“Danseuse de jazz et de tentations from New Zealand by way of France, Coney Bow delights audiences with her “smooth as butter” dance moves.
Driven with a passion for old school musicals and armed with 30 years of technical dance experience Coney creates slick jazzy burlesque and cabaret acts that have been selected in Burlesque Festivals around the world: Australia, Hawaii, Minneapolis, Montreal, New Orleans, New York, New Zealand and Ottawa. Coney was awarded the title of Duchess of the Festival at the New Zealand Burlesque Festival in 2014 and 2015, and Supreme Grand Tease at Grand Tease New Zealand 2016″
In my eyes this young lady is chic, sassy and beautiful. She is gracious, she is nimble. She is classy and cheeky.
She is another one of my idols. I was privileged to interview her recently, a few days before she took out the Nation’s Supreme Tease title in Christchurch.
Photo credit; Peter Jennings https://www.facebook.com/peter.jennings.7758?fref=ts
BS: How did you get into the world of dancing – specifically into burlesque?
CB: I have basically danced all my life – I started dancing when I was 5, and I entered a youth dance company when I was 7 meaning I have been on stage for 30 years! When I was in France I had a dance teacher that loved everything Cabaret and Broadway jazz which she brought back to us as students. When I turned 18, which is the age you can perform “proper” Cabaret I started doing Cabaret for a company in the South of France. Then when I went and lived in New York in 2001, I discovered burlesque in the place where you have to discover burlesque – Coney Island. I didn’t get into it straight away though, as it wasn’t “big” at the time, especially in France. When I went back home, there was nothing burlesque related, so I kept on performing my cabaret shows and it was only when I moved to New Zealand that I explored burlesque a bit more.
It was in 2008. Aroha Wikohika owned the pole studio Swing 360 that was located in the same building I was teaching jazz and contemporary and she asked me if I could teach cabaret and burlesque at her studio and that’s how I got into it.
BS: Just touching on your name, you mentioned Coney Island before – did that become part of your performer’s stage name?
CB: Yes that’s why I called myself Coney Bow – it’s because of Coney Island – I wanted to identify with New York where I ‘found’ burlesque’ and I love Coney Island; it’s one of my favorite places in the world. Then I looked for a complementary last name. A lot of my acts are vintage inspired I looked towards the movie stars of that era that I really liked and there was Clara Bow who is an awesome silent movie actress and I thought that would work really well. I felt it ‘fitted’ really well with what I liked. I wanted something that had meaning to me; it was important and still is.
Photo credit; Paradox Photography NZ https://www.facebook.com/ParadoxPhotographyNZ/
BS: So what satisfies you the most about performing? What gets you up on the stage? Can you also identify the difference from what first got you performing to now?
CB: Well, it’s really tricky as I have been on stage forever. At first when I was young it was that I loved dancing and was dancing all the time and performing was just part of it. I didn’t realise what it meant at the time – you take dance classes and you perform, you know that’s just part of it. It was natural.
Regarding burlesque, it is really interesting as when I was performing cabaret in France (when I was old enough) you are performing in just a g string – no pasties – you’re almost naked on stage but you’re with plenty of other girls – for example you would perform chorus line half naked with others but it’s the ensemble that people are looking at rather than looking at you individually.
When I started burlesque it took a long time for me to get used to wearing pasties – I mean, I had shown my boobs before – but because you’re by yourself and not with others it’s not as easy. And I am not at all a sexy person in my everyday life; I’m just a dancer in track pants. I had to make the transition on stage from being part of a performing group to being me on stage. It’s quite different.
I think that is one of the reason why I do and love burlesque. It gives me a chance to show on stage something I am not in everyday life – it’s my niche; it allows me to be me and what I can be.
BS: Where do you see the future of burlesque going in New Zealand?
CB: It’s evolved a lot since I started – it is progressing really well but feel it has reached a plateau at the moment. I don’t think it will stop as there are plenty of newcomers that are really good and really motivated, but I think at the moment it has plateaued and we need to keep on working at developing it.
It maybe by having more specialised workshops and trying to motivate performers to come to them. I love when workshops happen and we have some awesome seasoned performers in New Zealand who can run really good workshops.
In the last 3-4 years, we have had international performers in New Zealand doing workshops and every time the internationals come and those workshops happen, it looks like it makes a big difference to the New Zealand scene.
There were internationals that came over before this – Angie Pontani for example came in 2009 I think – And just being able to see her perform and bringing another kind of burlesque when the scene was just starting in New Zealand was amazing. But it was just to perform, not necessarily to teach as well. I think that these people coming to perform AND do workshops and one on one’s as part of festivals and tours has been something really good.
