This burlesque dancer makes people see that beauty isn’t just one body type
Photo: Kairo Snapshots
By day, 28-year-old Toralina* works in the creative industry and as a freelance artist. Her usual attire consists of maxi dresses, button- down shirts and jeans, but a couple of times a month, she strips down to her lingerie in front of a group of 50 to 70 strangers. They don’t get to see what she looks like, because Toralina wears a mask in the shape of a fish head, so her conservative family won’t find out that on the side, she’s a burlesque dancer.
In 2016, Toralina (it’s her stage name) came across a Facebook post by drag queen Becca D’Bus, who was looking to form a troupe of burlesque performers with different body types to perform at the annual M1 Fringe Festival. Toralina, who is 1.7m tall and wears a size 20, felt drawn towards the cause. For her, it’s personal. Growing up, she always felt like a fish out of water. “People think Asian girls are cutesy and petite. I’m the complete opposite of that,” she says. But things changed after a four-year stint studying for a degree in the US. There, she noticed that women – regardless of their size – seemed comfortable in their skin and wore whatever they liked. Leggings, cropped tops, loud prints – nothing was off limits. Toralina resolved to be more like them. “Now, I’m like ‘this is me, you take it or leave it’,” she says.
Trying out burlesque dancing was nerve-racking. Toralina recalls her first time stripping down to her underwear at a workshop to prepare for the performance. “We had a little dance with some upbeat music. We were all on the same level of nakedness, so it made things a lot less awkward,” she recalls. The nerves returned when she was about to go onstage. “But as soon as the spotlights came on and I heard the roar of the crowd reacting to my costume, it fi lled me with joy, and that energy drove me to perform.” Now, Toralina is a regular performer at nightspots like Lulu’s Lounge and Kilo Lounge.
She had never been a dancer, but burlesque forced her to work with her body rather than against it. She found ways to move that felt natural and looked good onstage, drawing attention to her boobs and curves – parts of her body she’s most proud of. She learnt to make movements that were sensual, which grew her confidence and made her feel beautiful in a way she never thought possible. Being bigger and bolder onstage means she no longer feels apologetic about taking up space. “I was a little self-conscious in the past, especially when I sat on the train and my hips or thighs touched the passengers next to me,” she says. “Now, I know I have just as much right to sit on the train, and if someone else is uncomfortable, it’s their issue.”
Although she wears a mask to dance, she’s proud that she doesn’t look like a typical burlesque dancer. It’s encouraged women to come up to her and applaud her for stripping off. So will she ever take off her mask? Toralina doesn’t rule it out. “Perhaps one day I will, if I move overseas,” she says.
This part-time bridesmaid can be anything you want her to be
As the bridesmaid, Esther* made sure the bride’s makeup stayed fresh with touch-ups, coaxed her to eat between dress changes, and kept track of all the red packets coming in. She also planned the games for the traditional “gatecrash” – where the groom and his party have to complete a series of tasks before he can see his bride – hammed it up for the cameras, and warmly congratulated the bride’s parents during the traditional tea ceremony. In short, she did what any good bridesmaid would do to make her friend’s big day nothing short of perfect. Except Esther wasn’t friends with the bride. She was hired off the Internet. The 29-year-old had advertised her services as a bridesmaid on Pally Asia – a friends-for-hire platform – for $100 an hour. On Pally Asia, you can hire anyone for a fee – whether it’s a sports coach, someone to pose as your boyfriend, a buddy to eat hotpot with, or someone to chat with on the phone. For Esther, signing up to be a “Pally” is just her way of expanding her horizons and satisfying her curiosity. “At the end of the day, I just want to see what kinds of people are out there, instead of always mixing with my usual clique of university friends and colleagues,” she says.
The 29-year-old had advertised her services as a bridesmaid on Pally Asia – a friends-for-hire platform – for $100 an hour. On Pally Asia, you can hire anyone for a fee – whether it’s a sports coach, someone to pose as your boyfriend, a buddy to eat hotpot with, or someone to chat with on the phone. For Esther, signing up to be a “Pally” is just her way of expanding her horizons and satisfying her curiosity. “At the end of the day, I just want to see what kinds of people are out there, instead of always mixing with my usual clique of university friends and colleagues,” she says.
Earlier this year, Esther was hired by a woman whose close friends were either pregnant or overseas, but wanted a stand-in bridesmaid for the sake of tradition. Esther – who met the bride for the first time just two weeks before the big day – more than qualified for the gig, having been bridesmaid six times over for her own close friends. It also helped that she had a bubbly personality and a genuine love for watching people get their happily-ever- afters. The night before the wedding, she even had trouble sleeping – so worried was she that things might not pan out. “The emotion is very much real, even if it’s just a service,” she says. Esther got to keep some photos and videos from the wedding as mementos, but never saw the couple again.
Bridesmaid gigs are a rarity, in Esther’s experience. It’s been her only one so far. She works in the education sector and takes on other side gigs via Pally to earn extra cash, and for a change of scene from her day job. The more common one is as a dinner companion – where she’s paid $40 for an hour and a half of her company and good conversation. The first time she accepted a booking on Pally to go out for dinner, she wondered what might compel someone to pay for something many others enjoy for free. More curious than creeped out, she decided to give it a shot.
