My Sun­day

Aus­tralian Marissa Burgess spent 18 years work­ing 12 shows a week as a show­girl at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. She talked to Nicky Park ahead of the Cabaret de Paris New Zealand tour, which be­gan last night.

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Sun­day is al­ways a late start. I will be up at 10 or 11am from a re­ally heavy Satur­day night. I am on stage some­where singing un­til 2am. I get in the car by 2.30 and I drive up to an hour to get home. I live in a ru­ral area, in the Gold Coast hin­ter­land. On Sun­day morn­ing I make a nice brunch at home with my hubby and we go all out – ba­con, pan­cakes, crepes, bircher… I’ll try to do as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. I’m not in a hurry to go any­where. I’m a bit shat­tered, a bit beaten up, a bit tired.

I am a night owl. Ever since I be­came a pro­fes­sional dancer at 16 that’s the life I have been lead­ing. I love it. I never have to put the alarm on in the morn­ing.

I started work­ing at 17 in Paris. I was un­der­age, so I had to have a note of per­mis­sion from my par­ents to work at the Moulin Rouge. Ig­no­rance is bliss and you’re not re­ally scared. You’re gung-ho. An­noy­ing when you can’t speak French, but you make your way through it. I stayed there un­til I was 32.

I used to will my­self to be older. I wanted to be 36. I didn’t want to be 18; 36 to 40 is when you start hit­ting beau­ti­ful marks. You’ve lived enough, but not too much. There’s still a fu­ture, but there’s a lot of past… I could see how men could gush over th­ese women and I could see how at­trac­tive th­ese women were. I’d have boyfriends leave me for older women.

I’m a show­girl. The word “show­girl” gets very mis­con­strued be­cause it’s been for­got­ten in re­cent times, given that the golden Hol­ly­wood era is over. That’s when show­girls were prom­i­nent and the­atri­cal venues like the Lido and Moulin Rouge were very wide­spread around the world. It’s dis­solv­ing away with the in­ter­net era and also movie stars and pop stars and other peo­ple have taken off with our sec­tor. Every­thing used to be pure and now there’s all th­ese fu­sions. For ex­am­ple, Kylie Minogue will have a “show­girl” show, and Pink will have “show­girl” sec­tion in her show.

In its pure form, a show­girl is a mix of a bal­le­rina and a model. She has to be those two things com­bined. She has to have ab­so­lute grace and poise, be ul­tra classy, and she has to be able to dance very well, but she’s not nec­es­sar­ily re­quired to. At the base, that’s who you are. And that’s why I grav­i­tated to­wards it. I’m a purist.

I don’t tell peo­ple what I do for a job. I have to be very care­ful to whom I di­vulge every­thing. I will as­sess if the per­son is wor­thy of hear­ing my story or not. I don’t trust peo­ple. Peo­ple have hurt me. I’ve spent my whole life build­ing an iconic and won­der­ful ca­reer and to have some­one shut it down with an ig­no­rant com­ment based on some­thing they don’t un­der­stand hurts too much. I don’t set my­self up for that.

The life we were lead­ing could make your head spin. If you can make it there you can make it any­where. Aus­tralians or New Zealan­ders over in France, do­ing what they do, are there be­cause they are at the top of their game. With that, you get put on a pedestal and cel­e­brated and peo­ple just want to cel­e­brate your youth, your beauty and your skill. It can get very heady.

I’ve al­ways needed the land and coun­try­side to ground and level me. That’s my Aus­tralian side. I used to come home to Aus­tralia ev­ery year. I would put my toes in the dirt and put my bikini on and drop all my makeup and just re­mem­ber where I’m from and what’s nat­u­ral and real.

I’m pretty much Parisian. When I first came to live in Aus­tralia it was a huge cul­ture shock for me. I was no longer Aus­tralian. I had all my for­ma­tive years in Paris so I had be­come a Parisian. That means al­ways push­ing to make sure ev­ery part of life is cer­e­mo­ni­ous and be­at­i­fied… whether it be cook­ing or dress­ing or speak­ing to some­one you meet. Just mak­ing sure there’s a fi­nesse to life.

I have a nat­u­ral sex ap­peal. I can turn up the vol­ume or turn it down. It’s an in­nate sen­su­al­ity you kind of do

“I don’t tell peo­ple what I do for a job... I will as­sess if the per­son is wor­thy of hear­ing my story or not.”

need to have. It can be cre­ated if you don’t have it. I’m a men­tor to dancers and show­girls and I can cre­ate it from scratch… it’s a com­bi­na­tion of move­ment, of ways of look­ing, of pos­ing, of mov­ing i your bd body. S Some peo­ple l nat­u­rally have it, I be­lieve I do.

We have a lifestyle that we don’t let our­selves ever go. Re­ally let­ting our­selves go means hav­ing two wines and a Mars bar. That’s a party. I envy other peo­ple. If I in­dulged the com­ing back would be so ar­du­ous that it would just make me re­gret so much. It’s not worth it. It’s eas­ier to live a very tight and dis­ci­plined life – our work is a party and after­wards we get to so­cialise and peo­ple tend to grav­i­tate to­wards us and it feels very lovely. So if we have to put our­selves through a tough lifestyle the rest of the time, that’s the pay off.

I can­not switch off. It’s ex­haust­ing. I hate be­ing in my brain some­times. I can’t make it go away. It’s a go­daw­ful trap that the more you know, the more you want to know. I ex­haust ev­ery­body around me, but if I stop be­ing cre­ative I will lose my iden­tity. I won’t be able to live with that.

The Cabaret de Paris tour vis­its Welling­ton on Au­gust 25 and Christchur­ch on Au­gust 28.

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