So you want to join the burlesque ranks of the best and the brightest? Sounds groovy, but you need to work to get some work! Working hard at this art form is what you need to stick out in the community- a community saturated with fledgling as well as established performers all over the world.
In my almost 7 years of experience, this is what I can tell you:
1. Decide if you want to be a “hobbyist” or a “professional”. (And if those words don’t work for you, just think about what you want your participation level/work level to be.)
I asked Miss Astrid (a pioneer in the “Neo-burlesque”movement. See: Velvet Hammer Burlesque) to help me tell the difference between the two:
“I would say that there are many ways to be a hobbyist, but only one way to be a professional. It has nothing to do with how much money one earns because many excellent and dedicated artists don’t survive off their art. I would define a professional as someone who has trained in their artform and are passionate about entertaining. They posess skills which make them both desirable to work with and a pleasure to watch on stage.”
And I’ll elaborate in my way:
Many of us aspire to be a “professional”, but you really need to ask yourself if you’re willing to do the work, hours upon hours of work rehearsing, taking classes, getting mentorship, researching, costuming, networking, writing emails, applying to festivals, contributing to community, attending shows, etc. This is also a big investment of money. If you don’t invest the funds and/or the investment of time-it is a hard reality that you will most likely stay at a non-professional level. For many professionals, this is a challenging, yet rewarding life. We aren’t doing it for the money, since over-saturation has made it progressively harder and harder to fill our local and international schedule. We do it because there’s no other option for us. This is what we do. We’re entertainers to the core. This is a full-time job for many of us (and some even working more than one job), making ends meet by teaching, costuming, hustling, modeling, performing-because this is all we know how to do.
Those who don’t operate at the professional level are a bit different. You might do many of the things above, but you have a full-time job, and it’s easy for you to put performing on the backburner. Perhaps this is something that simply keeps you entertained, and you’re not interested in performing on giant stages for 1,200 people-knowing that every second its up to you to keep a person entertained. Maybe you just like dressing up and going to shows and occasionally performing for your friends in shows that you all produce together-that’s great! There’s space for both of these sides of the community, sides of the same coin.
Also note that just because you want to be a successful pro doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen for you. Every artist isn’t successful-but they still do it because they love it, just at a different level.
*There are many ways to be involved in a community, especially the burlesque community. Like Miss Astrid said, and I agree, there is one way to be a professional, and many other ways to participate and perform as well. If the words “hobbyist” and “professional” are too black and white for you, I invite you to create your own way, heck-that’s what most of us are doing on our path anyways.
*(this addendum is result of a conversation that is the result of Miss Astrid’s “State of the Union” Address. )
2. Go to a class.
In this day and age, resources abound! Go to dance classes that have nothing to do with burlesque. Go to burlesque classes if they’re in your area and taught by seasoned professionals. If you’re really serious, make a pilgrimage. I highly recommend Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque, academyofburlesque.com, Jo Boob’s New York School of Burlesque, schoolofburlesque.com, and Michelle L’amour’s school, studiolamour.com.
Start doing research to see who the best and the brightest are in your community
(maybe check out http://www.21stcenturyburlesque.com)
for leads and then go “down the rabbit hole” of research. Go to shows. Watch YouTube videos. Email people in your community (hello FaceBook) to see if they have suggestions. If there’s no school in your area that you’re interested in, or group classes aren’t your thing (however- dancing around others is valuable), contact a seasoned professional for a private session.
Your learning shouldn’t stop here. One class does not a “burlesque star” make. Keep going to classes, taking private sessions, check out some burlesque DVD’s both new (Jo Boobs and Michelle L’amour have some) and old (try Something Weird Video and dive in!). No matter how long you’ve been performing, the learning and aspiring to be a better stripper shouldn’t stop. If it does, become a hobbyist, and be a supporter of your local community and the Burlesque Hall of Fame in it’s preservation of our history!
Learn who the legends of burlesque are. There are a ton of books out there, but the history is still incomplete, especially when it comes to performers of color. And yes, there were a TON of burlesque performers of color, and there are a lot today. Go online, Google names, go to your library, use the bibliography in a burlesque book you just got. Study everything, every style. A lot of performer’s websites have links to books and other performers and resources. Read blogs. For starters, check out the Burlesque Hall of Fame (burlesquehall.com)- they have a lot of links to legends both new and old. My personal library of links, burlesque books and old videos grows all the time. And no, I’m not going to share my list. This is your incentive to go and search!
