Now Reading
Seoul Burlesque: The Fight to Survive

Seoul Burlesque: The Fight to Survive

Flowerbomb, by Robert Michael Evans

It’s been almost 18 months since coronavirus reared its ugly head and brought the world to its knees – and Seoul’s burlesque scene along with it. While many places slowly reopen as vaccines roll out, live performances in South Korea are still restricted.

Pre-pandemic, Seoul was the kind of place that partied until dawn; it certainly wasn’t known for shutting down early. For Seoul-based burlesque troupes, the thriving ‘underground’ nightlife was an essential part of their existence. But since COVID-19 hit, performers have faced strict restrictions on social gatherings, and curfews as early as 9 pm. 

“Pre-pandemic, I was performing multiples times a night at multiple venues, averaging about 15-20 performances a month,” says House of Tease founder, Flowerbomb.

“My last live show with House of Tease was at the start of March 2020. I was flying back from performing in NYC to perform at Drag Drink Play’s Drag Brunch. We didn’t know that it was going to be the last time we would perform together live in Seoul.”

Flowerbomb, by Robert Michael Evans. Flowerbomb is the Mother of the House of Tease, Head Mistress of Seoul School of Burlesque, and Producer of Starlight Burlesque’s main stage season of shows. As Korea’s Burlesque Empress, she’s specialized in spectacle, seduction, and strategically placed attire since 2015, and is now raising a dynasty of draglesque children and burly babes to titillate stages domestically and internationally. Flowerbomb’s speciali-TEASE of snake charming, cirque werk, and glamonatrix fantasies have gotten her booked in Seoul, Tokyo, Atlanta, and New York City.Flowerbomb is the Mother of the House of Tease, Head Mistress of Seoul School of Burlesque, and Producer of Starlight Burlesque’s main stage season of shows. As Korea’s Burlesque Empress, she’s specialized in spectacle, seduction, and strategically placed attire since 2015, and is now raising a dynasty of draglesque children and burly babes to titillate stages domestically and internationally. Flowerbomb’s speciali-TEASE of snake charming, cirque werk, and glamonatrix fantasies have gotten her booked in Seoul, Tokyo, Atlanta, and New York City (to name a few).
Flowerbomb, by Robert Michael Evans. Flowerbomb is the Mother of the House of Tease, Head Mistress of Seoul School of Burlesque, and Producer of Starlight Burlesque’s main stage season of shows. She’s specialised in spectacle, seduction, and strategically placed attire since 2015, and is now raising a dynasty of draglesque children and burly babes to titillate stages domestically and internationally. Flowerbomb’s speciali-TEASE of snake charming, cirque werk, and glamonatrix fantasies have been booked in Seoul, Tokyo, Atlanta, and New York City (to name a few).

Reality Hits

For many, the reality of what would be the ‘new normal’ didn’t hit right away. White Lies, Korea’s longest-running burlesque troupe, still managed to perform in the beginning, but even that was short-lived.  

“Because Korea was generally doing a good job about keeping [coronavirus] down, a few people were still performing,” says Nell Fox, the group’s founder. “Our venue in Seoul couldn’t host as often because of the restrictions, and paying performers became tricky with the lockdown. 

“We did perform a few times outside of Seoul. As long as we kept the number of guests between certain parameters, it was allowed. But for White Lies, our last in-person live show was March 21, 2020, and our first cyber show in April.” 

Cathy la Choi by Robert Michael Evans. Cathy La Choi  Cathy La Choi  is a Korean-American burlesque performer based in Seoul, South Korea. She started out as a visual artist and has extended her creativity into the field of performance, circus, and ariel arts. IG: @cathylachoi
Cathy la Choi by Robert Michael Evans. Cathy La Choi Cathy La Choi is a Korean-American burlesque performer based in Seoul, South Korea. She started out as a visual artist and has extended her creativity into the field of performance, circus, and aerial arts. IG: @cathylachoi

However, the restrictions did not completely stop Seoul’s performers from doing what they love. Virtual performances and Zoom meetings kept the creativity alive, although motivation was the biggest challenge when switching to virtual performance.

