That One Time I Was A Burlesque Dancer in Shanghai

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Regardless of how much I critique Shanghai, its gift as the land of ‘dream it and you can do it’ is undeniable.  If you want to be something, do something and make it happen, you wouldn’t be just a hat rack if you decided to come here and try your goddamn best.  There’s definitely something in the air here, apart from all that pollution crap.  Shanghai will throw out all the awesomeness in the cosmos and give you what you want and I’ve found my golden ticket through Burlesque.

Burlesque in Shanghai Bonnie May

© Grant-oh! Buchwald @

Many travellers question how on earth they can fund their way through various countries.  There are so many ways that when you do realise that you could essentially pack your bags right now, leave and never turn back, it feels amazingly liberating.  For me, the last five years have been funded by teaching English.

Lately however, I’ve been getting thrifty and it’s definitely paying off. Not only am I earning money in awesome weird ways, I’m being exposed to crazy experiences and I can’t get enough of it. Burlesque in Shanghai is truly alive and well and with a special talent for expressing feminine power, it’s taking me places I never thought possible.

How did you start earning money through Burlesque?

Rewind back to March this year and I found myself underground in an old bomb shelter getting all feminist at the Shanghai Ladyfest.  It was there that I met the amazing, liberating, sexy kitten of a lady which is Anna Fur Laxis.  This delightful goddess infused in me the gusto to throw aside the hippy travel pants for a second and whip out the sexy side of Teacake.  Fast forward a couple of weeks later and I was nervously peeling off some lacy Chinese gloves in my first ever Burlesque lesson.  It was touch and go but it turns out I’m actually pretty good at it! More than the gloves were shed and I materialised from that room a whole new woman.

I’m never one to miss an opportunity.  I will never, ever, turn something that makes me want to run a mile, down.  Give me a challenge and I’ll embrace it with all of its complexities, insecurities and uncertain outcomes.  With the beginners lesson completed and a second intermediate lesson officially under my suspender belt, I wanted to rock…and rock I certainly have.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to play different characters at exhilarating events to shedding a layer or two at parties and it’s been one hell of a ride so far.

1. The first time I made money from Burlesque: 1960s gogo dancer

Anna: ‘Hey Alice, do you want to dress up as an Austin Powers Fembot and dance to a Beatles tribute band for the night?’  Me: Yes I do Anna.

This was my first ever time strutting my beautiful Burlesque character through the underbelly of Shanghai.  With this Beatles tribute night being the perfect ‘baby steps’ show to take part in, me and other sexy Burlesque bunnies did our Austin Powers homework and rocked it. We danced, we partied, we were showered with drinks AND we got paid.  Hell yeah!

Shanghai Beatles Tribute Band

2. The second time I made money from Burlesque: sexy nurse at a secret dinner party

Anna: ‘Hey Alice.  Can you cover for me? You need to dress up as a sexy nurse and feed people food at a secret dinner party.  Are you in?  Me: Yes I am Anna.

With my silver metallic hot pants freshly cleaned and folded in the wardrobe, the deliciously kinky and medical side of me was kindly called upon.  Reassuring me that I was totally ready to pull it off, Anna sent me on my way to the most expensive place to rent in China.  I skipped on over and found myself in a fantastical, culinary, off-the-wall wonderland. After being covered in enough white foundation to make even Snow White jealous of my flawless complexion, I was pinned and pulled into place and given a whirlwind tour of the playful, surreal dining experience.

In the first room, wide-eyed and anxiously ravenous guests were suited up in pristine white lab coats to begin their voyage of finger-licking heaven.  Pulsating African drums accompanied by colourful hoots from tropical birds flowed into the emerald green enclosure.  Like a slinky giraffe, I strut amongst the guests, serving chocolate covered starters from intricately carved wooden boxes, which graciously seeped out white seductive smoke.

