Lady Hart shares the facts on becoming a Burlesque queen. The essentials, the scrutiny and the ability to find yourself among life long friends.
So, you want to be a Burlesque Queen?
Burlesque is glamorous, empowering and fun all rolled into one; so it’s little wonder decadence seekers the world over flock to the art. As one of the most body positive and supportive industries, burlesque is accessible and celebrating of those who don’t fit a socially rigid idea of what beauty is.
From Italian pantomime, to Victorian dance halls and ‘30's Vaudeville, burlesque has been an artistic staple of the performance world in various forms since the 1800's. With pageants, competitions, weekly gigs and open floor nights the world over; burlesque is very much alive and kicking those ankles high into the air.
When many of us think of burlesque as a broad term, our minds are usually thrown to Baz Luhrman’s cinematic masterpiece Moulin Rouge, the iconic burlesque star Dita Von Teese, or even to Las Vegas Showgirls. The wonderful thing about modern burlesque is how many different forms it’s taken on as it’s evolved; with niche categories like Boy-lesque, and Gore-lesque springing up during the burlesque revival of the last decade.
Whilst the plush surrounds and perfect façade of Hollywood and Paris feels like the untouchable dreams of the privileged few; burlesque is actually all around us. A quick Google search in your local area will show you upcoming events and shows dancers in your community have worked hard on at a grassroots level. You never know when that Nurse who just gave you a flu shot has a secret double life dancing in sequins and feathers.
If you’re thinking of trying something new and entering the exciting world of burlesque, it’s always a good idea to have a look at the most popular highs and lows of the industry; after all, there’s a lot more too it than just taking your clothes off!
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Burlesque costs a surprising amount of money for an art that requires you to not wear a lot, but when you break it down into the essential or most commonly used pieces, it’s easy to see why:
Your shopping list for any given costume may include:
Not to mention the ongoing costs of your beauty regime:
Makeup Nails Hair styling Skin care Eyelash extensions Waxing / Hair Removal Massages Physio (for dance related injuries)
Oh, and then there’s the:
Classes and tuition Rehearsal Studios Photo shoots Travel Entry fees to gigs to support your fellow burlesquers
Are you into Poi? Pole? Veil fans? Feather fans? Your niche burlesque interest will need extra tools and accessories as well as repairs and maintenance.
New acts call for new looks all the time, so it’s a good idea to invest in some durable pieces you can style in different ways for various looks. It will save you money and time in the long run to keep recycling these pieces before you need to replace them.
It’s Not All Glamor Backstage
You’re going to perform in shows where you’re sharing a 4x4m dressing room backstage with 20 other girls who are also trying to get ready.
You’re going to perform in shows where your possessions get stolen or misplaced, shows where the MC or tech guy doesn’t show up, shows where the venue manager will hit on you, shows where you’ll have to chase the promoter for your performance fee. (You will also perform many wonderful shows with fantastic catering, photographers who can’t get enough of you, and audiences who will want to touch you and know you afterwards, don’t worry!)
You’re also going to do a lot of free shows during your first few years as a performer. This is a fantastic way to make a name for yourself and network with other dancers whilst gaining confidence on stage and really refining your act.
Along your gig travels, you will see diva tantrums, tears, bitchiness, cliques and elitists; but for the most part, the community is welcoming and supportive. Remember that what you send out is what you get back, so start establishing a good reputation for yourself early in the game.
You Get To Live A Double Life
Hands down one of the best aspects of being a burlesque dancer is coming up with your stage name and creating a character around it. By day, you may be Meg the Secretary; but by night, you are Diamond Delish: a powerful goddess of seduction who brings men to their knees.
You’re more than likely going to have to learn two different names for everyone you come across, both their stage name and their real name. Some performers prefer to keep their professional and private lives as far away as possible; so be sure you treat your peers with respect. If you’re unsure on how to address someone, ask them; it’s the quickest way to ensure mutual understanding.
You Will Make Lifelong Friendships
MCs, other performers, magicians, singers, even fans; you’re about to get an influx of very important people into your life. Out of these relationships will grow ones that will last a lifetime.
Finally, you’ll have someone to share the stage with, someone to talk to backstage, someone to hug when something didn’t go as planned and someone to celebrate with when it does.
Expect Some Scrutiny
At the end of the day, burlesque does fall under the category of adult entertainment, and due to this; it is guaranteed to make certain people uncomfortable. It’s what burlesque was designed for, to cause a scandal; to satire and make sexuality (particularly for women) accessible.
In the famous words of Adam Ant, “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of” and burlesque should be treated in the same way. It is meant to empower, not demean. Support, not subtract. And overall feeling every single one of your oats as you’re doing it.
We’ve been referred to as “strippers”, “sluts” and “just a fancy word for being a prostitute”. It’s easy to get down by this kind of feedback, especially when realising 85% of burlesque audiences are women and 90% of burlesque performers are female. Practising self-care and keeping true to yourself will give you the advantage to not get bogged down by criticism. Remember, it is not an easy thing to get up on stage in front of other people, and it’s even harder to take your clothes off whilst up there. There will always be naysayers, but there will be plenty of people who sing your praises as well. Aim to impress yourself, and if you’re your biggest fan, no insult will be able to touch you.
If you’ve read through the above and still want to give it a shot, then you’re just about ready to enter the exciting and seductive world of burlesque. A good attitude and a positive but realistic approach will take you far in this industry.
So, Where Do I Start?
Taking a few beginners classes with a local burlesque or performance school is generally the best first course of action. Not only does this help you get a feel for the sort of burlesque dancer you’d like to be, but connects you with other aspiring and professional performers who will be able to assist you in honing your craft.
If you’re having difficulty finding classes or schools within your area; attending some burlesque shows in your region might give you a few leads. The burlesque community is tight knit, so there’s a good chance the girl on the door is a dancer herself. Strike up a conversation, you may find some insider information that you’re not able to online.
If you’re remotely based, stick to the “The system may fail me, but I won’t fail myself” rule. Scour the internet for instructional videos and dance around your living room, a great many of us will happily admit we are massive hair comb lip syncers and have performed to our empty couches and family photos.
The Greatest Piece of Advice
Finally, the best piece of advice about delving into the world of peep show pastiche is to simply HAVE FUN. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best, the worst or anywhere in between; the aim of the game is for it to be as fun and fancy free as possible.
So slap a smile on as the most important part of your costume. It’s the one accessory that will always be free.