Opinion Piece: Do’s and Don’ts of burlesque

These are simply the opinions of one glittery burlesquer.

Originally written in 2008 it is revised (hey, my opinions can change!), but to some, still helpful.


Since 2005 I’ve been in countless shows, produced countless shows and seen countless shows. I’ve been backstage with shining stars, newbies that just want to get it right and established performers that seem to have no clue. Often, when I’m approached by a new performer, they want to know what they can do better, or what they’re doing “wrong”…..

Not everyone likes the same thing, and while many of my opinions are shared- I speak for no one but myself. However- here’s a few things that I would like to let you know- and I hope that it can be useful for you!

1. Get a name and make it yours. Make it unique. If you are trying to rip off a more famous performer than yourself with your name, that really sucks. If you’re making a raunchy, disrespectful joke on a legend’s name- I think it reflects upon you poorly. Know that people have noticed, and it might be why you’re not getting more work. If you have the name of someone else that has come before you and they approach you about it- don’t be rude, change yours to something else. There are a million Cherry’s, Kitty’s, L’somethings, D’somethings, Von Somethings….don’t you want to really stand out? Some names are coincidences and that can’t be helped, but really- please do your research.

2. If you decide to be a peeler, please look at yourself from all angles in the mirrors.
*Cut off your tags please!
*Please gussy up your underwear a bit. Plain ‘ol panties tend to look bad.
*the tinier the better! Hottie McNaughty and I were having a conversation one night about this. She’s not into the thong, but she is into butt cleavage. I’m a big fan of tiny thong underwear. We both agree that there should be some element of risque in your panties. Maybe they just fit really well….hug your delicious curves!
*Check out yourself from the rear. Are those underwear flattering?
*Wearing a corset/fishnets/certain kind of bra/fringe every act can be boring. Keep an eye on that. Make sure you keep it interesting.
*You don’t have to have tassels on the pasties. Not twirling? Don’t worry about tassels!
*Just because you might be a more voluptuous girl doesn’t mean you have to wear huge granny panties. For a great reference, please go to youtube and watch videos of Dirty Martini. I want to do Dirty things to Dirty Martini. She’s simply fabulous.

3. HAVE STAGE PRESENCE!
Sorry, you can’t buy this. Granted, not everyone has me on their favorite burlesque gal list, but I’ve been told since I was 15 that I have stage presence. What I’ve witnessed over the years of being obsessed with watching live performances, is that you can’t buy it. You either have it, or don’t. This does not mean that having stage presence will make your act especially interesting unless you make it so. Conversely, I’ve seen amazing dancers have no stage presence, and unfortunately, maybe they should just teach. It’s that French je ne sai quoi thing, ya know?

4. If your going to do the “Classic” striptease thing, at least be really good at it. Practice, practice, practice! Nerd out on it. Really, get into the meat and potatoes of the movement, the attitude, everything. I recommend watching videos of Catherine D’Lish, Immodesty Blaize, Dirty Martini, Michelle L’Amour, Roxi D’Lite (to name just a small few) and then perhaps considering giving up altogether (joking! just keep working on it!). This isn’t about taking ourselves too seriously on stage- but this is about taking it seriously enough when you’re working on it to make it believable when you’re on stage.

5. Emote! People-please stop with the Cock in the Mouth face (CITM) throughout your whole act. It looks contrived. Try smiling! Try closing your mouth! What about a flirtatious smirk? I personally suggest practicing face expressions in the mirror while mimicking your act to the music. This is how you will find out if you are a culprit of CITM.

6. If you are embarrassed to be on stage, we will be embarrassed for you. This makes an awkward situation. If you can’t be fierce when you step on the stage, THEN CONSIDER STAYING OFF THE STAGE UNTIL YOU’RE READY. Go take some great classes from some of the greats, (there’s probably someone near you- please use the internet), do some soul searching as to whether you’ve really found your calling and then stick to your guns.

7. Be courteous. BE ON TIME! sure, sometimes you have to be late, but either prearrange it or have your producer on speed dial. There are a few chronically late performers in this town, and they are fucking with the start times of shows. So be on time! And producers: start punishing.

8. Do your damn hair please. Okay? Thanks. This means brushing, curling, pinning setting etc. Your costume DOES INCLUDE your hair. Invest in quality wigs if your hair won’t do what you want it to. I learned that the hard way. Miss Indigo Blue was so good as to point that out to me when I was just starting out.

