Vicky Butterfly - Stoke Newington’s burlesque beauty
Top burlesque performer talks about her striptease act
One of the UK’s top ‘burlesque’ beauties, the 27-year old who lives next to Clissold Park, became part of the scene when it took root in the UK six years ago, after catching on from the United States.
The daughter of an Irish showgirl and eccentric Viennese aristocrat, Vicky now finds herself constantly in demand and has appeared on music videos for The Verve, Kings of Leon and Paul Weller, graces the pages of international magazines and has even appeared on a Bollywood movie.
Her clients include the pop band Sugababes, fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, and recently she worked on a forthcoming BBC documentary about Victorian butterfly collectors.
Burlesque humour emerged thousands of years ago in ancient Greek culture, but what we refer to today as ‘burlesque’ has its roots in 19th-century music hall satire, where shapely underdressed women were introduced to keep audiences interested.
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Vicky feels the term is something of a misnomer: “I always associated burlesque with what you get in pantos or Carry On films, and I’m not funny,” she said.
Today’s burlesque shows entertain audiences – often corporate clients or hen night parties – with magicians, comedians, singers, and, of course, striptease starlets.
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But rather than nudity, the emphasis is on seduction and performance.
Surprisingly, Vicky believes women enjoy the striptease shows more than men: “They tend to prefer the more erotic things, they appreciate what goes into it,” she said.
“It’s all about putting on an air of femininity – it’s like if a man goes on a date, he doesn’t realise the dressing up, the artifice that goes into it.”
“I perform pieces that often – but not always – use quite a continental attitude towards nudity,” she added.
“It’s never been a big deal to me – as someone who likes art, I grew up seeing statues and paintings of naked people, I like seeing the human body and the way that it moves, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Burlesque attire consists of stockings, corsets, high heels, feather boas, satin gloves, vintage clothes and old-fashioned glamour.
Vicky is better trained than most to dress herself – a costumier, she honed her skills during a degree at London art school Central St Martin’s, and she creates elaborate, spectacular costumes and corsetry.
She doesn’t categorise her performance as dance – although she does draw on a rich background which includes ballet, tap, circus skills and acting and training with the English National Opera chidren’s corps until she was 16.
“Performing can be quite an emotional thing,” she said. “It’s like acting in that you get a different performance if you go out and recite lines, but if you are truly acting and are trying to feel it, the feelings you are there to create are positive.
“There’s a lot of asceticism, joy and freedom, and you are going on stage to feel those feelings.”
She entered the world of burlesque by chance in 2004, when she modelled for a friend’s show in West London’s Victoria and Albert museum. “I realised as I had done performance before, I didn’t get very nervous if I knew what I was meant to be doing, and after that people just started asking me, I haven’t had a weekend off since,” she said.
Vicky’s creative talents emerged, when she was growing up in Golder’s Green, where she was already working as a sewing machinist, aged 13.
“There wasn’t as much to do when I was little, and I had a low boredom threshold – it was a family where we made our own entertainment, and there’s a lot of entertainment to make as a child,” she said.
“My family’s not very good at throwing things away so there were always a lot of clothes one of us had grown out of and we kept it just in case it came in useful.
“I used to make clothes out of rolls of wallpaper, I once tried to make a dress out of leaves and got upset when they shrivelled.”
In her favourite act, she swings and spins on a huge weighted crescent moon she made herself, wearing a flowing white Victorian Serpentine dress, with hidden wands she manipulates in different shapes.
She is constantly trying to invent new effects – such as flashing lights controlled with a remote, or a giant floating ball, which she inflates once inside – in which she has performed on the roof of trendy member’s-only club Shoreditch House.
“A lot of it is about the fun you get out of doing something,” she said.
“That’s the thing about a lot of cabaret performers I know, we do like to learn things.
“It’s the way to keep ourselves amused as well as other people - and using your imagination anything is possible.
Vicky can frequently be seen at the nights she curates in East London for The Boom Boom Club and Decline and Fall. Catch her if you can…