Zorya Blue. Credit: Emilia Lyon

Interview: Zorya Blue, Burlesque Performer, Teacher, and Producer

Burlesque is an artform that has been around for centuries, and is yet still something that many have never experienced, and may not even be quite sure exactly what it is. It’s something I have loved for many years after seeing it for the first time when watching musicals such as Cabaret, Chicago and Moulin Rouge as a kid. Since then I have been to numerous shows throughout the world including the Tropicana in Cuba, the Moulin Rouge in Paris and even here in Brno.

I caught up with the Czech burlesque star Zorya Blue on the sun loungers on Dominikánské náměstí to find out a bit more about it.

BD: So, what’s your name and what do you do?
Zorya: I’m Zorya Blue… which is my stage name, but I actually use it all the time now. Even most of the people from work don’t know my real name. I’m a burlesque performer, producer, and teacher. And I also host a podcast show about sex in Czech.

Credit: Zorya Blue

BD: What exactly is burlesque?
Zorya: Burlesque… I could talk about this for hours! But the short version is that it’s the art of performance. It’s not a dance but a performance, during which we use the art of strip tease.

BD: How did you discover burlesque and how did you get into doing it yourself?
Zorya: I first saw burlesque by accident. It was around 7 years ago, and I was living in Prague at the time. We had a small party at home and wanted to move to some bar because of the neighbours. There was a new bar opening around the corner and for their opening night, there was a burlesque show. It was only one performance, but it was very classical burlesque and I really liked it! I started to frequent the bar to see more, and I went to a few shows around Prague, then I did a beginners course and slowly moved into more advanced ones. I still wasn’t thinking about actually performing, it was just something I enjoyed and was doing as a hobby. At the end of a course, they organised a beginners performance night which I took part in. But even then, I didn’t think I’d be a performer. I just thought I’d give it a try and see what it was like. It was super stressful, but I did it! And I loved it! And I got good feedback, so I thought, “Ok I’ll give it one year.” And now…. Here I am! I just never stopped discovering and growing.

BD: And how long have you been performing now?
Zorya: It’s hard to say, because when is the moment when you become a performer? You could count it from the first moment on the stage, but for the first year, I performed maybe five shows max. Now I do like 10 shows a month so is that first show the moment? Or is it the moment you start getting money for the show, or when you’re getting ‘good’ money? Or when you do it full time and don’t have a typical day job? People always ask me this, but I really don’t know how to answer! I’ve done it full time for almost two years, but not just performing, also producing.

BD: I guess that’s when you started making liveable money?
Zorya: You can’t really make enough to live off just from performing, which is why I also moved into producing. I guess it depends on your financial situation, and what you expect. Some people would be ok with 30k a month, others would need 90k, and some might even need 130k to be able to live how they’re used to. So that’s the real question. Can you live from Burlesque? It depends on what you expect for living. But in general, from only performing, it’s quite hard and it’s not that stable either. I mix it with the podcast, the teaching, the producing, and everything together makes it my full-time job.

BD: What would you say is the most difficult part of Burlesque?
Zorya: Hmmm… I guess it depends on the person and their personality. For me carrying the suitcase! I don’t have a car but even if I did, it would be too exhausting to produce, perform and then drive. So, I mostly use public transport, but it’s all the packing and unpacking. I don’t mind the travelling that much, or sleeping in other places, but I’m packing and unpacking almost every day basically. 

Credit: Zorya Blue

BD: Is it very expensive when you’re first starting out and getting into it?
Zorya: Even now! When you start, you don’t want to invest a lot because you’re just starting and don’t know what you’ll do. But you do need to get some shoes, clothes and props, so even though it’s not a lot of money compared to performing professionally, it’s still a lot of money for a hobby. Then you start getting paid for it, not a lot but something, so you need some better costumes or props. Then you get even better money but that means you need even better costumes too! So the more you do, the more expensive it gets! It’s much more expensive than people realise. Like the feather fans for example. Even a smaller, more simple pair is about CZK 5000.

BD: Ooof! That hurts!
Zorya: Yeah. Some people will use fast fashion and get dresses for CZK 400, but they might not be ideal or fit right. Some people go and buy their own fabric, but that can be CZK 500 for a metre and you need like four metres, so you’ve just spent almost CZK 2000 just for fabric. Then someone needs to make the dress and you have to buy feathers or other decorations for it so… I’d say CZK 15,000 for a full costume is a really good price. It could very easily end up at around CZK 40,000 or something like this.

BD: I suppose that you can then reuse the same costume?
Zorya: Yeah yeah, of course! But still… you don’t get loads of shows out of it. 

BD: Recently, I came to see your Blue Pleasure show at Cabaret Des Péchés, and I saw there was an advert for a book that you’ve written [‘Už budeš? Kniha moderní sexuality‘]. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Zorya: Yes! It is in Czech but it’s a book that is inspired by my podcast. It’s full of interviews, but they are different to those on the podcast, I made them especially for the book. The idea for the book is what can you discover about your own sexuality. My first thought was like “oh, what do people want to know?” and of course, people want to know how to have better sex. But then what is better sex? What is good sex? For everyone it’s something different. I thought I’d write more about discovery and self-discovery. I have given introductions to a few different topics so people can get inspired and maybe look into them further.