In the second room, it was SHOWTIME. Painfully bare and metallic, all this clinical space contained was a sanitised surgeon’s table and numerous, questionable tools.  As the chefs prepped for the ‘operation’ behind the curtains, I popped on my heels and prepared to induce some deep yearnings for palatable pork.As the manic culinarians made their entrance, the madness ensued. Mr.Beardy over here decided to whack his tool of destruction on the silver table repeatedly, throwing pig parts all down my starched coat.  It was weirdly intimidating, impressive and wondrous all at the same time.  I couldn’t quite keep that mixture of ecstatic emotion off my face…

Burlesque in Shanghai Secret Dinner Party

After shooting taco sauce all over me with his syringes and running around with a pig’s head, the chef ran off back into his kitchen den and the guests hopped on off to the next room speechless. Possibly the weirdest, most expensive dinner party I have ever been to? Yes.  Did I like it?  YES! More taco sauce please!

3. The third and fourth time I made money from Burlesque: Talent Shows

Ready to fully embrace Burlesque in Shanghai, I chose my stage name: Bonnie May.  With the wonderful support and encouragement from Anna, I dived heels first into the world of performing on stage and proudly removing my wares one by one.  Strictly speaking, I didn’t earn money from either of these two shows.  Regardless, I won Judges Choice at the Shanghai Pride Talent Show and obtained some beautiful free professional shots and exposure for future shows.  Woop woop!

Burlesque in Shanghai
Bonnie May Burlesque
© Alexei Chukhutin

4. Onwards and upwards: With experience, the shows are now starting to roll in

I’ve slowly started to build up my shenanigans and it’s opening even more adventurous doors. Next weekend I’ll be performing at an ‘alternative’ July 4th party and towards the end of the month, I’ll be performing alongside glamourous mermaids, saucy sailors and mesmerising creatures in the Shanghai School of Burlesque’s ‘Pearl Island’ show! All I need to do now is get some traditional tattoos: maybe tattooed by Whang Od!

Lessons Learnt

Slow travel will take you places you never dreamt of.  That is the true beauty of making the choice to go travelling in the first place.  Never underestimate the tremendous beauty and power within yourself: if you want to travel, do not waste another hesitant breath. Grab the bull by the horns.  Use your skills and blessings wholeheartedly to make your desires a reality.  Enjoy who you are, what you can have and the immense offerings this world is throwing at you because there is always another door waiting to be opened.  Go get it girl!

Feeling sexy and liberated? Pin this awesomeness!
A traveller who makes money through burlesque? Yep, that's me! #burlesque #shanghai #travel

16 thoughts on “That One Time I Was A Burlesque Dancer in Shanghai”

  1. Wow, that is some seriously different approach to making money while travelling. I love it! But I guess I wouldn’t have the guts. So kudos to you and great that you are having fun!

  2. Love it! One of my old friends from university fell head over heels in love with burlesque and has done it in a few countries now. Such a liberating, fascinating art form that I’ve always enjoyed.

    There’s a museum in Sydney that does a summer Jurassic Lounge open night on a weekly basis. Interactive exhibits, live music, silent discoes, access to the museum, and regular burlesque as well. Something to consider!

    • Ooooooh thanks for the heads up about Sydney! Definitely something to consider and I’m most definitely on the hunt for other Burlesque opportunities around the rest of Asia! :D

  3. What a breath of fresh air! Haha… so great to read about an alternative way of making money on the road. This is fantastic. Unfortunately I don’t think I’d have the guts for it… (or the legs) but would definitely do it otherwise. You are brilliant!


  4. This is so awesome! I love how resourceful you are, work to your strengths! Beardy man/taco sauce sounds about as far removed from my travel experiences as could possibly be ;)

  5. Hi there.
    I stumbled upon your kick ass blog by accident while looking up burlesque in Shanghai. I used to do a lot of this type of stuff back in San Francisco and have been trying to find it out here. I was wondering if you might be willing to contact me directly and let me know who your working with to do, well, all of the above. I miss putting on a show! Thanks so much!

  6. Amazing experience! I am in Tibet, I went to Shanghai once for the Yacht Show in 2016. It’s only work, but I did get a night to visit the famous Bund of Shanghai. It’s beautiful! I had no time to enjoy other interesting part of Shanghai. I will go in future, especially for burlesque after I read your post.


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