Zoe Charles on her Burlesque TED Talk

TED Talk

In April 2015, one of our longterm friends Zoe Charles, founder and teacher of burlesque school, the Cheek of It, gave a Burlesque TED Talk about her work.

Zoe Charles on her Burlesque TED Talk

Please scroll down for Zoe Charles’ TED talk video but first here’s the background to it…

How did the TED Talk come about?

Talking at TED had long been a secret ambition of mine and then it kind of fell out of the sky or rather it felt like it did. I got an email last October from someone who attended a workshop three years ago. I make a point of never asking students what they do for a living as my burlesque class is a chance to recreate themselves. Well, it turned out this one participant’s company had just secured the TEDX licence and as she had been inspired by my brief talk on burlesque and femininity in the class, she asked me to talk.

The Cheek of It!

Please tell us the story of The Cheek of It! and how your work came about?

I created The Cheek of It! in 2007 based on three words; inspiration, empowerment and fun.

I deeply believe every woman has the right to feel inspired by who she is, empowered by who she is and what she can create and have more fun than she can shimmy a tassel at!!

It grew out of a one off project to create a bespoke burlesque hen party, the idea being if you could create an event that so perfectly reflected one woman what would it look like. Well it looked like peacocks and singing Charleston boys, vintage makeovers, a burlesque routine complete with peacock costumes. And finally the surprise news that the hen and her chicks would be performing the act they just learned at a real Burlesque club that very night…

Well that was one hell of an adrenalin rush for all of us. The show went so well the audience didn’t even realise it was a hen party of complete amateurs. The ladies enjoyed it so much that the word spread and now we have taught over 4,500 women from London to Belgrade, NYC to Croatia.

By putting together the talk, what new insight did it give you on your work?

Well it made me stop and take stock of just how much has been achieved through passion, love and dedication to all that glitters.

I felt very humble, grateful and moved thinking of all the women we’ve taught and all the graduates ongoing contributions to the school and the students. It also got me even clearer about what I and The Cheek of it! stands for and just how proud I am of that and the community around us.


Transformation is such a powerful subject, what and why is our perennial attraction to it?

Transformation is how we evolve, it’s how we fulfil our dreams and in burlesque, transformation is an art form. Not only by actually transforming through character, story or aesthetic but by creating fantasy or illusions that empower and excite, we not only create magic on the stage but real transformation in our lives.

Any stories that have particularly affected you over the years?

Hundreds… We have so many beautiful and moving testimonials as well a plenty of hilarious anecdotes…

But one of the most memorable was when teaching a woman in Belgrade. The promoter booked me because she wanted to bring the idea of femininity being powerful to Serbian women – with the memory of the Bosnian war still evident everywhere. A war that committed horrific atrocities against women including an estimated 50,000 rapes less then 20 years before.

Being feminine was not only seen as a weakness but dangerous too. However, after the 5th and final class I received a beautiful testimonial from a woman who named herself Madam Joy. She said burlesque had given her, her feminine joy back. That was a very humbling moment that I will never forget.

What’s been the reaction to the talk a) from the burlesque community and b) the world at large?

It’s had an amazing reaction. I think for many already in burlesque it’s reaffirmed how they already feel and for the world, well, I think it’s got people thinking about femininity in a whole new light, how the celebration of it in balance with masculinity can be transformational for us all.


What’s been the reaction to burlesque in the light of this talk?

In a world where women’s sexuality and feminine expression is so often exploited and shamed, it’s essential to promote positive images of women in charge of their own bodies and sexuality.

From the reaction I’ve had, people who previously knew little about burlesque or thought of it as something negative, now have a whole new perspective on the art form and women’s right to celebrate themselves as they see fit. And that’s a good thing!

Where and what next?

TEDx has been a wonderful experience. It’s a bit like putting a message in a bottle and casting it out to sea, you just don’t know who will pick it up and how it might impact on those who listen to it. I’ve been asked to talk at a variety of different events which is fantastic. The Cheek of It! will soon be heading Stateside and we will continue to inspire, empower and throw glitter at whoever is willing.

For further information about Zoe Charles (aka Lady Cheek) and the Cheek of It, please visit The Cheek of It website. For more info on the history of burlesque watch our video.

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