In Conversation with Havana Hurricane

I sat down to shoot the shit with Havana Hurricane, UK burlesque starlet, a tour de force sweeping across the world with a bump n grind burlesque style that would make your mamma blush.

If you haven’t seen Havana perform yet I would describe her like this:

She’s a pretty, pint sized, Disney-esque princess until she whips off her dress and all hell breaks loose. She’s a formidable force and is ridiculously well suited to her name; a whirlwind of raunch, sass and sauce wrapped up in a neat, perfect little package.

She’s also one of the friendliest, most professional and lovely people in the business and she made a little time for me in her busy schedule to meet up for a good old chinwag, so without further ado I give you Miss Havana Hurricane:

HH3myboudoir

 Photo © My Boudoir

IW: Could you tell me a little about how you got into burlesque?

HH: I don’t know 100% how I heard of burlesque. I went through a period where I really liked Rockabilly and Marilyn Monroe which lead into finding out more about Bettie Page and it just went from there really.

IW: Do you feel like it’s always been on your periphery a bit? With me I’d seen Gypsy when I was younger as I was obsessed with musicals when I was a kid. I’d heard the name Gypsy Rose Lee and I’d heard of Lily St Cyr, because of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, so I knew a little bit about what it was so from a young age and I feel it had always been in my mind somewhere.

HH: Yes definitely, I think you’ve got an idea even if you’ve not seen the striptease element of it, from people like Marilyn, that Hollywood starlet look which you end up looking into a little more and discovering  what burlesque is and how people fit into it.

IW: So what drew you to the classic American bump n’ grind style that you’re well known for?

HH: When I first started performing I loved people like Marnie Scarlett and Vivid Angel and they were two performers in particular that I watched and was inspired by. So originally I thought “I’m going to be this really neo, alternative performer” then when I tried it I didn’t really cut the mould, I think I’ve always been too smiley! I love dancing and the drag scene. I love Cher, Dolly Parton and Joan Rivers and the sparkles and craziness of those type of people really appealed to me and I felt I could identify more with them.

I love the over the top, exaggerated looks and personalities of larger than life women. The big hair, tonnes of makeup, ridiculous plastic surgery – it’s all just amazing. I always said if I was a man I’d be spending most of my time as a drag queen, but just because I don’t have the tackle doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t be a drag queen. When I created Havana I wanted to be this little cartoon type person come to life, with the big hair and eyebrows and make-up, something unnaturally natural.

IW: Do you find that helps to separate your everyday life from your burlesque life or do you find it crosses over into one? Does the hair and makeup help you become Havana or is she always you?

HH: Havana is inside me every day, just smaller that she is when she’s on stage. I feel that my costume and styling brings out the little Havana and makes her this much bigger person, super confident, super fun, bubbly, someone who can achieve anything. As soon as I have my makeup on I feel like I can take over the world.

HH4ShaneGilliver

 Photo ©  Shane Gilliver

IW: How do you start putting a new act together; do you have a starting point such as music, or is it different every time?

HH: It’s completely different. Sometimes I hear a track that I need to dance to, then I create the act around the track, with the colour scheme and costume following and then I pull it all together.  Sometimes I get ideas that are based around something else. For one of my acts, I have a gypsy wedding and Disney fusion, with my Gold act Shirley Bassey and Wanda Jackson were my diva inspirations. It depends on what I see and what I like, there’s no structure to me putting an act together really, it’s an organic process.

I’m not the most  organised person so I can’t sit down and think, for example, “I’m going to make a Christmas themed act” I just can’t do it, I can’t get inspired! Whereas if I’m driving and hear a track on the radio and hear a beat and can feel the movement I just have to make an act to it.

IW: I always think it’s weird with Christmas acts, I’ve heard people say “oh I really need a Christmas act this year” but the reason for my Christmas tree wasn’t as simple as that.

