Tantalisingly seductive yet exquisitely feminine, Emma Mylan transitioned from teenage punk to grownup burlesque dancer. The 29-year-old now trains would-be showgirls at her Secret Follies burlesque school in Geneva and is the artistic director of the Oh! La la! Chérie! fun striptease shows at Plaza in Zurich. In conversation with Time Out, she reveals why stripping on stage helps clear her mind, why women are so fond of burlesque shows and why she loves her Swiss audiences.
How did you get into burlesque dancing?
Two main things encouraged me to start creating burlesque shows: I am a dreamer, and I believe in the beauty of the world. I have also always been very interested in femininity and poetry – both characteristics that define burlesque for me.
When and why did you decide to launch a burlesque school?
Being naked on stage is a wonderful therapy. I think that taking off your clothes also clears your mind. The relationship you have with your body, other people’s perceptions of you – all those things become clear. I didn’t open a professional burlesque school to train women to become performers, but to help them develop their femininity and self-confidence. The best tip I can give to a budding burlesque dancer is: love yourself. My burlesque philosophy is that all women are beautiful if they love themselves.
What can we expect from the upcoming Oh! La La! Cherie! shows in Zurich?
The show combines glamour, humour, amazing costumes, breathtaking acts, eye-catching showgirls, glitters, feathers, magic and burlesque. It is a show for anyone looking for a sparkling experience.
Burlesque shows were originally geared towards men, but Dita von Teese has said that her shows attract primarily women. Do you agree that burlesque is more something for women nowadays?
Burlesque was originally a striptease show, but I think the intentions have changed. Nowadays the point is entertainment; it is an art celebrating femininity. Women love it because it celebrates them. The costumes are beautiful and the artists are always very elegant, never vulgar. What I appreciate the most with our audience in Zurich is that it is diverse, including working people, couples, groups of girls, retirees who come to remember their youth ... I think that Zurich is very open-minded towards art and culture. I have invited artists from different continents to perform at Oh! La La! Cherie! and the audience has always warmly welcomed these exotic dancers.
How do you combat nerves before a show?
I like to sneak between the curtains and take a look at the audience, so I can feel the mood of the room and absorb its energy. A showgirl’s role is to share her happiness and energy with her audience. I always tell myself: give all you have got, breath like it’s your last breath and enjoy the moment like it's your last. Sometimes I can feel my heart beating and I think: wonderful, I'm alive!