Now I personally think that one of the way the industry is going to evolve is not only to continue to have international performers coming over, but also to have people going overseas and seeing how it works outside of New Zealand, and bring what they experienced back. And also show internationally that New Zealand has a lot to offer. It has been happening for a while actually with performers going to ABF, touring overseas, going to BHOF, to Burlicon, and we need to keep on developing that even more. I think we have a really good scene here and we need to nurture it, to take care of it, to make it grow even more, and put the New Zealand scene on the map.
BS: You touched on the topic of Workshops before and I know you are heavily involved with the workshop series along with Miss Cherry Lashes, what made you decide to become involved in workshops. (https://www.facebook.com/burlesqueworkshopseries/?fref=ts)
CB: I am a workshop geek – an addict even. I love dance and arts education in general and I believe one way to keep on developing oneself as an artist is through classes. That’s how I grew up, by doing dance classes and workshops. I think I did my first workshop when I was 8 (not burlesque obviously a dance workshop). Every summer in my home town in the south of France, we had big workshops with locals and international teachers and dancers coming from all over France to attend the workshops. It was something that I enjoyed so much and that I learned so much from. So it developed into something I have always loved and I love taking classes, learn new things. Since for ever dance classes and workshops have been a priority for me and when I looked at how the industry is for burlesque in New Zealand I found a gap that needed to be filled – specific classes on specific topics. Some people might be good at some things but need to work on other areas. For example someone might be good at doing hair, but lack stage presence, or dance technique or costuming skills, and I think we can share those skills within the industry by running workshops. Workshops work on specific areas, they develop skills you feel need work.
BS; You have been involved in international shows – what is the most positive thing you have gained and brought back to the New Zealand scene. If someone was to apply for an international show and you replied to be them by saying “go for it because………..” what would you say?
CB; because…. “It’s an awesome learning opportunity”. Just meeting people from other backgrounds changes the way you conduct yourself backstage. Seeing how other producers than the local ones work, gives you different perspectives on the industry. You learn new stuff, you’re in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people, you have to make the most of it. Everything is a learning opportunity.
I like performing in new cities, meeting new people and seeing how they work… and attending workshops, of course…
BS: So what made you choose New Zealand to live in.
CB: So it’s a cute story – I had lived in New York for a while. When I went back to France I needed to finish my studies at Uni but I didn’t want to stay in France and I wanted to be in an English speaking country because I love speaking English and did English studies at uni along with dance studies. I wanted to use that skill and we looked at all the working holiday visa’s we could and at the time there were only 4 – Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t want to go to Canada as there is a bit too much French speaking there, I didn’t want to go to Japan as I wanted to use my english so we looked at Australia and New Zealand. This is where the cute story comes in. We went to the embassies to get details. The New Zealand embassy in Paris, is a tiny tiny embassy with an old guy behind the window who gave us some pamphlets and explained everything to us for nearly an hour. Then we went to the Australian embassy and everything was massive with a metal detector and women giving out information with just “here you go” type of attitude. We were like “we are going to New Zealand” that little old man was way friendlier than the big Australian building. That being said, my mum is from New Caledonia so it it also a part of the world I am really close to. New Caledonia is part of my identity, half of my family lives there..
BS: What other styles of dancing do you teach aside from burlesque?
CB: I actually don’t teach burlesque, I haven’t since 2009. Not because I don’t like teaching burlesque, it’s just I think there is already a lot of burlesque teachers that have really good results, and that are better than me at this. I do teach Burlesquercise TM though which is the only form of burlesque I teach.
I teach Contemporary and Jazz – Jazz is the first dance I started doing and then I studied a Masters in Contemporary dance so Contemporary/Jazz is the base. And then everything that is a derivative of these two styles, like Broadway jazz or neo classical.
I also teach chair dance, which are not sexy dance moves or anything, it’s more like acrobatic dancing or Contemporary on chair, or jazz with a chair. It’s basically whatever the hell I wanna do on/to/with the chair. Chair dancing is the best core conditioning exercise ever. I also teach Chorus Line, French Cabaret, 20s Charleston, 60s Go-go, 70s Disco, and Cancan basically anything that is retro jazzy style because that is what I grew up doing. It’s what my teacher made us do.
These are all taught through Auckland Central Dance Studios on Queen Street.
Photo credit; Peter Jennings https://www.facebook.com/peter.jennings.7758?fref=ts
BS: Knowing you have this big wide depth of skills do you have any idols outside or within your dancing environment that has influenced your style and how you project yourself when performing.