As weird as this sounds when I was a kid I used to sit with my head under the Christmas tree and pretend I was the tree all dressed up in lights and sparkles or I used to pretend I was a fairy living in the tree. So for all of my life I have always just really wanted to be a Christmas tree.  Which ended up being a double edged sword because Christmas is my favourite time of the year and I spent most of it performing rather than enjoying the festivities.

I think the reason it was successful was because I’d had that idea in my head for years and it really was like a dream come true, whereas putting together a seasonal act on the basis of wanting to get booked at a certain time of year is the wrong way to go about it, in my opinion.

HH: I tried to put together a Christmas act once, picked a song but because my heart wasn’t it in it I just couldn’t bring it together successfully. I think if an idea doesn’t inspire you then don’t push it. You need to really enjoy what you’re doing when you’re doing it and if you’re not feeling it it’s not going to be great.

HH2myboudoir

 Photo © My Boudoir

IW: What advice have you been given and what would you give to people that are just starting out?

HH: The best piece of advice I think I’ve ever been given is “be yourself” from Julie Atlas Muz. I attended her workshop and I was talking to her about how I didn’t want to go for the more natural style that a lot of the UK girls go for and she said “don’t do it, be who you want” and as soon as I took that on board and did want I wanted to I could feel the difference. I think it says it all really. Stay true to yourself, be what you are and not what people want you to be, or what you think you need to be.

If you don’t feel like you want to wear heels or you don’t feel like you should do your make up in a certain way or style then don’t do it, and I think it resonates with me as I tried early on to be something that I wasn’t, then when I started doing what I wanted, and what I loved, I was much more successful at it.

IW: Who do you love watching perform and who have you been most influenced by?

HH: Go-Go Harder, Perle Noire is a massive inspiration and I love people like World Famous BOB, Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz – people who have that larger than life personality who do burlesque on their own terms, doing what they want to do.

IW: Before you were performing, who were the people that made you want to get up on stage?

HH: When I first started I really loved watching the more alternative people but as I got more involved in the scene and as I’ve been dancing, I’ve moved more away from the comedy and alternative and have a really passion and enthusiasm for strip tease.

IW: That’s probably because you’re doing it yourself so you can probably appreciate more how much effort and training goes into something which a lot of people make look effortless.

HH: I just think there’s something really raw about performers such as Perle Noire, Luna Rosa, Gal Friday and all of these women that are doing traditional striptease in their own way. There’s something about watching them dance and being able to see the love and pure passion for it, whether it’s choreographed or not. The commitment to every single movement, there’s just something I relate to and feed off.

IW: I think it’s bearing your soul because it’s just you up there, no theme or props or characterisation. You’re not playing out a role such as I did with Poison Ivy and telling her story, it’s Havana up there being Havana.

HH: I think that’s what I love about it. I had a moment at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival when I competed in the Queen category when they announced my name; I walked out on stage to silence and I had a moment to take it all in and really experience it. I put my arms up and the band struck up, and I felt empowered like “now it’s my turn”. I really felt a lot of emotion, I could have cried!

I had this moment that I am going to remember for the rest of my life, it was just amazing. I just looked around and thought I’m in this huge casino in New Orleans and I’m just stood here like “this is brilliant!” I just couldn’t quite believe that it was happening. It was a real highlight of last year, the whole festival was amazing and I felt so honoured to be there.

IW: The improv video I saw of you from NOBF was totally hot!

HH: There’s been 27,000 view of that, it’s crazy! (actually just over of 45,000 at time of going to press)

HH3ShaneGilliver

 Photo ©  Shane Gilliver

IW: How important do you think social media has become for performers?

HH: I think social media is a pretty important. It’s about exposure to performers, who you see and how you see them. Access to you as a performer, on twitter, Instagram, facebook is a great way of keeping people updated especially in times where people can’t afford to get out to every show.

I also think from a research point of view, social media is important too, it can often be the gateway to finding out more about a performer I might never have come across otherwise, or seeing a performance video of someone can link you to finding more about the burlesque scene they’re involved in and you find other things you adore through that process. I made it my mission this year to spread love in the community, I have chosen to spread more news about performers, posting videos of acts that I love and why I love them.