“The hardest thing to overcome is not feeling and fuelling my performances with the audience’s energy,” says Flowerbomb. “I miss feeding off them and giving them just as much as they give me. I can’t wait until I can touch them again. It must sound creepy, but I’m going through withdrawals. Let me shove faces between my tassels again, please!”

Nell Fox, by Patt Little. Nell is the founder of WhiteLies BurlesqueRevue and House Burlux. She has educated, instructed, and coached nearly 100 performers in “The Art of Tease,” with over a decade of experience under her belt, she produced and performed in over 31 burlesque shows in 2019 alone, and her team has raised over 30 million won for charities in the past decade. Nell herself has also performed burlesque internationally in Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore, Bangkok, and the Dominican Republic.
Nell Fox, by Patt Little. Nell is the founder of WhiteLies Burlesque Revue and House Burlux. She has educated, instructed, and coached nearly 100 performers in ‘The Art of Tease’. With over a decade of experience under her belt, she produced and performed in over 31 burlesque shows in 2019 alone, and her team has raised over 30 million won for charities in the past decade. Nell herself has also performed burlesque internationally in Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore, Bangkok, and the Dominican Republic.

Going the Distance

Sadly, burlesque lacks the ability to draw crowds when separated from the audience by a screen. While some performers have been doing their best to stay booked virtually on a regular basis, for others, the switch proved too difficult. After their first few digital performances, White Lies, a community staple and creative outlet for many local performers, stopped entirely. 

“We were doing cyber shows, but those became increasingly difficult when they capped it to four people,” Nell explains. “So we send emails to each other. We’ve done a couple of Zoom meetings and rehearsals, but for the most part, I’ve told them to make stuff! Make costumes, come up with concepts, and have stuff to throw at me once we start up again.”

Miss Evgeniya (Credit Pending) began her career as a performer in the state circus of Uzbekistan as an aerialist. Her acquaintance with burlesque took place after moving to South Korea, meeting Nell Fox and the WhiteLies Burlesque troupe. Evgeniya combines sensuality and teasing with crazy flexibility and circus tricks. She is being proud of able to represent several cultures at once as a Korean born in Uzbekistan, and raised in a Russian-speaking family.  IG: instagram.com/the_miss_evgeniya
Miss Evgeniya (Credit Pending) began her career as a performer in the state circus of Uzbekistan as an aerialist. Her acquaintance with burlesque took place after moving to South Korea, meeting Nell Fox and the WhiteLies Burlesque troupe. Evgeniya combines sensuality and teasing with crazy flexibility and circus tricks. She is being proud of able to represent several cultures at once as a Korean born in Uzbekistan, and raised in a Russian-speaking family. IG: @the_miss_evgeniya

For Flowerbomb, the switch to digital has actually had some impressive perks. “More ground is covered virtually! I try to do at least one virtual performance every few months. The world got smaller when everyone began using virtual stages as their primary platform to stay connected. Despite the pandemic, I’ve gained even more international attention than I ever did in person.” 

Flowerbomb seized the extra time quarantine provided and opened the Seoul School of Burlesque in 2020. She managed to secure world-renowned burlesque performers including Michelle L’amour, Zelia Rose, Tosca, and Crocodile Lightning, to virtually instruct.

Maia Pussy Sparkles, by Robert Michael Evans.  Maia is Seoul’s Premium Drag Bear and member of House of Tease. She’s fat, she’s femme, she’s fierce. She loves shocking people with her sensual, suggestive, and often in-your-face dance moves. You can find her anywhere you can find men. Her main goal in life is to get a sugar daddy so she has an endless supply of chocolate, jewelry, and sriracha. Until that day comes, she will happily accept any monetary donations.  IG: @maia.p.sparkles
Maia Pussy Sparkles, by Robert Michael Evans. Maia is Seoul’s Premium Drag Bear and member of House of Tease. She’s fat, she’s femme, she’s fierce. She loves shocking people with her sensual, suggestive, and often in-your-face dance moves. You can find her anywhere you can find men. Her main goal in life is to get a sugar daddy so she has an endless supply of chocolate, jewelry, and sriracha. IG: @maia.p.sparkles

Starting Out

For performers like Azalea Jade, one of the school’s burlesque debutantes, the pandemic provided a rare opportunity to start performing. “I’ve had much more time to practice and hone my skills! And I’ve developed close relationships with my group during this time,” says Jade. 

