Who: John Hilliard & Christine Bruce Where: Lompoc, Santa Barbara…
Who: Marlene von Steenvag – Burlesque Artist
Where: Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg
How does a well-educated literary scholar decide to become a burlesque dancer? And overall, Burlesque isn’t that Peepshow with a lot of fuss… Questions over questions were running through my head, as I pressed the bell of a flat in a beautiful old house in Berlin- Pankow. Marlene von Steenvang opens smilingly. She is a petite, blonde woman and in her brown skirt and the black sweater looks like the nice next-door neighbour. She serves tea in green Villeroy & Boch cups with hunting motives. Marlene, whose real name of course isn’t Marlene, tells how she grew up in the States, both parents teaching at the USC University in Los Angeles. Marlene was dreaming of Cinderella and Co, wants to become an actress. But both of her parents wish for their intelligent daughter to learn something ‘decent’. After graduation Marlene goes to London to enrol at the renowned drama school “East 15 Acting School” and works at a Café as a side job to finance her studies. She takes her chance and breaks through. Since 2009 she is living in Berlin and is considered the German answer to Dita von Teese.
MyStylery: Marlene, you are considered “the star” in the burlesque scene. What brought you into the burlesque scene?
Marlene von Steenvag: At first I didn’t have a clue what Burlesque actually was. After my studies I was in London, where I worked as a substitute waitress and at the time my boss asked me if I could fill in for a sick stage actress. And there I was on stage, couldn’t really sing and had a German accent. And to compensate, I had the idea of changing my clothes while singing. The stripping came later… (laughs)
MS: There’s still the persistent cliché that Burlesque was a variant of striptease…
MvS: …and that is completely wrong. The difference to striptease is, that stripping should animate in a sexual way. The dancers are giving you the feeling that you can have them. Burlesque is an art that demands acrobatics and body control and shouldn’t be reduced to getting undressed. It is to move in the head and not in the pants.
MS: Marlene von Steenvag is your stage name –that sounds very noble and nostalgic. How did you come up with it?
MvS: When I started dancing, I was in England and needed a Nordic, German sounding name, especially since I was singing in German. The “von” in addition creates a little distance.
MS: You teach at the Akademie Burlesque, which was founded by you. What do your pupils learn?
MvS: For my performance I create a real story, that’s why story- telling appears on my timetable as well as the development of an own character, next to choreography and directing. A great Burlesque dancer captivates the audience and causes them to watch the show- attentively.
MS: What kinds of women are in your class?
MvS: We train young artists, but also just normal women that want to explore their femininity or want to learn how to stage themselves. Often these women lack the sense of confidence and a feeling for their body. They complain about not having any hips or too small breasts. I always tell them: “Girl you got it! Just stand upright.”
We also frequently get booked for bachelorette- evenings, like we just did by five women from Abu Dhabi.
MS: How long can you generally practise Burlesque? That’s not until retirement, right?
MvS: Physical attraction has nothing to do with age but with charisma. I don’t want to be on stage all time long. I see myself as entrepreneur and Marlene von Steenvag as a brand. Besides the academy I also founded the Burlesque festival that takes place this year in September for the third time in Berlin.
MS: I always wanted to know, how do those round things that cover the nipples actually hold?
MvS: (laughs) You mean the pasties? They are applied with glue. Either with theatre-glue. But toupee glue also holds very well even when you sweat.
MS: You’re a person of stage and therefore public. What does your home mean to you?
MvS: Home means protection. There’re two places where I feel secure, the stage and my home. There I like to be surrounded with antiques as I’ve been raised in such an environment as a child.
MS: You have got lots of mirrors hanging all around. Even in this room are five…
MvS: Yes, I have to admit, I’m narcissistic. (laughs) I just love to mirror myself. In the past I always argued for “space enlargement”. Today I stand by it. Burlesque is a dream world, also maybe the other side of the mirror… who knows. BvH
Berlin Burlesque Festival:
17 to 21 September 2015, in “Wintergarten”
International performers present Burleque shows at high level
For more information and tickets www.berlin-burlesque-festival.com
*Photo by Deniz Akgüntüz
** Photo by Verena Gremmer