MY BAG

Breaking boundaries with burlesque

Burlesque dancer Sukki Singapora believes her art form is a perfect way to be a feminist and uses it to support women's rights

Singaporean burlesque dancer Sukki Singapora speaks up for women's rights and considers herself an active feminist.

The 26-year-old performer, whose real name is Sukki Menon, was in Singapore earlier this month to celebrate International Women's Day, which falls on March 8. She splits her time between Singapore and London.

Burlesque is a theatrical performance encompassing everything from cabaret to striptease, though Menon defines it as an "art form" and "a vintage dance style that has elements of but does not need to have striptease".

Her detractors consider her job to be at odds with feminism, but Menon, born to an Indian Singaporean father and a British Caucasian mother, disagrees.

"Many people ask, 'How can you be a feminist and a burlesque artist?' If anything, it is the perfect way to be a feminist because what I am doing is reclaiming my body and saying we can be okay with our form. We should be comfortable with our bodies."


Sukki Singapora worked in IT support before becoming a full-time burlesque dancer in 2012. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

  • ON HER BAG

  • This bag is from the 1940s and it is really rare. I got it from a store in Singapore called Dustbunny Vintage. I like that it reflects my personality, which is a fusion of the Western style with an Asian twist because of the fan shape. Plus the black and red colour is just so quintessentially burlesque. It is 1940s and Moulin Rouge and Sukki Singapora. When I saw it, I thought, “if I were a bag, that would be me”.

  • Things in her bag

  • STOCKINGS

    I always take stockings with me. The amount of stockings I go through is obscene. You never know when you will need stockings as a showgirl, especially if I am wearing dresses that require them. I think what you wear underneath your garments is just as important as the garments themselves.


    GOLD HAT BY LILLY LEWIS MILLINERY

    My hair is my signature look. My massive gripe is when it rains and I forget my umbrella and my hair ends up looking terrible. It stresses me out. This hat is my safeguard against any weather catastrophe.


    LAURA MERCIER LIPSTICKS

    I usually bring a couple of shades of red with me. In case I have to change outfits, I will change my lip colour to match. Lipstick is an essential. Even if I forget all other make-up or if I am just going around the corner from my house, I always make sure that I am wearing lipstick.


    FLORAL PEARL SUNGLASSES FROM AN INDEPENDENT DESIGNER FROM NEW YORK

    I have three pairs of sunglasses in my bag all the time. This is standard procedure. I really like limited-edition sunglasses and things that are retro. I usually wear couture sunglasses and mix them with vintage accessories. This pair was given to me by a designer.


    GRUMPY CAT PLUSH TOY

    A friend gave me this little guy. I am obsessed with cats. I have two of my own and I spoon them in bed every night. But when I am on the road, I can't spend time with them so this keeps me company when I am lovesick for my two babies. I take it with me everywhere.


    WIND/PINBALL: TWO NOVELS BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

    He is one of my favourite authors and I am just finishing this book. Basically, he writes coming-of- age stories about young people finding their sexuality.

    His works speak to me and resonate with what I am about, which is the embracing of sensuality.


    JEAN PAUL GAULTIER CLASSIQUE X PERFUME

    I love fragrances, but this is my current favourite. It is not just because of the bottle, though that is a massive bonus. I really love the vintage scent and that it is not too overpowering.


    NECKLACE MADE BY A FAN

    This was made by a young fan from San Francisco who came backstage after my show at the Burlesque Hall of Fame to give this to me. I bring it around to remind me of why I am doing what I do. I think when people take the time to make me stuff, it is really sweet.

The self-taught burlesque dancer with a background in ballet says her audience is almost always 80 per cent female and that her show, which does not include nudity, is also a way for women to get together to celebrate other women.

Supporting women's rights and using burlesque as a platform to speak out are not new to Menon, who worked in IT support before becoming a full-time burlesque dancer in 2012.

That same year, she founded The Singapore Burlesque Society, a Facebook group, to provide a safe community for those interested in burlesque in Singapore.

The following year, she was nominated for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards in the United Kingdom for her work in burlesque. The award celebrates Asian women in Britain who make positive contributions in the arts, business, media, entrepreneurship and sport.

Last year, Menon, who is single, was also one of 12 women featured in a list released by Facebook in celebration of International Women's Day. The women were from all over the world and chosen for their roles in promoting women's rights. She also became a global ambassador for The Sharan Project, a charity which supports women, particularly of South Asian origin, facing domestic issues.

While she was here to spread the word about The Sharan Project, Menon met some of her fans - people who had expressed interest in speaking with her or were inspired by her work. They were working on their own projects or on academic assignments and wanted her advice.

But the people she still has trouble winning over are her parents, who live in Singapore.They are deeply traditional and had wanted her to become a doctor or a lawyer.

"Over the years, my parents have come to accept that burlesque is something I do. But they still ask me when I am going to get a real job."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Breaking boundaries with burlesque'. Print Edition | Subscribe