Meet Burlesque Star Fi Rooney aka "Fifi LaRoux"
Fifi LaRoux is the glamour-puss burlesque persona of Fi Rooney. Originally from Carrigaline, County Cork, Fi is now based in Dublin where she performs not just burlesque, but also circus and aerial acts as well. Fi debuted her "Fifi" character last year at the Grand Final of Miss Burlesque Ireland. As she gears up for for this year's competition, she was kind enough to answer a few questions about her craft and Dublin's growing burlesque scene. She also gives us some tips for anyone curious about taking up burlesque.
How did you find burlesque, or how did burlesque find you?
I have been training and performing circus and aerial since 2012. As Ireland is so small, I found the communities of circus and burlesque mixing many times. I originally just attended the burlesque shows, watching the performers and their creativity on stage. But soon I found myself wanting to bring my circus skills and fine art practice into the shows.
To be honest, it never felt like one big "I am going to be a burlesque performer now" situation, rather I fell into it very naturally and learned just how hard burlesque was.
I was coming to burlesque from a very disciplined aerial training background and, at the time, a lot of the shows and performances I enjoyed were all of a showboating nature, playing with my love of the idea of being a super human.
Eventually I became to realise just how much the two worlds of circus and burlesque need each other to strive and move forward. I moved on from my hippy look of not caring what exactly I was wearing on stage to really putting in a lot of time and attention into the very last details of a costume.
I also really appreciated a lot of the burlesque performers’ work ethics and organisational skills in running skills and promoting themselves.
It wasn't until I decided to do my first, purely burlesque routine, without a circus prop or a clown nose that I learnt that burlesque was really fucking hard, but when you work hard it can be amazing.
What are some of the different styles of burlesque, and which do you most enjoy performing?
To be honest, one could say this is a never ending list! It seems the more I learn about burlesque the more styles and genres I learn about!
When I first started to get interested in burlesque I knew there to be Classic Burlesque which would generally be what one might think of when they hear the word, Neo Burlesque which tells a story or a parody and Gorelesque which, to make short, is when Burlesque meets Halloween.
Now, a few years on, the different styles and genres of burlesque seem to be ever growing and more than inviting. You have Boylesque – The name given to when males perform burlesque, Nerdlesque – burlesque that focuses on characters from comic books, games, sci-fi, etc., Polesque – when you combine Pole Dancing and burlesque, Comedy, Circus, Drag, Queerlesque and more! The list really could go on and I feel like I discover a new style each day!
Currently the style I am most drawn to and enjoy (aside from circus) is Neo Burlesque. Going by the Miss Burlesque International guidelines Neo Burlesque is a parody or tells a story within the act. I would say in Ireland it would more than likely be the first style of burlesque you will see if you go to a burlesque show. Ireland tends to have a lot of freedom with performers getting booked for their names more than their acts so it can seem like they are constantly producing new acts each time.
I particularly enjoy Neo Burlesque as it grants me the opportunity to deliver my point of view on issues I feel strongly about to the audience, as well as allowing me the opportunity to bring in my circus and clowning skills. The act I just did at the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival is my Birth of Venus act where I use the goddess of love, sex and desire herself to show just how amazing female body hair can be.
Like many Dublin scenes, I’d imagine the burlesque scene is quite small. Did you find that made a difference - positive or negative - in terms of finding mentors or training up?
I honestly can't speak any higher of the Dublin Burlesque community. I threw Fifi into the deep end last year when I debuted my Burlesque persona in the Miss Burlesque Ireland Grand Finals. The competition itself has aided in making the community even stronger than it was before, and granted me the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the best names in Ireland.
I am actually a naturally shy and introverted person. It takes a lot of energy to push myself out into situations where I am not familiar with the scene, as I imagine quite a number of people can be. I often found that I could become so overwhelmed by the spectacles of the shows that it took some time before I could bring myself to talk to people afterwards. Once I began introducing myself and letting people put a face to my name I became to realise just how warm and welcoming everyone in the community are.
There are good opportunities to help yourself develop as a performer in the scene as well. There are 3 big burlesque festivals Dublin, Belfast and Galway, which happen yearly or bi yearly, and all hold a newcomer category in their events. The Dublin Burlesque Festival also run “Up and Coming”, a open stage orientated burlesque night which allows performers to get feedback on acts from invited guests and Tease-O-Rama in Belfast holds a newcomer and new material night each year. Scarlet Nymph, who runs Dr. Sketchy’s Ireland, also organises an Irish Burlesque Mentorship program where you apply for a mentor with your intentions and they personally mentor you for free for a few months of the year.