CB: There are plenty! I LOVE choreography, how dances are structured and transitions between moves, it’s the first thing that influences me. I have a trifecta of choreographers that I worship: Alvin Ailey (his style could be summed up as African American 60s modern jazz), Philippe Decoufle (French contemporary choreographer who puts pop culture in contemporary dance giving it a really colourful and quirky nature – he also created a show for the Crazy Horse) and Bob Fosse (the genius behind Cabaret, Chicago, Sweet Charity… the man who changed the face of Broadway jazz). I love other choreographers but those 3 are my ultimate references.
Dancer-wise there is Cyd Charisse and Josephine Baker. I discovered them when I was about 7-8, when my dance teachers told us about musicals, and they are the 2 that I always thought “I really want to do what they do”. I find them both electrifying, the way they moves, it’s perfect!
BS: How do you find your chosen career in New Zealand is influencing others? I know you have influenced me personally at your workshops in areas I am not so confident in. I know I get lots of encouragement and feedback from you and eventually I am able to do it even if it is in my own time. Do you get feedback like that?
CB: I do… I wish everyone was dancing – that’s something that is important to me. My approach is that everyone can do it if they work at it (I guess a bit like everything). When I see students being frustrated because they can’t do a move like I do after 10 minutes of class, I always insist that if it looks like I’m good at it it’s because I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I also never say that something is easy, because I know dance is not an easy thing. That’s that. For me dancing has been a lot of dedication and practice. I actually have a very weak lower body – When I was 5 I had several surgeries on my pelvis and was told that I needed to build my abdominal and pelvic strength. I was not allowed to do flexibility moves and all that stuff, so I did men’s gymnastics and fencing for 12 years along with my dancing. I’ve also had a crack in my knee cap for almost 20 years due to a car accident. And I often think that, if I manage to do a split on a chair when they told me not to, I can do anything; everybody can do anything providing they work at it and are really committed to it.
I am aware of… I know that a lot of people do dancing for the fun of it – which is awesome because everybody should dance and enjoy dance. But if you start to take it seriously you have to commit time and work at it. It’s really hard to do, but it’s still fun. It is something you can take seriously but have a lot of fun with at the same time.
BS: If you had somebody in your troupe, who has never been dancing but is in your show with four or five others who are skilled higher, what would you say to them to help them get over any stage nerves/fears.
CB: I would say the most important thing you need to do on stage is have fun – always; most important HAVE FUN. Don’t stress, you have to have fun. If it is not fun then there is no reason to do it. So that’s the most important thing I would say. Most of the time people are super impressed you have taken the step to get up on stage. They are going to be indulgent most of the time – like oh wow they only did 5 classes and they managed to do that!! How impressive!
Then it’s my job as a teacher, a choreographer and a producer to make the students/dancers feel confident and comfortable with the choreography and with how I market it. It’s my job to find a balance in the routine whereby they will have fun while learning AND still be interesting and impressive to the audience. And it’s also my job to make sure that the audience knows they are not coming to see a professional show but a student show, so that it takes the pressure off.
BS: Randomly what’s your favorite colour?
CB: Umm I guess white?
BS: Why white – white would be pretty dirty pretty dam quick
CB: I wouldn’t say it is really my favorite colour because it’s not really a colour… I don’t like dark colours, I like colourful bright stuff; well I like blue and pink too. Definitely I am not a dark purple or black or brown person. I like every day to be full of colourful stuff and I like white because it’s bright and matches with any other colour.
BS: So if you had your time again, would you change anything?
CB: About what I am doing now? No I don’t think so, I keep on learning and I made the choice to do this. Sure there are moments when it is super hard, but when you make that choice you know from the start that it is not going to be easy, you know that you’re going to be tired and you know it is going to be hard work but on the other hand I do something that I love, so it’s a choice I made. After all I could have worked in an area that uses my love of the english language or my studies in arts history, but I decided to make a career out of my dancing, no one forced me to do it..
BS: What are your up and coming events – say over the next three months?
CB: So there is the finale of Grand Tease (https://www.facebook.com/grandteasenz/?fref=ts), and then I have my US tour – Hawaii, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Montreal – and then I’ll be back for the Big Burlesque Blow out in Christchurch (https://www.facebook.com/events/1392662444080927/ ) and then after that there will be the end of year show at the school and hopefully some other shows and workshops to come…
Coney’s workshops and lessons are held at the fabulous Auckland Central Dance Studios located in the MacDonald’s Building in Queen Street Auckland -you can find all the goss and go on workshops and lessons by clicking on this link; https://aucklandcentraldancestudios.com/
Thank you Coney – this was a real pleasure to interview you. Stay tuned for my review of some classes I took under Coney’s wing!