The founder of the London Academy of Burlesque, Jo King has more than 30 years of experience in burlesque.
She’s lost count of the number of women who have attended the London Academy of Burlesque. But at the last count that was more than 10,000 women. Yowser!
As Time Out says, “We’ve long pointed out that nearly all burlesque roads in London lead back to uber doyenne Jo King.”
Since the get-go, Jo King has wholeheartedly supported Burlexe since our very first theatrical London burlesque show.
At the beginning, Howard interviewed her for research and subsequently created a monologue for the show based on her story. But she also trained Javine Hylton for the initial showcase and production then took part in the shows as hostess and then actress.
But the magic she brings goes well beyond just that… she’s choreographer, adviser, performer, champion, guru and we’re lucky enough to be able to call her, friend.
Find out why we love her so, below
What does burlesque mean to you?
To me it’s an opportunity for people to revel in freedom of expression. It’s about women finding confidence in their bodies that they perhaps wouldn’t have in other art forms where they’re told to be a specific shape or size. I love the fact that it gives women that confidence. It’s about humour, it’s about beauty, it’s about glitz and it’s about OTT.
What’s your mission statement?
The reason I got into burlesque is because I fell into it and realised I loved it. I want women to learn to love themselves. I’m not a psychologist but I use something I call stripper psychology. I help women to love themselves through my craft.
I disguise my psychology through movement and laughter and glitz and glamour. It’s about teaching women to unlock that part of themselves, which very often has never been unleashed. Or for some reason someone somewhere told them they weren’t attractive or they weren’t worthwhile or they weren’t sexy.
Although sexiness isn’t all we are, sexiness is an essential part of the female and male psyche. We need that. We need to feel we are sexual beings because we are meant to be so.
I want to put them in touch with that and make them realise, ‘It’s OK to be sexy and it’s OK to love yourself’ because in our society you’re not meant to like yourself too much because you’re thought of as big-headed. It’s far better to love yourself than not.
What is sexy to you?
Very often sexy can be a smell. Sexy can be a look. Sexy can be a sound. There are lots of things that are sexy, like a facial expression. It’s just a tiny little thing.
I think confidence is sexy, it’ s really important. I find humour incredibly sexy. Lack of humour is not a good thing. And I think empathy is sexy. I think when people show they actually care, that’s sexy.
What advice would you give to wannabe burlesquer dancers or striptease artists?
Come to the London Academy of Burlesque and be taught by the best that there is, obviously.
I think never work for nothing, always make sure your expenses are paid. Your fares should be paid at least but I understand that it’s really hard at the minute, people don’t have the money to pay them. If you work for someone for nothing once, the next time they pay you.
Also, don’t get too far up your own arse, nobody can pull you back out. That’s advice. Lots of the girls can be precious: ‘I’ve done it for three years, I’ve done 100 gigs, I don’t do anything for less than a £XXX’. Good for you, I bet you don’t work much.
Always do stuff for charity because you’re doing something that’s a really important art form and you want to help people with this. It will help us be accepted more when we are accepting.
Any other tips?
I would say find your comfortable persona. Try out being different people on stage and see what sits right for you. Don’t try to emulate people that you cannot be better than because then you’ll be a poor man’s copy of someone.
Find your little tack because it’s about you. People will come and see you because it is you.
What advice were you given?
All the girls gave me advice when I started. They told me about smiling. Don’t be scared to smile. Not that I ever was because it gets you tips. I was told to know my music. That’s something I pass on.
I was told, if it doesn’t move make it sparkle or shimmer or tassel or swing. And that’s something I do. If you bling it, it works. I say get fringing because it moves and makes you look like you’re moving more than you are.
Ever taught people who couldn’t do it?
Everyone can always do something. There are people that are not as good as others. And there’s a reason for that: it’s because they don’t think they can be.
Something I always say to my students is, ‘There is nothing I teach you that you can’t do.’ Physically, your body is capable of doing everything I show you. The only thing that stops that happening is your mind, you have the power.
Watch Jo King as part of our montage of burlesque artists performing a monologue from the Burlexe show.
And if you would like to work with Jo King or take one of her classes, feel free to connect with her via the London Academy of Burlesque website.
Photo of Jo King by Burlexe creator, Howard Wilmot