Canadian burlesque sensation Zyra Lee Vanity started performing burlesque in 2013 via the Toronto School of Burlesque, and quickly became a multi-award winning entertainer.
Voted number 31 in the Burlesque Top 50 2020, Zyra takes elements of Afro Caribbean and hip hop cultures and mixes them with vintage burlesque glamour. She’s also a member of Les Femmes Fatales Women of Colour Burlesque Troupe and the founder of burlesque production company Lee Vanity Productions.
1. How would you define yourself in three words?
Unapologetic, Joyous and Lit.
2. Who would play you in a movie about your life?
Keke Palmer. She really masters the art of being professional when needed, but also turnt when appropriate! Plus she has swagger to her.
3. What is your biggest strength?
I’m adventurous and daring. I’m not afraid to try new things or experiment. Sometimes you try new things and they flop, but that’s okay. Not everything can be a success. Other times you try new things and they’re a slamming success – and that is a great feeling! Overall, I’d rather take a risk and it not work out instead of not taking the risk at all and wondering ‘what if?’.
4. What is your biggest weakness?
I can be impulsive at times. I tend to live in the moment rather than planning for the future. It’s something I’m working on.
5. When are you most happy and inspired?
I’m happiest and most inspired when traveling and discovering new things and being exposed to different cultures, artists, scenery, architecture and food. I absolutely love backpacking, and I’m always at my best mentally and emotionally when I’m exploring new places.
6. What is your favourite on-screen burlesque moment from film or TV?
The documentary Burlesque Undressed. It’s what introduced me to this amazing art form!
7. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Just be unapologetically yourself and have fun! My burlesque mama Coco Framboise told me this in a workshop almost six or seven years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since!
8. If you could switch lives with one person for a day, who would it be?
I honestly have no idea!
9. What’s the biggest myth or misconception about burlesque?
That burlesque is only ‘classic’ burlesque. There are so many different types of burlesque – nerdlesque, gorelesque, traplesque, etc. It’s all valid! Burlesque isn’t just one aesthetic or style, but a diverse range of costuming performed to a diverse range of music with a diverse range of themes and concepts!
10. If you could only perform to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Flawless by Beyonce. The song is a bop and I perform my signature act to it! It makes me feel empowered, confident and sexy.
Zyra Lee Vanity on stage.
11. What surprisingly useful things do you have in your show case?
An Afro pick and some oil sheen. I rock my natural hair on stage so I’ve got to keep the high top fade on fleek.
12. Do you have a backstage ritual?
I listen to trap music to hype myself up! I remind myself that I’m here to slay, represent unapologetic blackness, have fun and honour my cultures. Sometimes for larger events I also call upon and list off (in my head) all of the people who have inspired me and whose power I’d like to channel into my performance.
13. What advice would you give to new performers starting out today?
Take time to develop each act. Pour all your love into every single act you create. Be unapologetic, take risks, and don’t be afraid to make folks uncomfortable with your power!
14. What is your proudest achievement?
Starting my burlesque production company, Lee Vanity Productions, and keeping it running for five years. It’s been very successful and I’m happy I’ve been able to create and grow a regular space that prioritizes performers of colour. Also, landing a commercial deal with Bodacious Wine. That was definitely a highlight of my burlesque journey!
15. What is your biggest regret?
When I first started burlesque I was making new acts for every single show. I wish I had used that time to really develop and strengthen one or two acts. I didn’t have well developed signature acts for three years.
16. What is the biggest challenge facing today’s burlesque scene?
Diversity in shows. Size diversity, race diversity, etc. There are so many amazing performers of various races and sizes and yet I still see so many all thin and all white productions.
17. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing when you started out in burlesque, what would it be?
Invest in your creative visions and nurture each act.
18. What is a cause or issue that’s very important to you?
Black Lives Matter. Including the lives of black women, black sex workers, black trans lives, black queer lives, black folks with felonies or addictions who are suffering from homelessness, etc. The fight against anti-black racism is an intersectional fight that must acknowledge the various identities and points of marginalization and oppression black folks face.
I’m also passionate about amplifying black beauty aesthetics and showcasing natural hair, dark skin and black culture in ways that are glamourous. Growing up black, we are told our natural hair isn’t attractive or professional, and our culture and aesthetics are lowbrow. In reality, afro textured hair is beautiful, black aesthetics are glamourous, and black culture is highbrow.
19 What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to?
I’m currently watching Good Girls on Netflix and re-watching the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (shows and films).
20. If you could share a dressing room with one performer for the rest of your career, who would it be?
My burlesque sister and platonic soulmate, The Foxy Lexxi. We hype each other up!
21. What would you like your life and career to look like in 10 years time?
In 10 years I want to be traveling even more and performing burlesque all over the world! I really want to grow my name internationally and headline more.