Zorya’s book Už budeš? Kniha moderní sexuality is inspired by her podcast. Credit: Zorya Blue

BD: I noticed the book seems to have two different sides or covers…
Zorya: Yes, if you open it from the black side it’s more about BDSM and kink, but if you open it from the red side, it’s more general topics. But I wanted to have lots of topics that will be relevant to a pretty wide range of people; modern dating, online dating, virtual reality, long distance relationships, polyamory and open relationships are all covered, and then there’s things like spanking, shibari, safety in BDSM, dominance and submission. Stuff which is not very specific, but it can give you an introduction. 

BD: When you were writing it, did you find it was very easy and natural to get the interviews down on the page?
Zorya: Well since it’s interviews, I mostly transcribed them as they were. I have great guests and I liked to write things as they were with very little editing. I like people to be themselves and have that come across on the page. More like two people talking and having a fun conversation as opposed to anything too formal.

BD: I completely understand that. How receptive did you find people when you were approaching them for the interviews?
Zorya: For the book, no problem basically. Everyone I approached was willing. Some people used different names which is understandable. There’s a chapter about sex for seniors and there was an 87-year-old woman who got a new boyfriend two years ago and we talk about intimacy, so she wanted to be under a different name. I don’t think it really matters whether she’s Jana, Dana, Jitka or whatever, her experiences are the same and her story is still just as important. It was actually easier to get people for the book than for the podcast because people felt much more anonymous and felt they could be more intimate. 

BD: Your show the other week was so much more than just burlesque. It was a full event with stalls, promotions, interviews etc. Does that take a lot to organise?
Zorya: Yeah, especially when it’s the first time doing stuff like that, it takes a lot more time than normal. Normally I produce straightforward burlesque shows called Blue Burlesque Shows which tour around the Czech Republic, but the show you went to is more connected to the art of eroticism. It’s called Blue Pleasure Show, so it’s not a burlesque show but a pleasure show. It has things like shibari, chair dances, pole dancing, acrobatics, erotic photos on display, small interviews with sex specialists and overall more artsy performances. It was a bit of an experiment which was inspired by the event I did for the book launch. I did a big launch with these types of acts and I got so much positive feedback from it, people told me there was no show like it, so I booked Cabaret Des Péchés here and it has worked out so well!

BD: Yes, it was really great!
Zorya: There will be another one on the 28th of November.

BD: Let me just mark that in my diary…. When you travel to different cities, do you get performers from those cities?
Zorya: Sometimes yeah, but sometimes it can be hard to find performers in those cities. In general, I mix it up and can have performers from Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary come in to do it, as well as more local performers. 

Credit: Emilia Lyon

BD: What would you say to someone who is unsure about attending the Blue Pleasure Show?
Zorya: I would say it’s a show in Cabaret that will invoke a lot of emotions, and maybe give you some bedroom inspiration, but I still want everyone 18+ to be able to attend. You don’t have to worry that you’ll come and anyone will cross your boundaries, or you’ll be made to feel uncomfortable. It’s just a fun show so come and watch and see how you like it!

BD: What does the future hold for Zorya Blue?
Zorya: Oh my god. Lately everyone asks me this and I don’t know! I mean, I guess summer break. Which doesn’t mean I won’t work for two months, but it’ll be much slower, and I’ll have some time to recharge my batteries. I only have a few shows over the summer and I can start thinking about the next season. Also, when I rest, my brain will start working again and maybe develop a few ideas I have floating around, or come up with some new ones. I definitely want to grow and experience some new things and new challenges. I mean, 2 years and 4 months ago I performed for the first-time outside Prague, and now I’ve just finished an eight-city tour and have another 10-city tour booked up, so maybe I should just sit and be happy!

BD: What advice would you give anyone who’s just starting out as a burlesque performer?
Zorya: If you really want to do it, you have to keep in mind that it’ll be a lot of work, energy and time. Money as well, but especially energy and time. People see you on the stage for only five minutes and think your life is just turning up at the club, doing one song, getting money, then going home. It’s not like that at all. There are so many invisible hours of work, like travelling, preparing routines, rehearsing, doing marketing and so many other things. It’s a beautiful job and it’s my dream job but you have to take all this into consideration. You need to give it a lot to do it really well.

BD: Is there anything you would like our readers to know about?
Zorya: I have open classes in Brno every month. They are primarily in Czech, but they are English-friendly. We mostly do choreography, so I will translate, or you could even just watch and follow along. Everyone is always welcome to come! I also do private lessons or workshops and I’m in Brno all the time. And of course, my shows. Come and see. But I do warn you that burlesque is addictive!

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