Yasmin Element is... Heidi Von Hottentot
If you've been to a FUSE event then you would’ve seen her on stage, and maybe even rubbed shoulders (or tassels) with her... Or maybe you were one of the many in the audience who can't resist but have your photo taken with her?
Heidi likes old music, the kind you bop to. She may not be a great dancer, but she’s really good at bumping and grinding. Be careful though, because she will fall flat on her face if you ask her to do an arabesque. Heidi’s inspirations include Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, Liza Minnelli, and anyone kooky and offbeat. She also loves a good chase scene from the Benny Hill shows and any kind of booby grabbing. In fact, when it comes to booby grabbing Heidi says, ‘the more the merrier’. I think that just might be a challenge girls!
Heidi is the brainchild of local performance artist, Yasmin Element. She brings a life-long passion for dancing showing-off, and Madonna to her burlesque creation. And in return, Heidi’s performances bring Yasmin great joy, a big dollop of fun, and the opportunity to express her kooky and fun side.
Yasmin (Who also happens to be the FUSE Associate Editor) has been drawn to sparkly, shiny things from a young age. As a member of a loud, attention-seeking family — which includes two professionally trained actors and an adult party plan hostess — she had to be “out there” to be seen and heard.
‘Entertainment is in my blood,’ Yasmin says, proudly.
For the past 15 years Yasmin has been earning her living by taking her clothes off. For her, stripping came naturally. As a youngster, she was obsessed with Madonna.
‘Every bit of pocket money went into buying Madonna stuff’ and Yasmin spent hours and hours after school watching Madonna videos and practising all the dance moves with her (yet to emerge from the closet) school mates. So by the time she stood up to strip for the first time, it all came naturally to her.
She also had a very open minded upbringing. ‘I grew up in a very open household with regards to nudity. Mum ran a party plan business selling lingerie and sex toys, and I’ve grown up around strippers and loud, sexually confident women all my life.’
Much to her dismay though, these days stripping has become less about entertainment and more about sleaze. Missing the old days as a stripper who would be in character and entertain a crowd, Yasmin found herself drawn to burlesque. As an art-form, burlesque allows the performers to create a character, entertain, and do a bit of stripping.
Looking for a burlesque school in Canberra, Yasmin found Miss Kitka’s House of Burlesque, and signed up for her beginners course. It was just like stripping but more fun. Yasmin wants to dispel burlesque’s association with stripping, and show that it’s a funny thing, a comedic form of self expression and entertainment in which the artists express themselves in different ways. ‘It was a conscious decision to move out of sexy and into funny’, Yasmin says, ‘Miss Kitka really pushes her girls to move into kooky and funny, not just sexy’.
But back to Heidi Von Hottentot... How did she come about? In the very complicated and complex world of entertainment, Heidi came about simply because of a beer-wench costume that Yasmin had just been given. From that day on, the character of Heidi kind of stuck.
Heidi is always pretty much the same character played out in different scenarios. Her signature acts include two cowgirl acts — one which includes a pubic hair scalping from a sexy American Indian girl; a classical skirt dance; a gorilla act — where she strips out of a full fake-fur gorilla costume; a fan dance; and a 1920’s style flapper girl who tries to seduce her disinterested and rather unusual boyfriend. Even in her Hollywood-esque, glamour-girl persona on the cover of this issue of Fuse, you can’t help but detect a glimmer of Heidi’s kookiness.
And her favourite act? A magic act, where performance partner, The Magnificent Liberté Belle (aka Lani Gerrish who produced A Stacked Deck, three day burlesque spectacular at this year’s Fringe Festival) is the magician and Heidi Von Hottentot her ditsy assistant. The two met at Miss Kitka’s School of Burlesque, and had an instant rapport due to their similarly bizarre sense of humour. They regularly perform together and anyone familiar with the Canberra burlesque scene knows that these two are some of the hardest working strippers in town.
‘It’s a hobby and can be tiring and expensive’ Yasmin says, ‘Fake eyelashes alone are very expensive, you know!’ But she loves getting dressed up in the burlesque garb.
‘Putting on a costume gives you a license to be incredibly feminine and to wear clothes that you wouldn’t normally wear. It’s like a dream come true for any person that likes fashion. And it heightens my fun side. At home I’m very grumpy and serious most of the time,’ Yasmin explains.
As a person with depression, she finds that performing burlesque gets her outside of herself and brings out the comedian and entertainer. She finds it a very powerful tool for ridding herself of the lows of depression because when she is performing the whole focus is on Heidi and her silliness... and on having fun.
‘Yasmin may suffer from depression but Heidi doesn’t — Ever! Once Heidi is dolled up and in costume, my depression disappears.’
For the past three years, Yasmin has been entertaining Canberra audiences with her unique brand of burlesque. Interestingly, it’s been in the last six months that she has found herself inundated with requests to perform. Perhaps a sign that burlesque is enjoying a revival in Canberra and surrounding areas too?
According to Yasmin, the mostly female audiences love burlesque because we love to see feminist satires of ourselves at our best, and at our worst.
‘Women love burlesque because the women are real and have all their faults and wobbly bits — the wobblier the better!’
And what about lesbian audiences?
‘They are very good for the ego. Everybody wants photos at the end… Lots of grabby, sitting-in-your-lap photos,’ Yasmin chuckles, ‘they think Heidi’s a hottie!’ And who can blame them?
Gay men are infatuated with her too, yelling out ‘Heidi we love you!’ during her shows. But surprisingly, Yasmin says, ‘Heterosexual men are a little bit scared of Heidi ‘cause she’s so over the top. Men often turn up to see me perform thinking it’s gonna be like a regular sexy strip show and then feel threatened when they realise it isn’t.’
Burlesque has been part of the fringes of society for a long time but only recently has become mainstream popular. The burlesque revival, which started in the 90s in America, has made its way to Australia. It’s branched out to include other sub cultures — drag, goth, fetish, rockabilly, and punk burlesque such as The Suicide Girls. You may be more familiar with better known, more classical style burlesque acts like Dita Von Teese or even pop burlesque act such as The Pussy Cat Dolls. Even Britney’s new concert has a burlesque flavor to it.
But don’t forget our very own Heidi Von Hottentot: traditional comic and way more funny than sexy. Eurotrash, beer wench, dumb-blonde-from-the-Alps — whoever she is and however she entertains us, we love it!
By Nelida Contreras.
A self confessed facebook junkie.
She loves a good laugh, a good bit
of dark chocolate and is madly in love with Uber Dyke.
Photo by Nik Studio