Strength and sexuality are two things that not all artists possess, but when you meet Fathom Swanson she exudes these two dichotomies perfectly. She is a shrewd businesswoman, a passionate performer and a born comedian.
However, Fathom’s art is grossly misunderstood: the art of burlesque. It has become her mission to educate and empower people that the everyday woman can be empowered and find her sexuality through the old art of burlesque performance. The Citizen caught up with Fathom to give us a brief history of the art and to tell us about the performance she has put together Friday, July 19, in Casper at The Attic.
Citizen: I am often shocked at how many people do not understand burlesque, or even know what it is for that matter. Can you explain to our readers what burlesque is?
Fathom: Often people today confuse burlesque with being a trashy stripper. They look down on it. This is simply because they don’t know the difference. YES, we are stripping. We are taking off our clothes to entertain you; however, there are no neon G-strings or dollars bills being put in them, there are no lap dances or boobs being put in gentlemen’s faces. We do not go nude. The point is NOT to see how naked you can get, the point is to tease! It’s about feeling sassy in your own skin. Burlesque is being a show girl, more theatrical: think more Las Vegas show girls. Burlesquers truly put on a show.
Citizen: Burlesque is a time-honored tradition; can you give us a bit of a burlesque history? How has it morphed over all these years and why do you think it has made such a huge resurgence recently?
Fathom: I like to say burlesque is older than baseball and hot dogs! It is one of the oldest art forms around. There was burlesque at the famous club in Paris, Moulin Rouge. Burlesque was HUGE in the circus from the late 1800s to the 1950s — where the whole family could see a glamorous lady strip tease. Back in the day, if you were a burlesque queen you were a star! The famous Lucille Ball was in a burlesque movie. Even though it never left, burlesque became huge again in the early 1990s. Key people helped make it go mainstream in the ’90s, but I think that whole retro-rockabilly movement put it back in the limelight. The band Stray Cats came out and big band style music was everywhere. Then the cerebrated group the Pussy Cat Dolls showed up and they go hand-and-hand with burlesque. It is so big again because of the way media has changed and there are so many more ways to showcase the art.
We do not go nude. The point is NOT to see how naked you can get, the point is to tease! It’s about feeling sassy in your own skin.
Citizen: How long have you been doing burlesque and how did you get into this type of performance?
Fathom: It will be 10 years in December! I’m considered old in the burlesque world. As they say, I’ve seen and done it all! I started burlesque when it wasn’t legal for me to be participating. Legally, performers need to be 18 and I was 17. I originally did it just for friends’ birthdays, special house parties, dancing with live bands at concerts and then it just blew up! However, I always kind of knew this is what I’d be doing with my life.
Citizen: I understand that you helped to start a burlesque troupe in Laramie. How did that come about and what obstacles did you face when performing?
Fathom: When I found out about the troupe in Laramie it was brand new and by chance I found out about it. There were only a few girls that had done one small show when I came on and I was the only one who had been doing burlesque. The troupe was moving to a bigger venue and it was so exciting to be a part of something so great and new. Watching the troupe grow was heartwarming to see! The hardest thing we faced was making sure we followed the very strict dress code and getting people to understand what we were doing. I myself, faced the thing I still face all the time: people making fun of me cause the “fat” girl was taking her clothes off. People were outraged that we are putting “stripping” in the community. It is hard getting people to change what they’re used to seeing in magazines. I’ve been getting hate mail for years and sadly I still do. Getting someone to think outside the box is never easy.
Citizen: I always find it interesting when you go to a burlesque performance that so many of the attendees are female. Do you find this to be the case and why do you think that is?
Fathom: HELL YEAH! Way more women attend then men, I love it! A lot of time women drag their boyfriend/husband to the show. Women want to feel beautiful, powerful and accepted no matter what they look like — burlesque does that. Burlesque makes women feel empowered to watch because we look just like them. Burlesque accepts all. Attendees think: “She does it, I can do it!” I love making total strangers open their eyes to how amazing they can be and are. Also, women tend to love pretty, shinny, sparkly things and burlesque is all about that!
Citizen: How did you become such a figure in the Denver burlesque scene?
Way more women attend then men, I love it! … Burlesque makes women feel empowered to watch because we look just like them. Burlesque accepts all.
Fathom: HARD WORK! It’s taken me years to get where I am and I’m not finished; my work will never be done. I got where I am the old-fashioned way, through networking, going to the shows in Denver so I could introduce myself and doing face-to-face meetings and handing out business cards. Once I got booked for a few shows, then it became much easier. Now people contact me and I always love getting called.
Citizen: Do you have a burlesque persona and where do you draw your inspiration from?
Fathom: I’d say 99 percent of burlesque artists have characters or a persona, as for myself I do not. I am FATHOM. I’ve been doing this so long there is no line anymore — there is no “human life.” I’m me all the time, which is wonderful! Fathom is my legal name and my stage name. I’m lucky enough to get to be my glittery self 100 percent of the time. I have lots of inspiration, but the two big ones are my grandmother and my mother. My grandmother was a professional pin-up model in the ’40s and ’50s; she is so glamorous and classic — I try to be as timeless as her. She had the honor of knowing Sally Rand! I cannot say enough about my mother: she is an incredible dancer and performer herself. Her tap dancing is out of this world. She was wise and named me Fathom and put me into dance at 3. She also taught me how to craft and sew. She raised me on classical music and she fully supports all my craziness. My mommy is a ROCK STAR! Tempest Storm, Satan’s Angel, Cathrine D’lish, Dita Von Teese and the fabulous Ru Paul are also my inspirations.
Citizen: Tell us who is performing and what you have planned for Friday’s burlesque performance at the Attic.
Fathom: The headliner is Paco Fish; he is a boylesquer who is on tour right now. Paco is a big deal in the burlesque world, and I feel so honored and so excited to finally work with him. From Colorado: Frenchie Gernard is performing, she owns her own troupe in Denver. Jiji Deluge,who just produced her first show. Allure Del Rosa, who I originally met through my Laramie troupe and now lives and performs in Denver. And from Casper, Kimber: a beautiful belly dancer who did burlesque when she lived in Alaska. I will be performing as well.
Also attending will be the roller derby teams: Casper’s Deadly Ghosts and the A’salt Creek Roller Girls. Both teams will have merchandise to sell and be rolling around.
The show is going to be so fun! From 7 to 9 there will be a cocktail hour with music and mingling with jazzy people, and then at 9 our swanky host will start the show and get the crowd comfortable and start us off! At the end of the show there will be a group picture and more fun!
Citizen: Anything else you would like to share with Citizen readers?
Fathom: I wanted to start burlesque in Casper to bring more local artists together to support local businesses and the community. I want to give Casper people some fun! I eat, live and breathe burlesque 24/7, burlesque is my fire! I want to share my joy with everyone, I want to express myself the way I was born, which just so happens to be naked!
Catch Fathom, Kimber, Paco Fish, Frenchie Gernard, Jiji Deluge and Allure Del Rosa perform at 7 p.m. Friday, July 19 at The Attic. Tickets are $15 at the door, and you must be 21 to attend.