As at publication date (ie today!) been a year to the day since Coney Bow left New Zealand. I caught up with her recently to find out how life had been back in her home town.
(Heads up this interview is great but it is long; hang in there it’s worth it)
BS: So the first question I guess that I would want to know is, you’ve been back France for what, a year now?
CB: Yes. Nearly a year.
BS: And how have you found it trying to establish yourself back in your homeland?
CB: It’s been really tricky.
BS: What have you found really tricky? I know that you are starting to reestablish yourself and you’re starting to get there, but how did you do that?
CB: So there are two… parameters. First, some of the tricky stuff are because of French administration. Basically, when you have lived outside of France for more than 10 years, for the first six months you are back, you have to rebuild your entire life administratively. You can’t just jump back in. For example, in France to work as a freelancer you have to create a company and you need to have lived at least 3 months in France to create a company, so I couldn’t find a job except under the table for the first 3 months I was here. And obviously you can’t perceive benefits unless you have worked and lived in France for at least 6 months (which is totally fair enough), same with healthcare, etc. It just all adds up and so basically you can’t really do that much for 6 months. You just need to wait to be back in the system. So that’s already half of the time that I’ve been back having to struggle with administrative stuff which is the French system, and nobody can really do anything about that I guess. And then the other tricky part was just being back after 11 years and having to re-adapt to the way people are, work, deal with things, etc. I’m not trying to be mean or anything [laughter] but it’s just really different from New Zealand, especially in the way the dance and even more the burlesque industry works here. The burlesque industry is way smaller actually, well, I find it smaller, or maybe it’s because I didn’t know anyone in the burlesque industry here when I arrived, whereas in New Zealand I knew a lot of people by the end. Also, and I guess this is not just France, but it’s really … — I’m losing my track because there’s a big thunderstorm and it’s so loud!
BS: I can hear the thunder.
CB: … What was I saying?… Yeah, It’s really hard when nobody knows you, you know what I mean?
Photo Credit: Peter Jennings
CB: In France, nobody knows me because I’ve been away for so long. I had never done burlesque here, I started in New Zealand. When I left 11 years ago I had never heard about any burlesque stuff in France, and now I’m back and I have to connect with a scene that is already built, with its own history that I’m not part of– you know what I mean?
CB: So it’s really hard. If I was saying, “Hey, I’m coming from abroad. I’m just passing by, blah, blah, blah” people would probably be like, “Oh yeah, it’s a foreigner. It’s awesome. Let’s try.” But because I’m French, because I’m settling back in France, people are just being more protective I guess and just like, “Yeah, just prove us that you can do it, that you can be part of our scene, and that you are not just trying to steal our jobs.” Even if I have done it somewhere else, I haven’t done it in France. But maybe it would be the same anywhere else, I don’t know. When people see me perform and then hear that I’ve been here for a whole year but performed only twice in France, they’re like “Oh really? But why?” I think people don’t realize how hard it is to find gigs. There are not that many out there and people don’t know me so I don’t get booked. But I guess, in a way, it’s logical, it’s just hard when you have the performing experience I have and then have to go back to the beginning… Yeah, it’s hard, that’s all. [laughter]
BS: And just in the last, I don’t know, maybe six or seven months, I’ve seen lots and lots of your posts on your Instagram and on Facebook and they’re saying I’m performing here and I’m performing there. So in the time that you’ve been over in France, whilst you’ve found it a little bit hard to establish yourself or re-establish yourself in France, where have you been performing outside of New Zealand? Because I think that everybody over here is quite interested to see exactly what you’ve been doing particularly those who may not get all of your posts as they’re coming up.