IW: I think contact and promotion of new acts is great for audiences, who are getting a better experience for feeling more connected to performers that they ever would have done previously.

HH: I think you’re right. In burlesque you see people perform and put them on a pedestal, but social media really helps audiences feel they’re a part of the community. I have seen performers grow through their online presence and I love the fact that you’re there along the way with them, and it’s nice to have people joining me on that journey too. I love it when audience members come and chat to me and when they contact me online, for me it’s very important to have that contact.

IW: It wasn’t that long ago that performers were complaining about others posting new bits of costume, the secrecy element of it used to be quite a big thing, performers wanting to unveil a new act without anyone knowing what they were up to but now it seems to have swung the opposite way. I think now the more successful performers are definitely the ones who are more accessible and easier to relate to.

HH: Definitely, it shows that they’re real people; the backstage photos, the teaser clips of new acts, the glimpses of costumes. Of course that doesn’t mean I share everything, I don’t think people are remotely interested in what I had for dinner, if I’m waiting for a bus or if my washing machine is broken! I think if people feel they can relate to you it makes it more of a personal connection when you’re on stage and definitely makes you more approachable. Also I’m really nosey so I like to know what’s going on with people!

IW: Me too, that’s why I love Instagram so much!

HH: Yeah, me too. I recently got a new leotard and I thought “well, my housemate’s not interested but I’m sure Instagram will be”. I just needed someone to get excited with me. I really do love it!

I think without social media it would be hard to spread the word of burlesque to others . I know some people would like to keep it underground but I don’t think that’s good for the community.

IW: I think that ship sailed a really long time ago. When I started performing in 2008 it was already gaining popularity and it’s exploded since then, I think it should be given more exposure, it’s a great art form that should be celebrated. I think everyone knows what burlesque is now. Five years ago you’d tell people you performed and they’d look at you like “what is that?” but now they wouldn’t even be surprised, I think it’s a good thing that’s it’s being accepted.

HH: Definitely, and you wouldn’t have that without social media. I think it helps build community and bring everyone together, I have friends that I made in America that I would never have been able to keep up to date with if it wasn’t for facebook, it’s a great way to keep in touch with those I’ve met from all over  the world.

 IW: And things like the BHoF film, if the kick-starter project wasn’t as shared on facebook or promoted as much through social media it would never have been able to be distributed so widely.

Definitely, I donated to a Tempest Storm film kick-starter project and I wouldn’t have known anything about it if it wasn’t for social media. I think it’s incredibly important to keep burlesque alive through an online presence.

HH1myboudoir

 Photo © My Boudoir

IW: This year you were voted 12 on the top 20 UK performers in 21st Century Burlesque poll, congratulations

HH: I was very excited! It was so nice and thanks to everyone who voted for me. I work so hard on putting everything together and it’s great to have that recognised by people enjoying what I do.

IW: What have you got planned for the rest of 2014?

HH: Well obviously we’re planning on taking BHoF by storm!  (myself, Havana, Daisy Cutter, Trixie Passion are roomies for BHoF this year). I’d like to do more International Festivals, I’d like to go over to America later in the year too, perform more in Europe and I’m working on adding some extra sparkle to some of my current acts.

IW: Finally, when you’re not performing what do you do?

I am a Latin and Ballroom dancer, which I love, is very fun and takes up a lot of my time. I love watching films but I don’t stick with a particular genre. Oh, and at the moment I’m watching the Spartacus series, I’m watching so much of it! To be fair, I’ll watch anything with half naked men with swords and six packs.

IW: Have you seen the trailer for Pompeii? Do you watch Game of Thrones? Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) is the male lead and he’s super ripped and in tiny pants.

HH: Totally going to add it to my watch list!

And then we descended into talk about telly, films and ripped guys for far too long!  

If you’d like to find out more above Havana please visit her at:

Twitter/ Facebook / Instagram  / Tumblr

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