BURLESQUE has got a beautiful Bollywood make-over from a British Asian talent. Bolly Ditz Dolly has given the sensual art form a tassel-twirling twist to create neo-Bollyesque, which combines Bollywood dance with burlesque.
Her eye-catching performances, sensual photo shoots and fearless approach have smashed stereotypes, helped break down cultural barriers and promote body confidence. Real name Amandeep Kaur Johal, she is also an accomplished artist and poet. Eastern Eye caught up with the cool cabaret performer to discuss her bright burlesque journey, body confidence and being fearless.
What do you think first connected you to burlesque dance?
The variety of acts, performers I’d see who have their own unique take on burlesque. I found I could bring my creativity to this space as the movement, storytelling and costumes enticed me. I’d also discover I have tinnitus/HOH in my left ear so when I would practise, it helped me slow down and readjust to the sounds around me.
What has been your most memorable performance so far?
Loads remember my food act! A mockery of adverts featuring spicy food smothered in Bollywood rom-com cheesiness with a tassel-twirling twist. I’m proud to say this act had me win the Queen of Burlesque Idol UK award in 2019.
How would you describe your unique brand of burlesque?
Neo-Bollyesque, which is a combination of neoburlesque and Bollywood.
What inspired you to incorporate a Bollywood element into it?
Boleyn Cinema near Green Street was the place we’d go to watch Bollywood films. I admired the dance scenes and tried classes when I was younger. I sometimes practised the same moves when there was a lack of classes. Around college, I was introduced to Liza Minelli’s film Cabaret, which made me dive into the golden era of Bollywood.
Tell us about that?
My mum helped me find clips, songs and books featuring performers like Cuckoo and Edwina Lyons. I was lucky to read Edwina:An Unsung Bollywood Dancer of the Golden Era by Prof Surjit Singh. Eventually Iqbal Singh popped up and his moves and background story were very inspiring to me. There was always an element of cabaret and burlesque in Bollywood, so it felt seamless to put my spin on this.
How do you feel when you’re on stage?
I feel loved.
Did you ever think that burlesque was too much of a controversial profession?
Maybe anything demonstrating the illusion of nudity could be considered that. Some think it’s controversial to show a full midriff in Bollywood, which tells me that anything can be scandalous regardless of my opinion. I started burlesque aware that it can be radical, a political statement, thought-provoking and challenging. There is a duty within me to not only perform burlesque but be a reminder of smashing stigmas and redefining gender stereotypes, with a smile. If reclaiming my voice and existence ruffles a few feathers, so be it.
Do you think burlesque is sometimes a misunderstood art form?
I often think about Mira Nair’s documentary India Cabaret. I felt these women were misunderstood and a much needed conversation on how damaging the patriarchal view thrown upon these women for enjoying what they do, spoke volumes. The only shame is from those who vocalise harm towards all women working in that field or anyone identifying away from the typical norms.
What about the nudity?
It’s implied nudity, which can be used to tell stories too. One of my acts created with Invisible Cabaret, a wonderful troupe raising mental health awareness and stripping away stigmas though performance, helped me combine dance in a half masculine and feminine face. It had my spoken word and clothing reveals, with burlesque movement.
How important is spreading the message of body positivity for you?
Very! Hoping it inspires people to not give up on themselves. I have to adjust myself from time to time, which allows me to be more body neutral, before body positivity. I also believe in genderaffirming care, which can help those who have different experiences with it than I do.
What advice would you give those who are not so confident about their bodies?
Your inner voice shouldn’t be your critic, but your best friend. I find the mind and body work simultaneously so starting with that may help. I personally found a confidence boost when I’d do a dance or boxing class and sometimes found likeminded people in the group to support. You’ll also find it strange how you can find confidence in your everyday life and not even know about it.
Your performance, artwork, photo shoots and costumes are quite daring, would you say you are fearless?
I’ve always loved mixing up my traditional clothes with my everyday clothes, be it up-cycling or creating costumes. Of course, my costumes which bare a little skin was never an invitation but more a celebration. It’s very mix, match, or mismatch with me. The boudoir photoshoot with Mala Vadgama was something truly special and we did have a laugh in between poses. Having a safe space to explore these ideas encourages the fearlessness.
What is the root of that fearlessness?
Acknowledging my fears and anxieties and granting myself time to heal is the root of fearlessness. There have been challenges in my life like racism, and gender biases, which I had to face head on, confident or not. I read a lot and found books from activists or well-being experts, who share the ways to turn fear into action. The strength, softness and power come from my parents, my partner and those I keep close to. Nowadays I needn’t worry about what the opposing opinion my existence represents.
What advice would you give those who want to pursue burlesque?
Start by researching, attend classes, dive into the history, support and watch shows. Smash metaphorical boxes if you need to!