CB: So I’ve been performing mostly in European festivals and in a Canadian one as well, so outside of France. The festival season in Europe is from let’s say mid-January up until the end of June and then it starts back mid-September up until the end of November. So obviously when I arrived it was already too late to apply and organize myself for the ones at the beginning of the year because I arrived in March. But I did the ones at the end of the year. I started by Edmonton (Canada) in August and then stayed in Europe and performed in Lake Como (Italy), in Stockholm (Sweden), in Prague (Check Republic) last year and in Geneva (Switzerland) this year. Other than that I have done 2 burlesque shows in France, one in Paris in November and one it Toulouse last week, and performed chair and go-go at a vintage festival as well. And then I’m going to have two more burlesque shows this month, one in my hometown and one in Lyon. The one in my hometown I got it because I offered to kitten to some of their previous shows, so yeah I’ve been kittening as well…
CB: When I see a show early enough, I’m writing to the producers “Hey, do you need someone to help?” So yeah it’s really just going back to basics. Stuff that I’ve learned around. Things that you have to do to start knowing the scene and how the industry works around you. I’ve been doing it from the beginning. Not just kittening, but writing to people that are part of the scene to try to connect.
BS: Yeah. And how have you found that? Because I don’t ever recall you doing any kittening in New Zealand. Have you found that you’ve learned anything further?
CB: Not necessarily. Sure I’ve never kittened in New Zealand just because nobody ever asked me, I guess, and because every time, I was in a show there were already kittens organized. But I have kittened before at some international festivals and done some stage managing and all that in the dance industry. So I know how to deal with stage management and that kind of things.
BS: Right, right. And you were saying that was, what, 11 years ago that you relocated to New Zealand, and burlesque wasn’t a big thing in France when you left. Is it a big thing in France now, or is it pretty much the same, or how has it progressed?
CB: It’s bigger than when I left, well for sure I notice it more than when I left because I’m more in that industry now than I was before I left. But it’s still quite small, and people really don’t know what it is. And it’s quite tricky because in French, in the French language, the word burlesque means something else.
BS: Oh, does it really? What does it mean?
CB: Yeah. Well, that’s where the word burlesque comes from, it means comedy in Latin based languages. When you say something is burlesque, it means something is outrageously funny. It’s a word that we use in everyday life, not just to talk about this performance form that we are doing. So in France when you say “I’m doing burlesque” It’s like if you were saying “I’m doing funny,” and people are like “Do you do comedy? What kind?” [laughter] So you have to add specifications behind so that people understand what you’re doing. It can be really confusing. I think it’s part of the reason why it’s not… I wouldn’t say not developed but why people don’t really know what it is, just because it’s confusing, the use of that word.
BS: Yeah. So they don’t call it anything else. As you say, they still call it burlesque but they have some other wording attached to it to define it.
CB: Yes. So you would add if you were doing theater burlesque, or burlesque literature etc. For our kind of burlesque, you have to add “Strip” (well “effeuillage” in French), but if your act is a burlesque act with no strip in it then you could say “cabaret burlesque” probably or something like that. But you have to add something. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean anything [laughter]. But at the same time that shows the essence of burlesque…
BS: That’s interesting because over here, you say the word burlesque and if you’re speaking to people who are novices, they kind of go, “What is burlesque?” And so you tell them, and they don’t associate it with comedy. They don’t have that history.
Photo Credit: Kevin Bridle Photography
BS: Since you’ve relanded back into France and got yourself reestablished or starting to get yourself reestablished, how have you found bringing teachings to France? Well, teaching over in France because I know that that was your passion over here, and I really loved your classes. And I do miss them, and I know that a lot of people do. But you went ahead to reestablish that arm of your work as well.
CB: Yeah. So this… [laughter] this is where we go back to French administration [laughter]. So in France for academic dance (jazz, contemporary, and ballet) there is a really, really specific diploma. It’s a dance teacher diploma that exists only for those three styles. I don’t have that diploma. The one I have is a university diploma in choreography and dance management, so in France, with my choreographer’s diploma, I’m not allowed to teach contemporary, jazz, or ballet because I don’t have the teacher diploma. That’s the French system. So I’m allowed to teach some choreography workshops for example, but I’m not allowed to teach regular dance classes. You wanna teach, no matter how good you are in your dance style, you need a teacher diploma. One of the many reasons behind this is because in France dance is more developed with kids. So in that diploma you learn, among other things, how to teach dance to kids specifically. All this totally makes sense. So I guess that’s fair enough. But the issue is that there is no dance teacher diploma for any other dance styles than those 3 and some schools don’t want to hire you unless you have a dance teacher diploma (because of insurance – we don’t have ACC – and because of the law), even if your dance style is a style for adults only and that no diploma exists really for it, so it’s quite tricky. How does a break dancer gets to teach break dance for example? They are not going to do a 3 year diploma as a ballet teacher…
Since I’ve been here it’s been my propriety to deal with this and I realized there are 3 options around this: 1. Teach without being paid (because the law says that only certified teachers can be paid) which is ridiculous in SO MANY LEVELS. 2. Create your own school, but that’s risky because if you get controlled by the state you can get fined or lose everything. 3. Get any kind of physical teaching diploma (gymnastics, fitness, etc.) that is recognized by the state to show that you are able to teach physical activities and handle a group of people.
