THE ART OF TEASE When you say 'burlesque' or 'cabaret' here, people tend to think of gentlemen's clubs with lap dancers. Even local dancers who come to audition for me have been wary of what kind of show we are running. Because there is nothing else like [Lan Kwai Fong club] Bisous in Hong Kong, people can't imagine proper dance performances at a bar, with only the Wan Chai scene as their reference. The show at Bisous is a fusion of dance styles; we are doing traditional and modern burlesque with showgirl elements, cabaret, jazz, musical, tap and pop.
What we do is a touch of tease. I don't think you could do full burlesque in Hong Kong just yet. What's for certain is each week is going to bring something different; it's constantly evolving. It's good for the performers. I've done the same show every night for a year in previous jobs, where nothing changes. It's so nice to be able to update things and get excited about doing new things.
BABY STEPS I've been dancing my whole life. I started taking classes when I was three in the small town where I lived in greater Manchester [England]. I have a twin sister, with whom I started my first ballet and tap classes at The Golden School of Dancing, but she didn't continue with it. She knew from the beginning that it wasn't a serious thing for her, whereas for me, corny as it sounds, it was a dream. My mum recently sent me a book that I'd made when I was six; it was like a little key to my life and, in it, I had put the question: 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' And the answer was, 'A dancer'.
The Golden School of Dancing is a family owned business; my own teacher and her mother still work there. By the time I was 13, I was helping out with the baby classes. When I left school, I went to [award-winning dancer] Phil Winston's Theatreworks for three years, studying drama, musical theatre and dance. I did my teaching qualifications there. On the weekends, I'd go home and teach proper classes at The Golden School.
THE WORLD OVER For me, dancing and travelling are passions that go hand in hand. I'd get a call about being in a show in Portugal and the next day I'd jump on a flight and go. The day after I completed college, in 2004, I got my first job, in [the northern seaside town of] Blackpool. There were still a lot of shows running in England; many have closed since because of the credit crunch. The show I started with was called Legends - there's one in Las Vegas, too - where lookalikes would perform songs, supported by dancers. There were Britney Spears, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner and Elvis, among others. After that, I was in Cyprus for a couple of months as an illusionist's assistant and dancer. Then, after a few more travelling shows in England, there was the casino show in Spain in 2007 and Portugal in 2008. In April 2008, I took a dance manager job on a European cruise line in Asia for a year and travelled to some amazing places; we would be in Japan one day, Korea the next, Taiwan, Bali [Indonesia], everywhere.
We would dock often in Hong Kong, and I cannot say what it is about the city, but I just loved it from the beginning. It's not clean, it's not that the people are particularly welcoming, but it has this energy and vibe. Every time we came back to Hong Kong, I'd think how much I wanted to live here.
STEPPING STONE When I started the hunt for an opportunity to move to Hong Kong, I realised there were no established, long-running shows here; nothing. Chicago, the musical, would come for a week, and that's it. I knew there was the odd free-style dancer gig at clubs, but when you are a trained dancer, you don't want to end up dancing on a podium your whole life. So, I joined the Crazy Paris Show at the Grand Lisboa in Macau. I planned it as a six-month stepping stone to Hong Kong and ended up staying there for 2?years. The show is classic showgirl style, like Moulin Rouge. It's worked for 25 years and, because of that, they don't change it much. The girls are all beautiful; it's all about the long, long legs. Their looks are closely monitored and every month, the girls would line up in a cropped top, G-string and heels for inspection. Taking care of your health and looks comes with the territory in dance, so I never minded that part of the job. They really took care of the dancers, treated us all very well; and it's still the best-paid job I've had. Some girls stay easily for seven or 10 years.
I wanted to broaden my horizons and do something that more reflected who I am, so, when I met the owners of Bisous and found out they were looking to launch a one-of-a-kind show club - in Hong Kong, no less - I felt it was meant to be.
RUNNING THE SHOW Normally, each show would have a show manager, choreographer, costume designer, dance captain and so on; here, I'm everything. In one way it's fantastic, as I always love a good challenge, and I'm learning a lot. Sometimes it gets a little stressful, like when I'm needed as the show manager but I'm on stage. But we're working through it. Half of the costumes I do myself. Every diamant?and rhinestone is sewn on by me, and there are hundreds of them in our dressing room. It's hours of work. I'm very particular on details. I would never be caught on stage with wig askew or a busted seam.
People comment on how fast we change between dances. They don't think about the fact we actually practice it as part of rehearsal. Once I've done the choreography, and when we are going over the line-up, we put on the music and rehearse costume changes in real time, again and again. You never have more than 30 seconds between numbers.
The dancers we've chosen are all very different in background and looks, but the underlying passion for performance is crucial for me when I consider someone. A good way to look for that spark in people is during rehearsals, because there's no audience. Some people just go through the paces while others can't even help it, their desire to perform just naturally comes through - they don't need anybody around to bring it out. I can tell when someone is really feeling it. It's not something you can teach.