Research should never stop with reading. Go to shows in your area, and then make special pilgrimages to festivals and conventions. There is one convention that is hosted here in Seattle called BurlyCon- http://burlycon.org/ that has experienced teachers and professional performers from all over. Please see my previous blog post about the convention here: http://www.21stcenturyburlesque.com/burlycon-2008-to-2010-a-retrospective/
For an ultimate burlesque showdown, go to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas. It’s epic, inspiring, exhausting, and lovely. It’s one of the few festivals where you will get to meet those legends that paved the way before us.
Whenever you can, go to shows, talk with your peers, read books and watch videos!
When learning a craft- there are always people out there who came before you and are most likely doing it better than you. This means that if you get the chance to have a mentor that you connect with, you should jump at the chance. Here’s my article on mentorship:
To me, mentorship is more than a dance class. You can work on acts, have interesting conversations, learn skills while helping them out with their projects, watch burlesque videos together, get advice-you’re there to soak it all in. Mentorship is hard to find. It should never be forced-this is a relationship that you hope will be rewarding to both parties in some way. Often you get to learn how to be a better performer, it humbles you, and your mentor often gets help and support in their projects and life. Often you might find yourself assisting them at shows, setting up props, in general being helpful because you want to. Working with a mentor is your anti-diva moment. It’s absolutely wonderful. And I wish you all success in finding that person to you, in burlesque life, or in whatever career you have chosen.
For me, rehearsing isn’t just going through my act, but it’s the minutiae of the act. For examples: fan work, body positioning, where my wrists are, facial expressions, floor work, arm placement, removing one particular piece of clothing, rhythm….it goes on and on. There’s always something to work on. Even if you have a stupid busy day, set aside some time to rehearse. Consistently. That way you can feel good knowing that what you just put on stage was rehearsed and that you worked hard. Rehearsing builds confidence. When I don’t get all the time I need to rehearse before a show I don’t feel as happy with my performance as I know I could. And I want to be the best that I can be.
6. Listen to music
There’s a TON of music out there. More than you can ever listen to. Yes, there are burlesque standards out there and yes, they are fun to dance to. You don’t have to stick just to these- check out other genres. Music is such a personal thing, the thing that is the glue for your act. My best advice is to make sure that the piece of music that you are dancing to is interesting, fun and dynamic enough for an audience to hear. You won’t please everyone, but make sure it fits with the act, your mannerisms, and your movement!
Please note that there’s a LOT of overlap of songs and trends in the burlesque community. There are a ton of acts to “Night Train” (for example)- just make sure that you check with the show you’re in to see if someone else is already dancing with the music you’ve picked, and never steal another person’s act. Also, don’t be surprised if someone else is using a song that you use- it happens. Just be you, be unique, make your mark with your personality in your acts, not just your song choice.
7. Get healthy
Yes, get healthy. Drink water. Hit the gym, dance, yoga, whatever. Get stronger. I know I’m not alone in saying that the healthier you are, the better you feel and the more confidence you have. Don’t mistake me, this doesn’t mean losing weight, unless that’s your desire SEPARATE from your burlesque aspirations. Sleep enough, eat good food, maybe even drink a little less. Figure out what is helping you, and what is hurting your path to greatness. And then get to it. It’s exhausting energetically and physically to be entertaining on stage. Take care of your sweet little body and mind. Give them all the love they need.
8. Get over your “issues”- if you have them
The stage is not your therapy session. Therapy is your therapy session. Talking with supportive friends is therapy. The stage is for entertainment. Entertainment is many things, including social and political discussions. But NOT battling your demons. Heal yourself, and then create an act about it, if you like-that can be cathartic and uplifting. We all know what it’s like to see a performer terrified and uncomfortable with being on stage, and only those into train wrecks really want to see it. Find your joy and love of being on stage, being mostly naked and having everyone looking at you. Because they are-they really are looking at you. Yes, all of you. Leave all your issues back stage, and get the job done onstage.