So this is what I’m doing at the moment. I’m doing a teacher training in fitness and physical expression. It’s a sports diploma that will allow me to teach to adults any type of dance styles that is not part of the official Dance Teacher Diploma. So like I was saying, in the French system, it all goes back to administration and administrative stuff. This diploma starts every year in January and finishes in June. So I’m in the middle of doing that at the moment, which takes a lot of time. It’s quite an interesting experience.
BS: Right. Yeah. So they’re seeking “qualified people”.
CB: Yeah. But they’re not seeking just any qualification, they’re seeking teaching qualification, that’s the thing. I’ve got a choreographer’s qualification but not a teaching qualification in France. So you need to have a French qualification in teaching so that you can work as a teacher in dance schools.
BS: Yeah. Because of their insurance and whatnot. But a way around that, and particularly to show international support, is your mentoring program. For the people who don’t know about it, how would you explain it? How does that work?
Photographer; Picaresque Photography
CB: Yes my online classes. There are several sections in it. One section is just normal dance classes. I create the material and send videos and notes, to the people who want to learn a style or a choreography. Then they use the videos for one hour or two, whatever time they can find in the dance studio. They film themselves. They send me their videos and potential questions. I send them feedback on what they did, and more explanatory videos and new material if needed for the following week, and it keeps on going. They film themselves, I send feedback and new material, etc. So that’s quite fun to do. It takes a lot of time, but that’s really fun to do. I currently have two groups doing that in New Zealand at that the moment, one in chair dance, one in contemporary.
And then the other part is the one on one mentoring program, so this one also has different options in it. You can send me just a video of one of your acts, and I send you detailed written (and sometimes video) feedback on the act, and we can discuss online about the act too. Or you can book me for a certain amount of time [laughter], and then bounce your ideas, send me videos, do skype chat about development, etc. So yeah, this last one especially, is working more as a mentoring program than just a teaching program.
BS: Yep. Yep. Yep. And the one-on-ones, because I know, well. I think, if my memory serves me right, you were a little bit concerned as to have a one-on-ones might work via Skype. But that’s actually working for you because I know a couple of people, Kitty Rose comes to mind, with her acts– what do you call it? But with you critiquing her act–
CB: The Granada act? Yeah.
BS: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s actually working for you which is great. And have you have where many other people take up their opportunity?
Photographer unknown taken at the Como Lake Burlesque Festival
CB: Not that many actually [laughter], but that’s OK — Last year before the Queen competition at the Burlesque festival, Amorous Ava send me some stuff as well as Kitty Rose, but I had worked with them before on those solos. I had already sent them feedback before on those same solo, so it was just the continuation of what we had done before when I was in New Zealand.
BS: So it doesn’t have to be a one-off? It can be a continuing development thing?
CB: Yeah. If it’s one act that we’ve already worked on and people did some changes to that act, then some times, they send me the video again just to have a look at the changes or something like that. And I worked a bit with Praline Parfait as well. She is re-developing a chair act, so she sent me some videos for some. It was an act that was already created, but she was transforming it, so we just had some chats on it. And then there is you of course! [laughter]
BS: Through the mentoring system, I’m aware that you have really, really unusual workspace,
CB: So I actually have several… So, okay, I’ve been leaving at my parents’ since I left New Zealand because, well you now, no job, no money to pay the rent… Well, I’m soon going to have an apartment actually, I’m just waiting for some renovation works to be done in the apartment. Anyway, I’m at my parents’ at the moment, so I don’t really have my own space. During summer I use their patio as my dance space. And then during winter, I used to use the pool, like the swimming pool because it has… well I should say it had a roof and we empty it in winter. But a sad thing happened happened, we had a massive snow storm last week and the roof completely collapsed. Destroyed, no more roof.
