My mission is simple: I want people to respect the female body so that we can put an end to harassment, abuse and femicide!
This week, we have the pleasure of throwing some questions at La Beti, the London-based Spanish performer who taking the Burlesque world by storm with her bold, subversive and sensual style.So tell us, when did you decide to become a professional Burlesque dancer?
It was actually in London that I caught the “Burlesque fever” [laughs]… when I first came over, I had completely different plans! The original idea was to explore London’s art galleries and to break into the art-marketing scene. I managed to get some work experience at these two galleries, but they were unpaid and I needed a make some money. That’s when I got this job through a friend, working as a waitress in a famous Cabaret bar in London. On my shifts, I began to familiarise myself with the ins and outs of the business, with the techniques and styles of the performers and with the type of audience that would attend (mainly women)… and I felt drawn to it. I started thinking, “Beti, you could definitely bring something to the table! You could bring something fun and daring here!
That’s when things started happening, lots of chopping and changing but never losing this belief in my transformation and always sticking to my dream…to create something unique; something that belonged to La Beti and no one else. And so, I rounded up all my past experience, cut out some of the useless stuff and resumed the training I had been doing in Ireland, years back.
My first jobs began with performances at these pop-up restaurants, in local churches. Little by little, my shows got more and more risqué as I realised that my performance was missing one key element: the striptease. That great act of bravery to deliver beauty, power and joy to the traumatised female body. My life-long fantasy of being a Dominatrix at church had become a reality.
Since then, Burlesque has opened a lot of doors for me; it fulfils me and makes me happy which at the end of the day is what it’s all about… [laughs] Being a Showlgirl’s great!
My mission is simple: I want people to respect the female body so that we can put an end to harassment, abuse and femicide!
How much Beatriz do you put into your La Beti persona?
They work as a team. Beatriz is the strategist, the businesswoman, the one behind the scene, pulling the strings. That’s how the two have settled it, after years of confusion. La Beti is an animal; a subversive and free-spirited exhibitionist who is hungry for change…she’s shameless and daring and wants to express new ideas that challenge the heteropatriarchal vision of the world. Beatriz has come to admire her and the two get on swimmingly. It’s been about learning to love my demons. I love my naughty inner devil!
What is it about your job that makes you most proud?
To be honest, I’m proud of the whole process. I’m proud of the way I faced up to the challenge of confronting my wild nature and communicating it through Burlesque and strip tease. I’m also proud of the way I’ve managed to make a name for myself in a highly-competitive scene where nobody knew me… an industry which is bursting with talent! Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing’s been a process full of decisions and doubts like for example, whether or not to invest in a mentor, or whether to enter competitions, which direction to take in my training, how to negotiate contracts, the decision to be my own agent, how to design my website etc.
With the help of my friends and colleagues, I’ve learnt to do things my way and to create my own system for generating my personas.
Do you have any regrets?
Sure, I’ve made some mistakes… but you learn from them. In the end it’s all about that fight; a fight to think less and just do it! I think it’s a shame that even the arts are governed by those patriarchal structures. Let’s not forget that my art’s all about pleasure… that’s what drew me in the first place.
My biggest regret is not believing in myself. In doubting myself as a dancer and as an actress… thinking I was worthless and that no one would like me. Well, in the end I woke up in my forties and now nothing can stop me! Entertainment and bringing that magic and sensuality to the stage is the most powerful thing I could offer… discovering this has felt like a rebirth!
You talk a lot about the female oppression at the hands of heteropatriarchal structures. But to many, being a feminist and a stripteaser seems somewhat contradictory… what would you say to that?
I think that view reflects how society still views female nudity and stripping as a way of pandering to male fantasies. Once again, we find ourselves dominated by the male ego. We just aren’t used to acting or even thinking from the essential and sensitive feminine perspective, and so each time we get the same predictable rhetoric: “if you’re a feminist, why do you strip?”
My mission is simple: I want people to respect the female body so that we can put an end to harassment, abuse and femicide! There are two ways of approaching this; either we keep doing what we’re doing and tiptoe about like little nuns in order to avoid attracting attention so we don’t get raped or assaulted (that looming shadow and constant feeling of inferiority and helplessness that haunts our bodies) or instead, we stand strong and empower the female body by expressing its true and wild nature. And that mean’s exposing and celebrating our erotic, playful and sensual side. We need challenge ourselves to put this gift of ours in the spotlight, a gift so stigmatised by religion and the patriarchal hegemony. Society wants to keep us compliant and disconnected in order to fuel its all-consuming capitalist agendas, and to uphold the patriarchal status quo… and that’s why Burlesque is so fascinating; because it playfully ties together all our feminine features into a beautiful and subversive bundle of eroticism and sensuality.
When I finish my performances, it’s hardly ever the men who approach me… it’s always the women who come up with their ‘thank you’s and ‘congratulations’. Why? Because it’s the howl of the she-wolf that draws the litter. The call that drives us to express our inner-powers, a power that resides in our every cell… especially the womb. This power isn’t just there for survival and to nourish the system, it’s there to inspire creative energy and pleasure.
It’s interesting that you mention Alejandro Jodorosky as one of your influences. Would you consider your actions to be acts of “psychomagic”?
