Cardiff Character: Stephanie Gawne

Resembling a performer about to take the stage, Stephanie Gawne walks into the cafe perfectly poised. The way she gestures for her coffee and takes a seat – each movement gracefully flows into the next and it’s hard to imagine her as anything but a dancer.

From aerialist, burlesque and belly dancer to choreographer and now co-founder of the International Welsh Cabaret Festival (IWCF), the 44 year old performer has played several roles on and off the stage for over 20 years. Trained in musical theatre at the Arts Education in London, she has been teaching belly dancing and cabaret for the better part of a decade in Cardiff.


Stephanie Gawne (FooFooLa Belle) is an international burlesque performer based in South Wales with a wide catalogue of work.

Over the last eight years, what started as weekly cabaret classes at the Chapter Arts Centre has grown into the Cardiff Cabaret Club. “We organised the Welsh Burlesque Festival in 2013,” says Gawne, “and now, I am doing IWCF with Ceri Harris, another local performer. However, we needed to rebrand the festival as I changed my business from Cardiff Burlesque to the Cardiff Cabaret Club.”

A festival to start them all

Taking place on 13 and 14 November at the Sherman Cymru, the festival will be a scaled up version. Gawne envisions IWCF will become the flagship event with all the year’s shows leading up to it. On Friday night, 12 upcoming acts from around the world will compete in the first Cwtch Awards. The winner will share the stage with Europe’s finest at Saturday’s Gala Night.

“Arts organisations do not support us. We are completely self-funded and trying to grow it organically.”

“The line up was a wish list of acts we wanted to bring to Cardiff. Ranked number one in the UK, I am looking forward to seeing Aurora Galore. Also, I can’t wait to watch George Orange, Kiki Lovechild and Lady Francescca from Sweden,” exclaims Gawne.

Keeping the momentum going, she hopes to build the brand in Cardiff with another show next year. “With IWCF, we are trying to establish Cardiff’s fringe culture which comes from the grassroots,” says Gawne. “Arts organisations do not support us. We are completely self-funded and trying to grow it organically.”

Stephanie Gawne and the Cardiff Cabaret Club

Out of the shadows

Despite the increase in awareness in the last few years, there is still a “conservative feeling” in the UK towards burlesque. Most people do not see it as an art form. “We often have different profiles – the stage persona, for me that is FooFooLa Belle and it is very different to my everyday self. It makes it easier on my business and personal life and somewhere in the middle is the person that does the promoting, choreography and the classes. You end up having this geo-personality,” admits Gawne.

From the days when performances were held in small working men’s clubs to the recently acceptable Moulin Rouge styled theatre venues, burlesque is (slowly) shedding its old image. This has resulted in performers having to find new ideas to take their acts to the next level causing a mix of disciplines, such as acts involving a striptease but on a rope in a circus setting or fire eating and flaming tassels.

“We call it adult cabaret. Apart from doing a classic burlesque dance with striptease, I also have compère, comedy, belly dancing and aerial acts,” says Gawne.

Taking the stage

Reminiscing about her diverse range of performances, she talks animatedly about her most adored ones – “transition acts”. Gawne says, “This Halloween we put up a gorelesque act with Little Red Riding Hood and a lot of fake blood. It was a completely different act seven years ago and I reimagined it to make her the hunter. It ends with her realising what she has done, covered in blood and it’s her grandmother’s heart she is holding in her hands.”

Like any true performer, one can see the twinkle in her eye as she relives the experience,“It’s a revelation as a performer and choreographer to take the act to the next level.”

A preview of what is to come at the International Welsh Cabaret Festival