For Jade, getting involved was a total quarantine happy-accident. Deprived of other creative outlets, she randomly decided to take Flowerbomb’s online course and fell in love with it.

Flowerbomb’s motivation right now is her desire to see the new generation of “burly babes” become successful post-COVID.

See Also
Desert Island Strips, Episode 1: Dangrrr Doll

“They’ve never performed, trained, or rehearsed in a world without coronavirus. So I’m trying to keep the fantasy alive by continuing to prepare as if we have a performance tomorrow. Strengthening those international connections with burlesque queens from all over the world as if we can all fly out to meet them in person today. Passing down acts I still adore to my burly babes as if they could perform them in full regalia in front of a live audience tonight.”

Azalea Jade, by KakaoTalk Photo. Azalea Jade is a student in Seoul School of Burlesque, under the tutelage of Head Mistress Flowerbomb. She specializes in aerial arts, and most enjoys performing on the aerial hoop. Azalea has performed in the first Class Act show, a showcase of the school’s students along with House of Tease members, and has also performed at the Addams Family Ball in Daegu this past October. She is greatly looking forward to future opportunities to perform, with the most immediate one being Class Act #2, once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Azalea Jade, by KakaoTalk Photo. Azalea is a student in Seoul School of Burlesque, under the tutelage of Head Mistress Flowerbomb. She specializes in aerial arts, and most enjoys performing on the aerial hoop. Azalea has performed in the first Class Act show, a showcase of the school’s students along with House of Tease members, and has also performed at the Addams Family Ball in Daegu this past October. She is greatly looking forward to future opportunities to perform once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Wishing and Waiting

Through ups and downs, both groups’ main goal is to be ready to finally perform in front of a live audience again. However, there is still no telling when that day will come for performers here in Seoul.  

“I think live shows in Seoul are so close to coming back. Here’s to hoping! The people are ready to be out again, and venues really need their business to survive,” says Flowerbomb. “I’m afraid that entertainers may be last on the list to bring back. But I swear I will never take being booked multiple times a week, or an evening, for granted ever again!”

Saffron Reign by Amy Katzenmayer. Saffron Reign is South Korea’s premier draglesque king with Crash Landed Seoul and WhiteLies Burlesque. Saffron Reign melds together gender play, striptease, and storytelling to make audiences both laugh and cry, sometimes both at the same time! Whether comedic or heart-wrenching, Saffron brings passion to the stage every time. As a show producer and community organizer, Saffron Reign has co-organized Seoul Drag Parade, Crash Ball, and the Drag Kings of Seoul workshop series.  IG: @saffron.reign
Saffron Reign by Amy Katzenmayer. Saffron Reign is South Korea’s premier draglesque king with Crash Landed Seoul and WhiteLies Burlesque. Saffron Reign melds together gender play, striptease, and storytelling to make audiences both laugh and cry, sometimes both at the same time! Whether comedic or heart-wrenching, Saffron brings passion to the stage every time. As a show producer and community organizer, Saffron Reign has co-organized Seoul Drag Parade, Crash Ball, and the Drag Kings of Seoul workshop series. IG: @saffron.reign

As nice as it would be to be able to return to some form of normal in the near future, Nell Fox is not so optimistic. The most recent spike in virus outbreaks seems to suggest that Korea is nowhere near to being in the clear.  

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to have shows in person again until November at best. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I’m pretty sure the best we’ll be getting is November. Otherwise, December or January is more likely.”

Editor’s Note: At the time of publishing, South Korea has raised anti-coronavirus restrictions to the highest level in Seoul and some neighbouring regions for two weeks.

Written by Alethea Cho.

 
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2021 21st Century Burlesque Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top