Burlesque superstar Sukki Singapora explains why her art form is above and beyond a saucy striptease act.
BY JO TAN
Published on 27 September 2016
BY JO TAN
“BURLESQUE HAS ELEMENTS OF NUDITY. IT’S NOT ABOUT NUDITY,” explains Sukki Menon (aka burlesque sensation Sukki Singapora). “My routines probably have less nudity than what you might associate with, say, the singer Miley Cyrus. But really, when any female decides to put herself out there — even an opera singer or ballerina — there will be people who sexually objectify her.”
Sukki’s chosen art form is more objectified than most. While burlesque is any literary, dramatic or musical work created for satirical effect, its umbrella began including striptease in the 1800s — a salient part of Sukki’s routines.
“Striptease was another means to mock highbrow society figures, especially if the dancer starts off dressed like one,” shares Sukki. While her own routines don’t satirise anyone in particular, they possess that playful spirit, and like any good satire, call into question existing social norms: why can’t women express themselves and their sexuality, without it being seen as inviting abuse?
Sukki’s doctor parents were horrified when their daughter, born and raised in a strict Indian-Singaporean community, gave up a career in Information Technology to dance at a small British club with burlesque moves learnt off YouTube. Even as her spunky style gained increasingly high-profile gigs and media coverage, Sukki didn’t dare reveal her family name to interviewers. Then, she became the world’s first burlesque performer to be invited for tea at Buckingham Palace, and was recognised with an Asian Women of Achievement Award.
Says Suki, “I’m an ambassador for the Sharan Project, a UK social enterprise providing support and advice to Asian women who’ve had to leave home — whether because they wanted to be involved in the arts when their families wanted them to work in the sciences (or not work), were being pushed into marriages, or otherwise. One girl said, ‘Sukki, you inspired me to keep pushing the boundaries around me.’ It was overwhelming.”
Today, Sukki has over 70,000 Instagram followers and over 100,000 Facebook fans. She headlines international events (with female-dominated audiences), leads the Singapore Burlesque Club (comprising over 800 aspiring and professional burlesque dancers) which successfully campaigned to legalise burlesque in Singapore last January. She even has the grudging respect of her parents, who sneakily collect magazine clippings about her, while still asking when she plans to get a real job.
“People are realising what I do is art. I choreograph my routines, design the costumes and props… I’ve even hand-stitched 20,000 Swarovski crystals onto a corset for a signature routine performed in the world’s largest diamond ring that was filled with champagne. And when I perform, I draw heavily on my ballet training — especially when pirouetting in five-inch heels!”
All the while, her stage name and persona help fly the Singapore flag. “It was very important to show where I’m from. Singapore can be seen as sterile, but I wanted to play my part to change this, and start dialogues about art and expression in Singapore.” Many would agree she has.
Sukki Singapora performed at XXX: The Very W!ld Rice Ball.