Rising burlesque star, Kitty Harvey, kick started her foray into the heady world of clubs, striptease, cabarets and fairy tale with burlesque classes here at City Academy - that's her above, second from the left, with the rest of her class at the Christmas Showcase.
She empowered her alter ego, Kitty Petite, to come out and play, and is now a professional performer and punk rock pin-up, who has featured as part of the London Burlesque Festival and in Mardi Gras Magazine.
“Tiny footsteps, sneaky looks, an absolute rascal in hiding”; we speak with Kitty and find out what 5 foot 3 inches of fun and frolics looks like in the limelight and when the lights go down…
What’s the difference between Kitty Harvey the person, and Kitty Petite the character?
I'm quite a reserved, thoughtful person day-to-day, but as soon as the stage lights hit me, I'm naughtier, cheekier (and hopefully funnier) on the outside. It's kind of like the me that's inside my head has come out. Kitty Petite is my stage persona - she's me x 100.
Do you feel a sense of catharsis playing her?
There's always a sense of freedom about being on stage, I enjoy that there are things that I get to do being her, that would just seem slightly strange - and maybe self-indulgent - if I were to do them without my burlesque persona. An example is recreating Botticelli's Birth Of Venus with Claire Seville; the vintage pin-up, boudoir and burlesque photographer.
How did Kitty Petite come about and has she changed over time?
As an initial idea, I had this stage persona that's very different to her as she is now - like this clichéd image of what a burlesque performer should be from my limited knowledge at the start of the process. She's developed over time to a character who's more true to myself. I'm not really as delicate and graceful on stage as I tried to be in the beginning - I'm naturally quite clumsy so I've tried to work my acts around that.
What role does punk rock, ska and music in general play? Who would you like to collaborate with live?
I listen to a lot of different music but how can you not want to bounce about when you listen to ska music? And pop punk has this great sense of humour about it as well. So many of the songs, and the bands, are brilliantly dry. It would be fun to work with Wonk Unit, a hilarious punk band I've known for many years, and an absolute dream to collaborate with Set It Off, a pop punk band who write really beautiful theatrical music.
I like to try and juxtapose this whole idea that punks are hard and gritty, because honestly the people I've met on the music scene over the years are just so lovely and warm. Sadly, people get reduced to stereotypes, but you don't always have to be what people think you are. I think punk and burlesque go together very well in that sense, because both of them are about making fun of or making a statement about something.
Burlesque has so much appeal - the improv, comedy, anarchy, sex, body positivity - what about it caught your imagination, so much so that you left behind your first art form of acting?
Yes, all of that! Inclusion! I was told when I was younger that I wouldn't be a successful as an actress because I had tattoos and at the time, a lip piercing. The thing is, I love my tattoos. They are a part of me, even the awful ones I got when I was younger. And I feel more like myself when I have pink hair. Sometimes, all of that isn't viable for certain parts, so I felt I was holding a lot of myself back for acting - it is still my first love and I would return to it for the right thing. For me, I just found burlesque gave me a lot more freedom to be me.
Tell us about the physicality of burlesque, the hard work that goes on behind the scenes...
At the moment I'm really focusing on learning how to do the splits properly, and then I'm going to move on into contortion - chest stands by the end of next year, because I want to take my acts in that direction. I have to practise pretty much every day, or I'll lose the ability. It involves a lot of stretching to make sure you don't hurt yourself or push yourself too far, so I set aside time for that every day. I'm also eager to start taking more dance classes to incorporate more different styles - right now you can tell that I have more of an acting background than a dancing one.
How was your time at City Academy, and with your tutor, Suzanna Molnár?
I loved performing in the Christmas Showcase, it was pretty nerve-racking and the atmosphere backstage was amazing, everyone was so excited and we were all proud of what we'd achieved together - I'm still friends with all the girls in the troupe, and Suzy.
Lovely Suzy. I learned a number of routines with her - she's an amazing teacher and such an inspiring, driven lady. Apart from making sure my toes were always pointed (haha!) and making me aware of what my face was doing, she taught me the more graceful moves I put into my acts. I like to sneak in a chair drop every now and then - a move Suzy taught me - and it tends to shock some audiences because it's not what they're expecting.
Who are your inspirations?
I'm inspired by so many different people and things. I listen to a lot of pop punk, but the I'll also listen to Elvis and classic rock. I love vintage and retro styles, but I'm also a magpie for pastel goth imagery and colours.
With regards to performers, there are a couple on the scene that I go heart-eyed for because of their style and amazing connection with the audience - Lady May Den-Voyage is one of them. She's like my opposite - a big boobed, glamazon lady who has this "watch me, love me" bad-ass attitude. Then there's Tickety Boo, who is so funny and smart (and also lovely) - she creates these perfect characters that enchant the audience, and gives me major aspirational goals.
Performing can be an escape, but where do you escape to when you need a break from performing?
I like to escape into my own head, I'll watch weird comedies (like Arrested Development) or read biographies of people I look up to (I'm nearly done with Amy Poehler's 'Yes Please' - she's a boss-babe hero of mine). And then, I have my very own 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' place - I like to go to the British Museum or the National Portrait Gallery and just walk around with music in my ears, looking at the exhibitions.
How can the burlesque scene grow? What do you hope for it?
I think we all just need to keep on supporting each other, going to each other's shows, using each other's businesses (whether it's costuming, dance classes or something else), and learning from each other. I've only been on the scene for a short while and I love how supportive it is - I have made so many close friends from being in shows and going to shows, I just hope it continues to be an inclusive and safe place for all performers to create and grow. And that it keeps on being amazing and pushing boundaries, that's what drew me to it...
Take a chance like Kitty, and get a taste for burlesque.
Or, dive right in and discover your own alter ego with our Burlesque Classes for Beginners, taught by Suzanna Molnár.
Alternatively, check out our other dance forms, be part of a troupe, learn some new moves and express your creative side.