking about things from a theoretical perspective. Burlesque allows me to embody a lot of these things and I feel like I am putting my beliefs into action in some way. I also enjoy the fact that my academic side allows me to interrogate different aspects of burlesque. I truly believe that being a burlesque performer makes me a better researcher and that being a researcher adds to my burlesque career. By being part of a community that highlights and celebrates femme sexuality and subverts societal expectations around womxn, it has made me much bolder in the type of research projects that I have pursued and deeply convinced of their importance from a feminist/political perspective. That being said, most of my work colleagues do not know that I am a burlesque performer, although I have started being more open about it this year. Maybe one day they’ll even crack an invite to a show.
9. Please mention your burlesque inspiration, one local and one international performer and motivate your answer.
Local: Vita Nova for her raw sensuality, effortless choreography and her ability to steam up any room no matter what type of burlesque she is performing. Apart from her amazing on stage persona she is also just a genuinely kind and humble human off stage (not many people will help you clean wax out of your crotch after your first solo!).
International: Fancy Feast for her fierce feminist agenda, for pushing the boundaries of what burlesque is, and for generally just being beautifully bizarre. One day, I too hope to perform completely naked and pull things out of my ‘cookie jar’ (Yes T, I did write this to shock you :P).
10. What is your favorite thing about burlesque?
Wow, I cannot be limited to one thing: the community, the celebration of femme sensuality and sexuality, the body positivity and sex positivity, the inclusivity of the space, the freedom to express myself, the way it has been deeply therapeutic for me, and the fact that it is just so much fun. Burlesque has brought so much uncomplicated joy into my life.
11. How has burlesque had an impact on your life outside of time in class and on stage?
It’s had a profound impact on me. It’s made me much more accepting of myself and my body and this has made me much more confident. I feel much more at home in my skin now and I am also much more in touch with my sexuality. Burlesque has also helped me work through lots of trauma and helped significantly with my mental health. It’s honestly been transformative.
12. Do you have any rituals you do before you perform?
Nothing in particular at the moment, but for me, doing my make up is a very important time. I like to sit quietly by myself and really focus on what I’m doing. In this way, it becomes a mindfulness exercise (which also helps with nerves) and it is a conscious transition from Sorrel to Sweet Cheeks.
13. How do you start the choreography for a dance?/ Create a solo?
First, I have to find a song that really resonates with me emotionally – I have to connect with it on a heart level. I then listen to it over and over and over again and visualise myself dancing to it and the type of story I am wanting to tell in my piece. I then just freestyle dance to it and see what comes and feels right. Once I’ve got this groundwork done I start to formalise the steps and work on creating a coherent narrative and working in where I am going to strip.
14. What, to you, is the worst thing that can happen during a performance?
Completely blanking on choreography. I am a perfectionist so the thought of messing up the steps is absolutely mortifying.
15. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you regarding your performances?
At Decompression this year, a woman came up to me after our show and she told me that she could see herself in me when I was dancing. It was so simple but to me it was really meaningful because this is one of the reasons why I do burlesque: to give representation to different types of bodies and to show confidence in that.
16. What has been your funniest experience as a burlesque artist?
Probably more embarassing for me but definitely funny for the audience: spilling a whole bucket of water while kittening for the Rougette’s ‘Wet’ routine and flooding the whole stage right before the finale.
17. If you could perform for one person, dead or alive, who would you invite to be in the front row for your performance?
Rupi Kaur. Her poems, like burlesque, have been life changing.
18. If you could go back in time to your very first show, would you do anything differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I was such an amateur and such a bundle of nerves but there is something so beautifully innocent about this and I want to cherish that feeling because you only have one first burlesque show in your life.
19. Who are your go-to’s in Cape Town for costumes and props i.e. Lingerie, stockings, gowns, fans, props etc.
Cheap props: CHINA TOWN – you can find anything here!
Beautifully crafted pasties: Ambra Creations
Lingerie: Blush Play Couture and Bras n Things (obvs)
If you need a wig last minute: Glamor Hair SA (online shop with cheap prices and very quick delivery)
I also have a good contact for blow up dolls 😉