BS: Oh no.
CB: It’s all broken down. So I don’t even have my dancing pool anymore.
BS: Oh no. Because I really enjoyed that. You sent me some videos on how to– just some basic moves with your hands and your feet, which I’m yet to actually send you some back. And I really enjoyed the fact that you’re in this pool because the whiteness of the pool made you really stand out and it over exaggerated what you were trying to do.
CB: Yeah, and I loved working there. It was such a really really cool atmosphere. I was by myself and I was in my bubble and everything. But yeah, last week everything collapsed. It’s quite annoying. I feel like I lost the only space of the house where I could be by myself [laughter]. Can’t wait to move to my own apartment… [laughter]
Photographer; Picaresque Photography
BS: Well damn, damn, damn. I never thought about things like that. And you’re still of course connected to New Zealand via the shoe orders and things like that that you do [laughter]. Yeah, just the little things make it so precious to be able to keep on keeping in contact with you for us New Zealanders. So the shoe orders, I’m just going to do a plug for that because I know you must either really enjoy getting more shoes or doing the shoe order or something, but. How does that work now that you’re not in New Zealand?
CB: I keep on doing it just because girls are still asking for it and I don’t mind doing it. It’s fine, everything is already set up so it’s not too complicated to do. Everything was already done online anyway so it doesn’t change anything, compared to when I used to live in New Zealand on the admin side of it. So the only change is that now the shoes are being delivered to Maree who has helped me with so many things and she’s the one doing the dispatch in New Zealand. Also when I was in NZ I would sometimes initate an order because I needed a pair of shoes for myself. So it was a mix of requests from the girls in the facebook group and my won initiative. But now, since I don’t get my own shoes shipped to New Zealand (well I actually did last time [laughter]), I’m only doing the orders upon requests. If there is someone asking for a pair of shoes then I’ll organize an order. Know that if you need shoes you need [laughter] to ask because otherwise, it won’t happen. So, that’s the other little change. So yes with the shoes, and the online classes and The Roaring Antoinettes, that keeps me connected with NZ, and that’s really cool.
BS: Just one thing that I have thought of, while you’ve relocated to France. And I know that you’ve had a few difficulties there, and I know that you have been performing in other areas as well. Have you started to develop any new acts? And how difficult have you found it, if you have?
CB: No, I haven’t had neither the time nor the, I don’t know, the mind frame to develop anything new. There is an act that I have in the back of my mind that I really want to develop. But until I move to my own space and have time to sort my stuff out I won’t develop anything new. My cargo is still in my garage. All my stuff are still in boxes. I took out some of the stuff like the most urgent one, but you know… I still have socks and panties in the cargo… So I’m just going around with my already built acts. And once I’m really settled, then I’ll start thinking about new stuff.
BS: One last question and it’s really quirky and it’s actually nothing to do with dance or anything like that or anything personally. It’s one of those really random questions that people hopefully don’t expect. Okay, if you were a crayon in a crayon box, what colour would you be and why?
CB: A crayon in a crayon box. What color would I be? Not what color would I choose but what color would I be?
CB: That’s tricky [laughter]. Because if it was, “What color would I choose?” It would be blue because I like drawing in blue. But what color would I be? I don’t know something, a colorful color [laughter]. Not black, not gray, not purple. I know what I wouldn’t be [laughter], that’s for sure. I guess maybe I would be… a pink crayon? I would be, I don’t know [laughter]. I would be a bright colored crayon, I guess.
BS: Yeah. Because you’re a bright lady.
Photographer; John Paul Bichard
And that concludes my interview with Coney Bow – a women I admire and a women of so many talents.