Yes, especially at the beginning when I was performing my ‘Crazy about Lorca’ piece in the churches. Those kind of opportunities don’t come around all that often and so, I gathered all the “Lorca girls” including La Petenera, La Carmen, Soledad Montoya, la Soleá and la Seguirilla and I presented them in a completely irreverent way… dressing them like Dominatrix and asking them to recite Lorca poetry in a subversive way, so that they could liberate themselves from that oppressive and painful karma that has been imposed on us across generations by the Church. This was their form of revenge.
It really felt like a new horizon was opening up and I sensed changes in the wind. After that initial stage, I also started this process of liberation in order to immerse myself deeper into the art of striptease.
When I finish my performances, it’s hardly ever the men who approach me… it’s always the women who come up with their ‘thank you’s and ‘congratulations’.
As a live performer, I’m sure you’re full of stories, but was there ever a time when the audience reaction really blew you away?
There was this one show which I’ll treasure forever! It was whilst doing this job for Duckie, London’s legendary LGBTQ promoters. That time, they sent me over to Surrey to perform at an event called Posh Cabaret, which is basically for elderly people who get together on a Monday in a small church to drink tea and liven things up a bit. So much so, that one of the old men actually got up and joined in! He literally started doing his own striptease, lowering his trousers and everything. I told him to leave the trousers for the end but he just went right ahead… leaving his hat for last. It was brilliant!
Can you tell us about the times when things didn’t go well, and most importantly, what you learnt from them?
As a performer, you have to be flexible and prepared to improvise because nothing ever goes perfectly to plan and the worse thing you can do is get frustrated. There have been countless times where things would go wrong but that’s just part of the game; it’s all about picking yourself up in style and keeping your head held high. After all these years in the business, I’ve learnt to be prepared and organised but at the end of the day, some things are just beyond your control… like when you get a wardrobe malfunction, or when you feel bloated or unwell before a striptease such as when you’re on your period (that’s right, even stripteasers get that monthly visit from mother nature!), or when the sound guy gets the track wrong etc. What else can you do but laugh? The audience crave beauty and spontaneity, and that’s what I give them.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m in the middle of planning and prepping for two shows; the London Burlesque Festival and the Poetry Brothel which is hits London after passing through New York and Barcelona; I have the pleasure of being one of its Whores. Aside from reciting Lorca, my role in this travelling brothel is to give private readings to explain what the ‘inner demon’ is… if you want that with a striptease, you’ll have to pay more of course!
Tell us, what’s your dream? If you had all the time and money in the world, what show would you put on?
I’d start up a travelling Cabaret/Strip-Club like nothing you’ve ever seen before! It would be about honouring and celebrating the joy of being a ‘Carefree Woman’ which is what we’re made to be, at the end of the day. We’re not here to suffer, right? Men who embrace their feminine side and who wish to participate in this feminine healing-process would be most welcome. In addition to the show, there would be interviews and debates amongst the guest speakers and artists to raise awareness and educate in a beautiful and positive manner. We’ve already sown the seeds for this project, with the Spanish Burlesque Show getting involved as well as with other female artists such as the fantastic Señorita Siller, Evita Mansfield and Chiqui Love, not to mention Gema Martin and her female troupe from Sensual Dance therapy. Other collectives like Erika Trejo and Pauline Ezkerra’s Putas Indignadas will play essential roles in the project.
In the meantime, I want to keep things going the way they are; travelling, performing and moving round the international circuit, telling stories and exposing the different sides of the female, which society is still somewhat unwilling to accept.
Last but not least; your mother. Now in her eighties, she not only supports you but is in fact makes the very outfits and headdresses that you perform in onstage. You could say you make quite the team! How did the two of you manage to communicate so openly? What’s been her role in the creation of your persona?
My relationship with my mother has always been built on honesty; no hiding things, no taboo topics. Ever since I moved out (I left for Italy in 1998) I’ve always kept her close, by including her in my friendship groups, taking her to dinners, inviting her to my night performance and introducing her to some of the most eloquent people of the street scene in Seville, Cork and Berlin… I see her as one of the gang. Yes we’re mother and daughter, but we’re also friends who are here to have fun and to make life easier for each other.
She’s an extremely intelligent woman who realised that upholding the values of her own upbringing would only push her children away and cause them to suffer (there are 5 of us!). That’s why she decided to keep up with the times and open up to new ideas… she’s still growing and developing, despite her age.
She really is a fantastic spirit; so eloquent and creative! She has that beautiful gift which so many people unfortunately lack; the gift of NOT JUDGING. She’s knows what she wants… to live close to her children and to bring joy and peace to those around her. She was the one who picked me up when I was down… when I was miserable and didn’t know what to do with myself or when I was saying stupid things about my future… when my unicorn spirit was bursting out of me, coughing glitter everywhere… she was the one who cleaned the dust from my horn so that it would always shine bright.
She’s not a seamstress, nor is she a dressmaker or designer… she’s just a loving mother, willing to do whatever it takes to help me achieve my dreams. That’s the power love right there!
Cover image © via Milan Extraordinaire / La Beti
And if you want to find out more about La Beti, visit her page: www.labeti.co.uk