9. Help out
When I was just a fledgling performer, I got into the community the old fashioned way-I asked to help out. I stage kittened, stage managed, sold raffle tickets, etc. Just being around a show, being helpful is some of the best school you can get. Often times, you get to watch the acts and see the process of the performers on the stage. You get to see acts evolve, and performers too. In most of your towns there are shows to help with. Sell tickets at the door, help with seating, dress performers, be a go-go girl, be humble, be helpful. After go-go dancing for a while I was asked to create an act. And I did-but I still helped out at shows for a few years after.
Create acts! You don’t need 10 acts to run out of the gates with, just 2 solid, well put together acts to start. Take your time and don’t be impatient! Work on your costume, movement, invest money, and time. Research the best stockings for your reveal, trial and error, etc. Have someone watch your act (a teacher? A mentor?) to give you constructive criticism. Be willing to go back to the drawing board. Be willing to say no to a gig if it’s not ready, or you’re not ready. If you’re not sure if you’re ready-ask a teacher or a mentor. Experiment in workshops held by peers and teachers. Maybe get in on some newbie shows in your area!
11. Be unique
Have a personality. Be different. Learn what your strengths are as a performer (are you a great at emoting? Ballet? Are you funny? Athletic? Flexible? Acrobatic?) and use them. These things become your gimmick; the thing that people can know you by. If you’re gimmick is a physical asset, that’s great too-but remember to round out your show with all of the hard work mentioned above. Copying other people’s ideas and acts isn’t only wrong, it’s bad for business- your business! Why make it harder for people to recognize you? Sell your personality on stage-after all, there can only be one you!
12. Get a bio
A bio is a useful tool to peak a person’s interest to book you. If you are new, never fear- a bio is often a living breathing thing that evolves as you evolve. The more cool stuff you get to do in your career, the more cool stuff you can add. As a producer, I’d recommend that for a newbie you keep your bio short and sweet. What’s your name? Where are you from? Mention if you’re specially trained in anything, or have ongoing stage experience. When did you begin your career?
There’s a lot of fudging the facts in bios these days, people giving themselves queen titles and the “best of” titles. I highly encourage you to wait until something like that is given to you by someone you respect, like a legend, a respectable festival, a high level magazine, etc. Also, don’t forget to quote where it comes from. As a producer, I check. A bio should back you up, not over burden people with grand ideas about who you are.
For a legendary bio example, try my mentor,
You can check out mine:
Check out Michelle L’amour’s:
13. Keep a performance resume
Keep track somewhere, on your computer, on a piece of paper, a napkin, whatever. Know what major shows you’ve been in, and be able to reference them. Because I use Google calendars, I also have other shows and appearances documented as well. There’s lot’s of ways to make a performance resume, from a complete list, to only major appearances and something in between. Just make sure to spell check and have pertinent information like venue, producer, if there were any bigger named performers, when it was and the name of it. References are good too! Just like when your searching for any kind of job-ask your references if it’s ok to give out their names and information.
14. Get humble.
You’re trying to make your mark in a community that is already established. Think of it like workplace dynamics. Be kind, ask questions, be honest and come ready to work. There are enough queens in this community, and they were already crowned. So drop any cocky b.s. you might have and show them the real you. People like working with people that are easy to be around, passionate, and work hard.
Yes, we all are looking out for ourselves and to get gigs-but you know what? You should supportive too. Refer talented performers to gigs if you’re in the position to. Share knowledge. Be aware of what’s undercutting another performer at your level. You’re never going to get all of the gigs or all of the accolades. Ever. But there’s a lot out there to go around and help create beautiful relations within community. Success is so much more fun if those around you are doing great as well. Also- the backstage is way more fun too!
15. Deal with rejection.
Not everyone is going to book you. Not every gig is for you. Look at auditions you’ve done as learning experiences. If you didn’t win that competition or big gig, just work on your act. Transfer any frustration into better work. Be a friendly competitor.
16. Film yourself
Yes! watch yourself on film, recognizing things that are compelling and things that you want to work on, and then work on them. Who doesn’t want the option of instant re-call? You don’t have to put it on YouTube-it’s not a reliable source of constructive criticism. Show it to a teacher, a peer whose opinion you trust.
17. Have fun!
If it’s not fun-ask “why?”, and then change it. This may mean that you need to stop performing for a while. Maybe you’re not performing with the right people or putting yourself in the right situations. Take a break, take a new class…find the lovely thing that motivates you. Good luck!
*Questions? Or interested in having me dance and or teach at your next event? Email me at GlitterWonderland@gmail.com