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Cardiff Character: Gemma Smith


Gemma is an administrator by day and a saucy burlesque dancer by night, and she’s planning on dancing on every stage that will have her


One of Gemma’s acts as Prince John of Disney’s Robin Hood. Photo courtesy of ohhkimmi

In a cold studio above a shop on City Road, 24 year-old Gemma Rose Smith is rehearsing her dance routine.

She puts the heating on, prepares the space, and strips down.

Gemma, aka Hadria Hellbound, is here to enjoy her favourite hobby – burlesque dancing.

“I don’t want to make my hobby my career because it will drive me up the wall,” she says, “burlesque is my little escape.”  

Surrounded by poles and mirrors, she puts her 6-inch heels on and plays music on a large speaker.  

Gemma explains: “If I have a shit day at work, I come home and throw myself at a pole.”

Natural hermit

Gemma’s been on stage with big names in the burlesque industry and as much as she enjoys it, she’s happy to keep it as a side project.  

“The day after a show I chill and do nothing- it’s the glitter crash and the adrenaline come down.

“I’ll be awake until 2 am and then I’ll be dead to the world,” she says.

Gemma was nervous and withdrawn as a child, and describes herself as a hermit who was happy in her own company.

She maintains that she’s still a hermit, regardless of her extracurricular activities.  

Dancing Inspiration 

Her love affair with burlesque began with a Marilyn Manson music video starring Dita Von Teese.

“Dancers on Youtube were skinny and classically beautiful”


Gemma saw the American burlesque dancer and wanted to dance but believed she wasn’t thin enough.

She says the dancers she saw on Youtube were often skinny and classically beautiful.

“Then I saw Sparkly Deville, a renowned burlesque dancer who was a size 16-18, and I fell in love with her,” Gemma beams. 

gemma burlesque

Gemma was a shy child, but she’s far from shy on stage

Inspired, Gemma started dancing and creating her own stage outfits.

Support system  

She learned dressmaking skills from her mother.

“My mum is really supportive of my act and she’s often walked in on me sewing things to underwear,” Gemma laughs.  

She says: “My boyfriend also loves my dancing.

“He is really supportive and goes to the majority of my shows.”

Gemma describes him as a classic “widower”, a term used in the industry for partners of dancers who sit in the front row.

“He even helps me make my outfits!” she says.

Gemma is out of breath and flushed from spinning around one of the poles in the room.


“I’m a bit of a nudist anyway” she says between breaths

She takes a moment and looks around.

‘I’m a bit of a nudist and I love the freedom to just do whatever the hell I want,” she says between breaths.

Reflecting upon her past performances, Gemma admits that some audiences don’t appear to know how to react.

“They’re like ‘oh my god it’s a boob!’ and you’ve got to really warm the crowd up so they’re responsive,” she says.  

Fearless living

Gemma is standing half-dressed in the large, chilly studio with a hand on her hip.

She says she’s done feeling body shamed.

Her biggest fear isn’t regretting the things she’s done, but the things she hasn’t.

“I don’t want to be 100 years old, nipples in line with my belly button, and wake up one day and think that I’ve done nothing with my life.

“I plan to get my tits out on as many stages as possible until they stop having me.”

Gemma is stage managing a festive burlesque event with Cardiff Cabaret Club called Ffresh Burlesque on 1 December at the Wales Millenium Centre.

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