In the second of three interviews, sensational British burlesque newcomer Cece Sinclair is interviewed by Ivy Wilde…
Performing for just over 18 months, Cece Sinclair is taking the UK by storm. Moving to Manchester from a small Welsh town to study for a Performing Arts degree, Cece found her feet performing in the freedom of burlesque and hasn’t looked back since.
How did you first hear about burlesque?
I knew about burlesque ages ago; when I was younger I liked old films and one of my favourite musical films as a kid was Gypsy. I must have forgotten about it and then there came a time in my life when I remembered. It was suggested to me that I do a class in something that would help build my confidence and burlesque came straight into my head. I don’t know what or how that reminded me but it did, so I signed up to classes and went from there.
Tell me a bit about your first performance
My first performance was at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival at Dr Sketchy’s alongside Kitten DeVille. I hadn’t performed in any capacity for three years by that point. Leading up to it I had nights where I was lying awake asking myself what I’d done. I’m an anxious person and old me would have put it off and put it off, but I thought if I forced myself to get booked then I couldn’t back out of it no matter how I felt. When I got out there I was nervous but I did it. I don’t remember much but from there I discovered that even if I might not feel confidence I can project it! I wasn’t sure if I would be able to because of my past experiences of showing nerves on stage but I just went for it.[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]There’s an element of freedom to burlesque for me … we can all go up there be whatever we want to be and I think that’s fantastic.[/pullquote]
As you have a background in performing do you think it was inevitable you would eventually go down the burlesque path?
I don’t think so because I’d lost a lot of confidence through the last few years of my performing arts degree and I really struggled to find a performance type that motivated me. I found burlesque and it was something that motivated me to get up, go to rehearsals, be active and find out everything I could about it. There was something about burlesque that drove me to do it, whereas I feel like I lost my love for other types of performances. I was happy to do them but I wasn’t really motivated or dedicated to try hard and make it in any way.
Do you think that might be because with burlesque you’re not playing a character some else has written? It’s an expression of you on your own terms?
That’s absolutely true. I love performing but I don’t like having to fit a role. When I was going for acting roles I had to fit the part of that character, or with singing I had to fit the voice of this character. I always felt that wasn’t working for me and that I couldn’t shine because I’m not necessarily good at being someone else. I am rubbish at acting in that sense; I felt I was always average doing it because I never really enjoyed it to the fullest.
There’s an element of freedom to burlesque for me. When I was a kid I loved doing dance routines. I always wanted to get my friends together and make it happen and whereas most people grow out of that I clearly remember being in my teens and I was asking my friends “do you want to do a dance?” Everyone was looking at me like I was daft! There’s a constant stream in my head of me being in a music video, and I’ve always made up dances, then suddenly I found burlesque! It might not be what burlesque is traditionally but for me it’s that freedom to act out those dance routines and go and be whatever I want. I go and see shows and there are some fantastic acts where anything goes, Ginger La Rouge with a giant salmon head for example; we can all go up there be whatever we want to be and I think that’s fantastic.
How would you best describe your style of burlesque?
I’d say high energy. I love mixing burlesque with theatre, not in the visual stage sense – there’s nothing crazy going on stage when I perform but I want each theme to be different. It may look the same in the sense of the way I bump n grind but my acts are all very different stylistically. I just find a piece of music I love and want to move to it.
Is it always music that’s the act starting point for you?
Yes, music first, which I listen to over and over again. I generally choreograph in my head first – I’m quite a visual person – so I’ll see myself in my music video and I’m busting some sweet moves that I think will look good. I do tend to visualise things that I can’t necessarily do, because it’s my music video fantasy playing, but I never brush them aside – I just start to figure out how I can make them happen.
I’m currently working on a new routine which when I heard the music I knew I had to do something to it. Then one night I was watching the Great British Sewing Bee and they made a costume for a boobie bird and my mind ran wild. I was Googling phots of boobie birds, looking at all the different shades of blue I could use. I was so inspired.
I can get inspired by everything and anything. I’m blown away by so many performances and they’re not necessarily all my style or a similar style of burlesque – a lot of them are totally different to what I would do or feel comfortable doing – but I admire them and they make me want to get up and kick ass. Not even just performances in burlesque but all kinds of performances and music – I am inspired by everything around me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given,and what would you give to others who are starting out?
The best piece of advice I have been given is not to compare yourself to others. I do look at people and think I wish I was that graceful, or I wish I had that posture, and then I remind myself that my body looks different. I’m 5ft 1 compared to a long limbed 5ft 7 person. I’ve been born and out of the womb for 25 years so I’m not going to suddenly grow longer arms, legs or a torso. Remind yourself that you may look at what someone else has but they may be looking at you and having similar thoughts.They’re a totally different person, physically, mentally, all of those things, so you can’t exactly be the same or have what they have because you have what you have.[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]The best piece of advice I have been given is not to compare yourself to others.[/pullquote]
The advice I’d give to other people is to go hard from the beginning. A lot of people think that confidence comes with experience in performing, which it does to a certain extent, but a big part of performance is trusting yourself and preparation.If you know you’ve put the work in and rehearsed you will be confident because you know exactly what you’re doing. Make sure your costumes are right from the start; your costume might change as your act develops but make sure it’s stage ready from the get go. Record your rehearsals, watch yourself back and improve on your mistakes. Burlesque should be taken as seriously as any other art form and any other job –if you’re going to do it and mean it. Just be the greatest you can be from the beginning; why wait for time to make you the person you want to be? There’s nothing stopping you now.
