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Home / Latest News / ‘It’s not like lap dancing… it’s all about the women’: Wales gears up for Burlesque Festival

‘It’s not like lap dancing… it’s all about the women’: Wales gears up for Burlesque Festival

By day she’s a wife and mum, by night she dons risque underwear as a burlesque dancer.

Meet Stephanie Gawne, aka Foo Foo Labelle.

As Foo Foo, Stephanie, 42, regularly entertains fans in South Wales with her raunchy act  and is organising the Welsh Burlesque Festival .

Hundreds of burlesque fans are expected to gather to watch 24 colourful acts in Cardiff for the festival next Saturday, including Foo Foo.

Stephanie, who lives in Cardiff, and has a seven year old daughter Megan, says burlesque has gone mainstream after years as niche entertainment.

“People say ‘you are a stripper’ and burlesque has a strip element but it’s more than that, there is a story in the act,” she says.

Stripping down to nipple tassels and scant underwear as Foo Foo Labelle Stephanie, who set up Burlesque Cardiff six years ago, says burlesque  ‘empowers women to be beautiful’.

“It’s not like lap dancing. There’s no male gratification. It’s all about the women,” she insists.

“I take lots of clothes off and end up in  a merkin – that’s less than a g string – and have jewels on my nipples.”

“We have got to be able to bump and grind and engage with the audience but you also have to get the act and costumes right.”

Stephanie’s husband, IT worker Robert Geary, helps organised her act, but she admits some people are shocked when they hear what she does.

“People are quite shocked when they find out what I do but it’s nothing new,” Stephanie, who used to ride elephants for Sweden’s national circus, says.

“The can-can and waltz were shocking when they came out.

“Burlesque really is so innocent. It’s fun and healthy.”

Burlesque is becoming ever more popular among people of all ages looking for a different night out. she says.

“People like burlesque because it brings in so many elements.

“There’s the vintage clothes and  the physicality. It’s not about trying to be size eight.”

Burlesque is now so popular it’s come out of clubs and into the  mainstream with theatres, including Cardiff’s New Theatre, among those which have staged burlesque shows in recent years.

For Stephanie, who also teaches belly and pole dancing, this is all good news.

“Burlesque is almost a backlash. You can go on a computer and see very graphic images very easily but burlesque is about a safe environment where people can portray themselves how they want for a night out.

“It’s dressing up with boobies. It’s not going to harm or shock. I see it a s good, clean fun.”

Perhaps, surprisingly, most fans are women, she adds.

“The audience is mainly women. I’d say it’s a 60/40 split women and men.

“The demographic is huge. We get people in their early 20s, middle aged couples and people in their 60s and 70s. “They  want to come to a show in an informal cabaret setting, sit down, have a drink and watch a show. You can’t get that at the cinema or theatre.”

The festival,  being held at Cardiff’s Mercure Holland House Hotel has attracted some of the UK’s top burlesque performers including Diva Hollywood, Britain’s got talent fan dancer Talulah Blue , and Violet blaze, winner of Burlesque Idol 2012.

Artists from Wales include  Carmarthen and Swansea-based burlesque dancer Lilly Laudanum, Swansea-based Bella Bambina and Primrose Proper, Lucy Purr and, of course, Foo Foo Labelle.

As well as watching the acts festival goers can try the art of burlesque themselves with dance and costume workshops.

There’ll also be a pre-festival cocktail evening at the same venue on May 3.

The Welsh Burlesque Festival is at the Mercure Holland House Hotel, Cardiff on May 4. For tickets and more information go to www.welshburlesquefestival.com

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