The Burlesque Mammy (or Mom) is also a common situation that happens in the scene all throughout the world where a more senior burlesque performer will take you under their wing and help advise you or even just have the chats when they can.
I like to believe Fifi has two main Mammies. Bella A Gogo is a dear friend and phenomenal Irish performer. She naturally became my burlesque mum and I don’t think she realises just how much I appreciate all of the support she has given me and just how much of an inspiration she is. The other, who I call my Sparkle Mammy, is Azaria Starfire, who also just so happens to be the Producer of Miss Burlesque Ireland. Throughout all my Burlesque journey she has provided just fountains of advice and is someone I love seeking one-on-one lessons with. The one-on-one lessons are another way I have gotten to know the community and just how supportive it can be.
Coming up to competitions getting someone to review my routines and help me develop them has been vital. It’s very easy to become incubated in yourself when creating an act and sometimes you just need an outside voice to tell you if an idea is good or not. I like to joke that I take them to have someone shout at me, but everyone I’ve done a one-on-one with has just been so helpful and we have so much fun throughout!
I had an amazing one on one session with Tom Riddle of the Big Spender Boys recently which went so well that 2 hours somehow turned into 5 hours! If you ever need someone to help you look good and polish up an act I highly recommend him.
Everyone in the community wants to help you get better because if you get better then Ireland gets better and that is a really positive feeling.
How often do you train and what does your training routine look like?
Usually I train for a minimum of 2 hours a day, 5 days a week for circus and Burlesque. My burlesque training routine would be the easiest one. I warm up my body and then beat out the song of an act I am developing on repeat. I then try to incorporate dance moves, ideas, characters etc. into the song and film myself in the process.
Filming has been such a key element in the process of creating a burlesque routine as it grants the opportunity to review my routines and see what works well with the song and what does not!
My circus training routine is a bit more vigorous and involves a lot of conditioning. Generally when I am training for aerial I will go into the specialised training space and warm myself up for half an hour or more. This involves running, cardio, stretching, core workouts, you name it! Anything to get the muscles ready to go as it is so important to ensure you do not damage your body.
Then, depending on the time I have, I spend time conditioning on the equipment, move onto working on particular moves and finally I will work on my repertoire.
This can change depending on what I would like to achieve for the day, I love playing and experimenting with the equipment and finding new ways to make movement on and off the apparatus interesting.
Unfortunately, my current training schedule has had to take an unexpected interruption. In October 2015, another driver ran into the back of my car. My car - my primary mode of transport for getting to gigs and training - was written off, and I suffered severe whiplash. I had to take three months off any form of training due to my injuries, which drove me crazy! Currently I can handle two days a week before my whiplash starts acting up which is frustrating when you use your body to make your art!
From the outsider’s perspective, it looks like there is a ton of work that goes into the design element of building costumes and putting together an act. Were these skills you had previously or have they been acquired?
Building and designing costumes is one of my favourite parts of creating a burlesque performance. It is such a vital element to the routine and helps define who your persona and what your act is to the audience.
My costuming skills are ones I’ve taught myself over the years through trial and error. I used to make my own clothes when I was a teenager and I enjoyed knitting and embroidery.
Getting crafty and creating something physical is just one of the things I find makes me extremely happy, which is probably why I was so drawn to studying Sculpture in the National College of Art and Design. I love to build things and will designate whole days or weekends just to sit down and sew or glue.
I personally rhinestone each of my shiny costumes, a task which takes hours to finish. My silver costume for my classic routine at this year's Miss Burlesque Ireland competition currently has 10,000 rhinestones and counting. The gloves themselves have taken a whole season of RuPaul's Drag Race to complete (though it probably would have only take half a season if I didn't get caught up in the drama of the queens!)
I am also in the middle of creating an ugly duckling costume which has approximately 500 individual feathers, feather fans, a moving beak, and webbed feet. I like to be as cost efficient as possible when creating outfits so I would normally sketch out what I want to create, envision the routine if I don't already have it finished and work out what I need to order online. I also try to plan as far in advance as possible as sometimes items can take up to 6 weeks to arrive!