What have been the highlights for you so far?
This year was my first year at Edinburgh Fringe. It was absolutely amazing. I felt dead by the time I came back from the ten day run I had; it was non-stop. I have a confession to make: I don’t wear makeup apart from at shows and quite quickly the thought of putting aside an hour or more to put stuff on my face wore a bit thin. At first it was fantastic, then five days in I was putting it on like I was plastering a wall! That was the only downside. I performed with a live band and I did enjoy it, but I had to keep telling myself to take my time. I watched the video back and I was quite surprised at how long I danced for. I was worried I’d whip off my bra and it would turn out I’d only been doing a thirty second dance! I never, ever was a person who would do something so far outside the box. I had the fear because of my anxiety – I always need to know exactly what’s happening, weighing up the pros and cons and then making a calculated decision. Suddenly I started burlesque and I said yes to everything. It has changed my life in all the best ways.[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”] I’d just simply like to keep on going and performing until people have to physically drag me off the stage![/pullquote]
I got to do other amazing shows, including Another F*cking Variety Show which was epic even though I was very nervous. I also got to see Perle Noire – I could have cried, I think I did – I don’t know! I can’t remember! It was all too magical!
One of the most recent highlights was at the Big Burlesque Event; I just cried my eyes out. I was so nervous, my hands were so sweaty and I didn’t feel like it was the best I could do. There were a panel of industry professionals giving you feedback and it was all so positive. It meant so much to me. I have worked hard, sometimes I feel like I can’t admit to it because it might make me seem like I’m big-headed, but for people to enjoy what I do and to get that recognition makes it so worthwhile. I know that I’m achieving what I’ve setting out to do and I’ve made it happen for myself.
What’s next for Cece?
There are tonnes of shows I would love to do: The Wet Spot and the Double R Club are on my list but that list goes on and on, and in the future to be accepted to perform at the Burlesque Hall of Fame would be amazing.
There are a lot of things I’d love to achieve; I’d just simply like to keep on going and performing until people have to physically drag me off the stage! I can’t wait to be old and my boobs and down to my knees and I’m heading out to get my milk from the corner shop still wearing a curtain call dress and a blue rinse and I think I look fabulous. I’ll have all these dresses to show people and I’ll annoy people with my tales of when I used to be a burlesque performer. I look forward to the part where I can look back and be happy – I love living it but at the same time I am so excited to look back and look at what I achieved and did with my life.
I think ultimately I just want to work hard and continue to get booked. That’s what making it is to me and I look forward to continuing to meet more talented, lovely and diverse people.
Would you say burlesque has changed your life?
It has changed it in every way possible. If I tell people what my life was like before I don’t think anyone would believe it or comprehend it.
I didn’t have the best childhood; my Dad was an alcoholic and I didn’t really get on with my Mum. Even though there were a lot of issues I was close to my Dad. He passed away while I was at university studying for my degree and I gave up in my last two years. Although I wasn’t fully aware of it I just stopped giving myself chances. I stopped auditioning for parts, I started to get scared of performing and then I completely stopped. I left University and worked as a receptionist for three years while I was in the throes of depression. My life was wake up, go to work, come home and get straight into bed and watch TV, repeat. I didn’t see friends, I didn’t do anything – my depression had got so bad I would sit on the phone crying at work; I was the worst receptionist ever. I was signed off work by a GP and they sent me to a place that I had to stay for about two weeks. I got counselling on site. I started doing classes at my counsellor’s suggestion and everything changed.[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]I think that’s the best change anyone can have in life. To realise that it’s okay – life is okay – and it’s what you make it. You can make it whatever you want it to be and I’m making it shiny.[/pullquote]
Now I feel life is amazing, I get up every day, I go and do things. I’m doing my PGCE and I’m moving forward, I have goals. I have lots of friends who I make an effort to keep in touch with because I’ve got that motivation. I don’t think any of that would have happened without burlesque, or without Lady Wildflower. I’d go to her classes and it wasn’t until she asked me to be in a show that I even thought I could be the glamorous burlesque performer I’d been dreaming about. I was so humbled that I had been asked and it just changed me.
Before I was a loud person but I wasn’t confident underneath. I’m not 100% confident now, who is, but sometimes I can’t believe the person I am now. I used to wear make up every day because the thought of anyone looking at my face without it was horrendous; I used to put false eyelashes on, get my weave done and I hated my body. Now I don’t give a shit and I don’t wear make-up unless I have to. I stopped caring about all of the stuff I used to worry about when I started doing burlesque and I realised that lots of things aren’t worth being anxious about.
I think that’s the best change anyone can have in life. To realise that it’s okay – life is okay – and it’s what you make it. You can make it whatever you want it to be and I’m making it shiny.
Cece Sinclair interviewed by Ivy Wilde.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.