Sukki Singapora talks about burlesque as an art form, a business, and a passion

Sukki is Singapore's first ever burlesque artist.

Sukki Singapora is also the global ambassador of The Sharan Project and the founder of the Asian Burlesque Festival. Find out more about her humble beginnings and the secrets to her success below:

What is burlesque, and how has it become your business?
Burlesque is an extremely old Art form which emerged around the 17th century, initially from Italian theatre. The literal translation is 'to poke fun of’ and it was used as a form of dance satire on stage to mock figures of high-brow society. However, what I perform is a modern reinvention of that Art, which was brought back in America in the 1990s and evolved to incorporate certain elements of striptease.

Often people are surprised by the fact that the striptease elements are what make it a hugely feminist Art, by celebrating female body confidence, reclaiming of sexuality, and empowerment to what is a predominantly female audience. From the moment I found out about burlesque, I was drawn to this focus on strong, independent and liberated women (and men!) taking to the stage like fierce “glamazons” and I knew I had to try it.

But it’s not all feminism and sequins! To become a successful burlesque Artist you have to come equipped with the ability to do more than just perform. To be the best, and to travel the world, you have to be a costumier, choreographer, nutritionist, marketer, makeup artist, hair stylist, social media expert, promoter… and most of all, a businesswoman. The business of burlesque is serious, and it’s global.

How many people does it take to create and manage "Sukki Singapora"?
When I first started in burlesque I was a one-woman band, teaching myself everything from hand-stitching all my stage costumes, to staying up until the early hours trying to find shows to get my name out there but, whilst I’m still extremely hands-on, a lot has changed!

My first show was in 2011, and since then I pinch myself every day over how much things have grown. I now carefully manage my career and brand with a core team of about 20 people who are really close to me and whom I trust.

Team Sukki now comprises of: my publicist, my booking manager, two New York co-producers, one Singaporean events manager, two costumiers and corsetieres (Lynn McKay and Sadia), one celebrity hair colourist (Siobhan Taylor), two go-to photographers (Rachel Sherlock and Nick), three personal trainers (one in Singapore and two in the UK), one business strategist, one burlesque instructor (whom I trained to teach lessons) and 6 international backing dancers.

That team is divided into my sub-brands: Sukki Singapora HQ, The Singapore Burlesque Club, The Singapore Burlesque Society and The Asian Burlesque Festival, all of which I personally manage to ensure that they come together to create the perfect symphony which - from the outside - goes into those 5 to 20 minutes you see on stage! I absolutely love my team! They don’t work for me, they work alongside me, and we’re a strong unit who support each other.

How important is your brand to you, and how much control do you have over it?
My brand has always been extremely important to me. I think when you’re in the public eye, you have a responsibility to all those who look up to you to be a good role model. Whether it be how I dress, how I perform, or how I conduct myself, I like to have full control over every aspect, so my integrity is never compromised.

You've often been referred to as a "female role model" within the Arts. How do you transfer that into becoming a role model for young female entrepreneurs?
Being named a role model was not something I expected would happen when I started out in burlesque. Of course, I had some idea that what I was doing was going to be noticed - as the first Singaporean woman to take on the Art – but I didn’t quite expect just how much of an impact that would have on so many other young women wanting to pursue their dreams.

As soon as that happened, I knew I had literally thousands of women from all over the world following my journey, and that made me determined to show that you absolutely could have a “stable” career and a successful business in the Arts. I wanted to make a point of challenging the cultural stereotypes that I grew up on which were: law, medicine and business are “real” jobs and Art is a hobby.

More than that, I wanted to show that you could be 100% successful in whatever your passion may be, as long as you have determination. It’s still the best advice I hope you give to both young female and male entrepreneurs.

Have you ever come across any difficulties in being a woman in business in the Arts?
Of course, no matter what faculty you enter, it’s a sad reality that the higher up you get, the more male-dominated things become. That’s no different in the Arts, and is even the case in an intrinsically feminist Art such as burlesque.

On top of that, I think there’s a tendency for female Artists in particular to be treated even less equally, and if you’re a Burlesque Artist, immediately the stereotypes of you being part of some kind of sleazy, sexual activity make the challenge even greater.

But rather than shy away from the difficulties, I enjoy going against them. I’ve always seen myself as on a personal mission to knock down the misconceptions one myth at a time.

Burlesque is often misunderstood as a "risqué" form of entertainment, has that made it hard to be taken seriously in the business world?
Thankfully many of the public misconceptions about what burlesque is are gradually being dispelled, especially in Singapore, which is why it was such a defining moment when I was chosen to chosen to headline one of the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix after-parties.

However yes unfortunately, especially in business, sometimes people expect you to turn up to meetings in some kind of raunchy getup and be easy game, which could not be further from the truth. On stage of course I’m a performer and an Artist, but I’m also a businesswoman.

You've frequently shared in interviews that you're a "workaholic," how do you maintain the work/downtime life balance?
Yes, there’s rarely a moment where I’m not living, breathing or planning what I’m going to do next, or how I can improve! But I also appreciate the benefits of downtime. Someone once said to me: “always take time to sharpen the sword,” and I’ve never forgotten it. I make sure that at least one day a week I reflect, take stock, and then get ready to smash it again!

When you're not "Sukki Singapora" what do you do on your days off?
It’s rather embarrassing, but when I’m chilling out I like to play with my cats, watch retro sci-fi and go for walks. As a large part of my Art is being at extravagant events, I really enjoy the bliss of sitting at home and winding down!

What projects do you have upcoming this year?
There’s so much upcoming. This year is definitely going to be my busiest yet! But I think two things I’m super excited about are my Asian Burlesque Festival, which is happening in New York this May 21st for the fourth year, and also the launch of my first ever dress line in Singapore which I can’t wait to reveal soon!


Photo credit: Rachel Sherlock Photography. Headdress by @hippypoppins

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