When you see a costume that looks spectacular on stage you can be guaranteed that it took months of planning and preparation just to achieve that look for a spectacular 5 minute routine on stage.
There are of course many fabulous designers and costume suppliers throughout Ireland who you can commission to create your dream look for you. My favourite leotard for my Melancholic clown and Happy Aerialist act was created by Fi Bourke of Fi Bourke Design, after sharing a Pinterest board with her of what I wanted to achieve. My time was very short and I don't own an over locker (a special type of sewing machine designed to sew stretch material) so had to call upon her skills to help create my vision. Fi is a pioneer of pole and competition wear. As well as getting to finally own one of her designs I was quite happy to be supporting a local Irish business. There are of course other fantastic costume designers in Ireland, and although making your own adds to creating a truly unique costume it's always nice to treat yourself to something nice and sparkly.
I would always advise to do your research in designers out there before investing. You could get someone who makes spectacular red carpet dresses but might not have a clue how costumes for aerial performers or burlesque performers need to be made. (I'll give you a clue, they need to be able to move, durable and easy to get out of!)
When it comes to act development there are a few ways I go about it. I can get inspired by a particular song but usually what happens is I decide on a specific theme or point I want to portray in an act. I then research the character or theme I have chosen the act to be based on and then begin to work on the costume. (Sometimes the costumes can come first though!) Then once I have a good visualisation of how I want the act to be perceived and which skills I would like to use I begin the long hunt for suitable music.
I generally edit the music myself as it helps give me a better understanding of the track or tracks I am choosing to use. Then, finally, I combine all the elements together and begin to film the process for review.
You competed in Miss Burlesque 2015. Tell us about that.
So, Miss Burlesque Ireland 2015 saw the birth of Fifi La Roux. I was young, I was cocky and in comparison to now, I had no clue what I was doing.
When I saw the first ever Miss Burlesque Ireland in 2014 I think it was the moment when I fell completely in love with the scene and what it can achieve. It was at this point I decided to enter the competition the following year.
Fifi had been an idea in my mind as I had wanted to expand my performing repertoire into Burlesque and after seeing the standard of Burlesque at the very first Miss Burlesque Ireland I knew that that was how I wanted to debut her.
I then went and researched Miss Burlesque Australia, which is where the competition originated from. Miss Burlesque Australia is an internationally renowned competition, founded in 2009 with its very first completion being held in Queensland Australia, 2010.
The competition was set up in Australia for the same reason it was set up in Ireland, to present performers with a platform to promote themselves and develop as artists and performers. Azaria Starfire, who is the producer of Miss Burlesque Ireland, competed in Miss Burlesque Australia herself in 2012 and decided to bring the competition home with her to help the Irish scene grow.
As I researched the rules and past performers of the competition I began to realise just how much effort I needed to put into my own costumes and routines. I researched Classic Burlesque moves such as the Walk, the Shimmy and the Bump & Grind.
This all led to the creation of my very first burlesque routines; a classic fan dance which I call the Golden Classic, and my award winning Birth of Venus act. I was still very cutesy and shy on stage and had not quite developed who Fifi La Roux was meant to be.
It was a fantastic experience and I really could have not asked for a better way to start my burlesque career. I learned a lot about myself and realised just how much work I needed to put in to be successful.
What does Fifi La Roux have in store for 2016, and where can we see you perform?
I’m very inspired by what I experienced at the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival and I’m already diving head first into preparations for this year's Miss Burlesque Ireland competition (I’m rhinestoning a glove as we speak!)
The preliminary heat for MBI is in the Tivoli Theatre on May 28th 2016 and Fifi would love everyone to come and support her in this year’s competition. The judges will choose 5 performers to compete in the Grand Finals in Miss Burlesque Ireland on July 23rd and the 6th finalist is audience choice! So it really does matter who comes to show support.
Last year Miss Burlesque Ireland gave me such a great platform to be able to go off and perform around Ireland and the UK that I simply had to come back a year later from my debut and show the burlesque community just how much Fifi La Roux has grown. She's no longer a cutesy shy newbie doing burlesque on stage for the first time, Fifi is back and she is ready to show everyone that she is a W.O.M.A.N.
You can find tickets for the Miss Burlesque Ireland Semi Finals and Grand Finals via Eventbrite