Her dinner date for that evening turned out to be a Vietnamese man in his 30s who worked in IT. They met at a casual restaurant – a location picked by Pally Asia. “From his appearance alone, you wouldn’t think that he needed to pay for company,” she says. She found herself pleasantly surprised that she was enjoying the conversation. She stuck to safe topics like travel and personal interests, and didn’t probe into his reasons for hiring a dinner companion, as she didn’t want to be a buzzkill (in case the reasons were negative). Since then, she’s received more than three requests to be a dinner companion – though she has yet to take up any of the offers as she prioritises time with her family and friends.
Pally Asia says dinner date requests typically come from single men, some of whom are foreigners, whose occupations and ages vary. Most are professionals looking for some companionship. Or they’re bored, or need a plus-one at an event. Esther admits that her friends do tease her for making herself available to hang out with these men, but she tells them that it’s nothing more than conversation and a free meal. “It’s not dating, it’s just spending time together to talk,” she says. She adds that she treats this as nothing more than meeting a new friend.
It also helps that Pally Asia lays down strict terms of service before clients can engage “Pallies”. That includes no expetations beyond having dinner, and no soliciting of private experiences. It’s why Esther isn’t worried clients might try to cross the line.
She’s now looking to expand her repertoire, and has also advertised her services as a shopping buddy on Pally. She’s perfect for the job, given that she loves experimenting with different styles, and gets a sense of satisfaction from picking out the perfect gift or finding a great dress for an important occasion. Most importantly, she can shop for hours at a go.
Her parents are largely in the dark about her side gigs, “Sometimes, the less the elders know, the better,” she says.
She helps people bag what they really, really want
For 18 hours, Trisha* stood in line to be among the first to get her hands on the coveted new iPhone X. To pass the time, she read books on her Kindle and napped in her sleeping bag. But the iPhone was not for herself. Trisha, 29, is a queue-sitter – someone who gets paid to stand in line and bag super-exclusive, coveted stuff.
She typically gets $21 for a three-hour shift, and between $90 and $110 for a 12-hour one. Over the past few months, she’s stood in line to help people get Bruno Mars concert tickets and fashion items (most recently, she queued eight hours for the Erdem x H&M collaboration, and 12 hours for a pair of Adidas x Mastermind sneakers). But queuing for the iPhone X has been her longest and most lucrative gig so far – netting her $175 for that single occasion.
It started last August when Trisha chanced upon a Carousell ad from someone seeking a queue-sitter who could help buy limited-edition Supreme x Louis Vuitton pieces. It opened her eyes to the demand for this service. On the lookout for more such jobs, she found iQueue, a platform which links customers with people who can stand in line on their behalf. On the website, customers choose “queue and buy” (where the queue-sitter completes the entire process and hands over the goods) or “queue and replace” (where the queue-sitter informs the customer of her position in the line once she joins the queue), which lets the customer estimate what time to show up and take over. The rates queue-sitters charge are determined by iQueue.
For Trisha – who juggles part-time jobs like working as a banquet server and assisting in events company with its set-ups – queue-sitting is just a way to earn extra cash to pay her bills. She admits it isn’t much (she declined to reveal how much she earns each month from her queue-sitting gigs), but every bit helps. After all, she’s got bigger dreams. Currently, she’s saving up and thinking of going back to school to resit her O Levels before going on to do a diploma in agricultural science. Eventually, she’d like to start her own agriculture business.
Still, waiting in line is mundane work, so you need to be a master at exercising patience and finding ways to kill time. Trisha makes sure she’s got her arsenal, which includes snacks like cookies and crisps (it’s a good thing she’s not a big eater), water, a power bank that’s good for multiple charges, an umbrella, and enough data to watch videos on her phone. She must also be able to react quickly to situations – sometimes, she gets just a few minutes’ notice to get in line. And she must be prepared to deal with store policies working against her. For example, some shoe stores allow people in the queue to buy only products in their own size. Trisha reads forum posts from other queue-sitters on how to handle such situations so she won’t be caught off-guard.
Making friends and building camaraderie with others in the queue is also crucial, says Trisha, who may initiate the chats by sharing her snacks and drinks. This is especially important if you’ve got a customer who’s coming to take your place later, and you don’t want others in the queue to raise a ruckus about it. Plus, you don’t want to come back from a restroom break to find that someone else has moved in on your spot. “People are usually quite friendly, and they’ll help you as long as it doesn’t put them out of their way,” she notes.
Besides the cash, Trisha says it’s nice to be able to help someone out. She recalls a woman who tried queueing for concert tickets and didn’t succeed, but got them after hiring Trisha to do the job. She was overjoyed. “You can share in their happiness, even if it’s just for a short while,” says Trisha. “Besides, our Singapore kiasu spirit already makes us world-class queuers.”
*Names have been changed.
This story was originally published in the January 2018 issue of Her World magazine.