9. MAKEUP: if you aren’t wearing eyelashes, I’m disappointed in you. Actually, a lot of us are. We can’t see your pretty eyes from back here! you look unfinished! (Ok- I’ll concede- if you’re allergic to the glue, get creative with eyeliner). Take a makeup class. More is *usually* better on stage. Even stage actors, and performance artists will employ the use of a lot of makeup. Making your face pop while staying true to yourself is totally possible. Just watch the blush. *shudder*. Even if your look is pedestrian, we still need to be able to see you from the back of the room. (HOT TIP: Check out books by the late, great Kevyn Aucoin)

PS: yes, I do think you do need lipstick and liner (even if it’s nude). It makes the occasional intentional CITM face look amazing.

10. Shoes. Yes…..we are looking at your feet. Make them pretty! Check your heel height, the arch, the thickness in the shaft (heh- shaft.) All of these things alter the appearance of your step and the sexiness of your legs. Practice walking in your heels. Spend a day in them! Get a drag queen to teach you her walking tips! Watch Showgirls!

*this does not include those of you trained dancers that use ballroom or character shoes. I get it, they’re more sturdy for the awesome stuff you’re about to do. -Just remember-rhinestones and appliques can totally go on shoes too. Spice em up!

11. Watch a ton of burlesque. Submerge yourself in it. Swim in it! Breathe it.

12. You don’t have to have a ton of money to put into your costume (though it is nice), you need to pay attention to how it fits, color combinations, and the tiny touches-the embellishments and alterations. It’s how it looks, not how much it costs. But unfortunately, I’ve seen some acts that just look thrown together. If you’re no good at putting together a costume, hire someone to do it for you, ask another burlesque gal for advice. Seriously, it’s better this way. We are creating an illusion for the audience, do your part of the equation.

13. If you can’t get past your body flaws for the 3-7 minutes you’re on stage, none of us are. If you’re walking on the stage thinking about how chubby you feel, it’s going to show on your face. You’re going to look uncomfortable, and that’s when people are going to go to the bar or grab a cigarette. True story.

14. Don’t get hammered before or during your show. Don’t worry-I’ve tested this out in the past for you. It aint pretty, and you are ripping off the audience. Some performers like to have a cocktail before, and that’s great and fine- but consider whether it’s actually making you a better performer….and if there’s other ways to get there (and stay present on stage).

15. If you can’t twirl, just don’t. Please. Unless it’s for the funny. Then go for it!

16. Community is important. Try to be a part of it! Some of us are outspoken, and some aren’t. Remember that this is also a business too- and that there should be a level of professionalism that happens, especially if you want consistent work.

17. Speaking of consistent work- if you want to be hired for a show locally, you should go check out the show and introduce yourself to the producer. Shake their hand, give them your card and ask them if it would be ok to email them your information (including performance links and resume) in hopes of working with them. Simply emailing them with an expectation of work is not only a bit rude, but it’s also not professional. As a producer I’ve received lot’s of “My name is Cherry D Von Teese, I’m local! I haven’t been to your show yet- but you should hire me! thanks!” and I’ll be honest- I don’t even respond.

18. Know the difference between Facebook and Email- Business deals and transactions, in my opinion should be on EMAIL. Asking someone where they got their shoes- FACEBOOK.

19. If it’s not fun- don’t do it. You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself.

20. Go to festivals! Take classes! Read books! Watch videos! and PRACTICE!

Xx
Sydni

 

2 thoughts on “Opinion Piece: Do’s and Don’ts of burlesque

  1. This is awesome!!!

    Can I add some, from a stage manager perspective??

    *Make sure your music is simple! NO IPOD’S! The best way to do this is to burn one CD PER SONG, starting and stopping right where you need it to, and triple check it to make sure it works.

    *If it takes 3 people to set up your props, you might want to reconsider it. There are some exceptions to this, but the act better be pretty fucking epic.

    *I can’t reiterate enough how important it is to BE ON TIME! When you’re late, everything else is on hold.

    *Don’t consider pre-show your rehearsal time. Your act should be polished and memorized, ready to go, in case run-throughs aren’t an option.

    *This may be different per venue, but it’s a really great idea to NOT have food or drink backstage, period. Most performer’s costumes are very expensive, and I can’t think of anything worse than a plate of spinach dip ending up on someone’s imported fans.

    I’m sure there’s so many more, that’s just off the top of my head!

  2. Beautifully said, Sydni and Hottie.

    Thank you for the sage advice (and the laughs).

    Those of us who are producing and not performing would do well to pay attention to these things, too. (I’m probably making CITM face too often. 😉

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