Monday night at Cloud Alma Elmiina Johanna Joutsenlahti, 26 – stage name ‘Sinalma’ – will lead the Kingdom’s first-ever burlesque workshop. This week, Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon met up with Sinalma – a Finnish national who began burlesque dancing while living in Phnom Penh – to hear about bringing the tricks of the risqué art form to a traditionally conservative society.
What is your background in burlesque?
I’ve danced since I was very young. I started doing burlesque here about two and a half years ago. At first it was just Western girls getting together, and then people started to ask us to perform.
Why did you decide to do this workshop?
We have this burlesque group, the Srey Sreys, that’s four of us – but three are leaving. And girls always ask us when they’re really tipsy, ‘Oh I’d love to try burlesque’, so I put this together to see if they actually like it. But also it’s a chance for people come together and be silly.
What’s it like doing burlesque here?
There’s no burlesque in Cambodia. Classical burlesque involves taking off clothes, but we want to be really respectful of the laws of this country so we are really going to focus on the art of tease. We don’t want to be offending [anyone]. It’s more about the movement and creating confidence for the girl. Thinking that, for example, your hand is the sexiest thing ever, and taking off a glove just to show the audience a bit of your wrist. But strip-tease is another thing and it’s not what we’re going for. The one thing about burlesque is that is that girls can be anything that they want, just so long as they are feeling confident and it’s their choice that they do that.
You mentioned Western girls. Do you hope some Cambodians will join?
I would like there to be and I hope there will be in the workshop. But for most of my [Cambodian] friends if their parents found out they would be like, ‘Oh my God!’
Are boys also invited to participate?
Yes, just so long as they are there to learn and not to look at girls! [Laughs.]
What are your inspirations in burlesque?
A lot of 1950s movies where you have burlesque dance in the background I would say is my inspiration – and of course there’s the world of YouTube. There’s this one clip I really like where the girl starts off pretending to be selling lemonade at a stand innocently and then it ends with her squeezing lemons like this. [Mimes juicing lemons on her breasts.] I love that!
Introduction to Burlesque is on Monday night at Cloud, #32 Street 9, at 7:30pm. Class costs $4, bring comfortable clothes. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.