The burlesque scene is bigger than ever and during your time performing you're
likely to come across lots of different types of people. Many performers find
they make lifelong friendships backstage but you can also meet some toxic and
troublesome types on your journey through the burly world. This post identifies
seven of the most toxic people you could meet during burlesque and how to avoid falling foul of their shennanigans.
Snarky is always spreading
gossip about other performers, especially the ones she doesn’t like. If there’s no gossip around she might make something up.
In every walk of life there’s a Snarky Whispers, spreading gossip
and bitching behind people’s backs. In burlesque this can be particularly
detrimental as we are an industry based on reputation. You don’t always get the chance to really get to know your fellow performers in the bustle of backstage so mud can stick. Some performers gossip because it gives them something to talk about backstage, or because they genuinely believe what they have heard is true. Others just like to stir the pot.
At some point or other, most of us in the burlesque world have heard a rumour about ourselves that isn’t true but by the time it has got back to you, any damage it might do will have already been done.
If you know who started the rumour you could call them out as a liar, but the
odds are, that if they spread a lot of muck, those in the know will already have
figured that out. In reality, the best was to handle rumours in burlesque is to
prove them wrong. You could tell everyone who’ll listen that you don’t really
suck your thumb for ten minutes before you go onstage or you could just make
them forget it by being punctual, polite, pleasant and a great performer at
every show you work. A handful of shows in this manner and nobody will believe any silly rumours about you because they’ll have seen with their own eyes how great you are to work with.
Ida’s always complaining
about how she doesn’t get booked for the shows that she wants. You’ll often find
her on Facebook criticising the burlesque world in general for not recognising her talents due to some other, less important issue. Ida moans that she’d get tons of work if only promoters didn’t judge her for being overweight, or for having a kid at home, or for not being in with the right crowd, or for having a Mohawk, or for not having a Mohawk, or for something else altogether.
Don’t let Ida’s negative mindset infect your own thought process. Occasionally you might get promoters who are biased against performers with red hair or who will never work with a Scouser but the reality is, usually when you don’t get booked it’s because you’re not right for the bill, or you’re one of
many people who were right for the bill but they had to make the cut somewhere.
Performing can be a difficult business in the self-esteem department and if you
start over-analysing your looks, body, lifestyle and demographic trying to find
something that bookers don’t like you can drive yourself mad. Instead, work on
upping your game, skilling up, gaining confidence and creating a clear and
coherent performance style and identity so that if they want what you do,
they’ll have to book you! If Ida is your friend, it might be worth suggesting you work on skilling up together, perhaps your pro-active, positive approach will help her loose her ‘if only’ attitude.
You’ve met Netta at shows before and she’s really fun to be around but online she’s a loose cannon. She’s always coming out with controversial Facebook posts or opinionated comments on forums. She’s constantly blocking people or getting her friends dragged into the row. When she’s not getting into a digital bickering session she’s posting cryptic statuses slagging a certain ‘someone who shall remain nameless’ or alluding to some performer who has offended her or got her back up. She’s the first to pile in and the last to let it go if an online drama kicks off.
If you’ve got a Netta in your life, you’re best to stay back. Way back! It’s bad enough to be a kick-off merchant in real life, but if you start using your professional social networking profiles to get into mudslinging matches this will tarnish the persona you are working hard to build up. If Netta is you friend you might feel tempted to back her up. I would advise against it. If it’s a petty squabble it’s not worth wasting your time on, and if it’s something really serious you can always report the issue to the site moderators. Likewise, if Netta is someone winding you up online the best thing you can do is let it go, tomorrow, she will have a new battle on her hands.
If you absolutely must have an issue out with her, send her a private message, but keep it clean and respectful. Be warned: she may share it with others.
Madame Xerox doesn’t really
know a huge amount about burlesque, she’s pretty new to the scene. She has very
rigid ideas about what a burlesque costume looks like, and what music and moves
you can use. She’s not really into experimenting and is a little nervous of
taking a risk. She thinks that a lot of burlesque looks quite alike and when she
sees your act it inspires her to do something similar. In this case, the results are often too similar for comfort. Sadly Madame Xerox doesn’t realise that she’s made a faux pas, or if she does, she hopes you won’t find out!
Madame Xerox can either be naïve or sneaky. If your Madame belongs to the former category, you should be able to reason with her. Explain to her that you know your acts are similar and you’re sure it wasn’t intentional, but ask if she might be willing to make a couple of changes. Be clear and realistic about what you need her to change. If it’s a case of the same concept (eg a maid) using the same music (eg Bibbity Bobbity Boo) you could probably ask her to change one, or the other but it would be unreasonable to ask her to scrap both. If you approach the situation politely and reasonably more often than not you’ll end up relived with the outcome.
If your copycat is more malicious, has sneakily pinched your idea, doesn’t care and won’t negotiate, your situation becomes trickier. Some people try naming and shaming publicly. This is tempting but it could erupt into a drama that ends up embarrassing both of you, others discreetly mention this issue to local
promoters, especially if the other performer lives and works near to you. Some
may choose to let it go, either continuing to perform their act regardless,
confident that, as the original, theirs will be stronger. Others drop the act;
an originator can always have new ideas so they are willing to give an imitator their cast off.
Perhaps the most positive response is to use the experience as a chance to make your act bigger and better. By experimenting with new choreography and music, expanding and developing your concept or narrative or re-costuming you
have the occasion to grow your act beyond your original ideas and can turn your
copier into a source for growth. Many people redevelop acts by choice at some
point in their performing career; why not use a copying issue as an opportunity
to work into and develop past your first ideas?
Judge Nudey’s not a performer at all, she’s someone you come across during your life in burlesque. Whether under the guise of feminism (after all, not all feminists agree that burlesque is a fun creative project for other feminists to engage in), morals or general unpleasantness the Judge likes to make you feel bad about performing. They may be someone in your family, an insecure partner or jealous friend, they may be someone in a position of power (see the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival debate) a journalist or just an opinionated person in the pub or on the street. Their mission is to put burlesque down, or to put you down for creating and performing burlesque.
If the Judge is someone close in your personal life you may want to talk to them and explain why you are drawn to performing. It may be worth drawing their attention to the focus on character, narrative, humour, costuming, choreography and performance skills rather than just the possibility of nudity. If you can persuade them, perhaps pick your favourite show and bring the Judge in your life along to see what burlesque is really like for themself. If they won't come around, you may eventually have to agree to disagree. Especially with a parent or other member of the family it might be a case of asking them to respect your decision to pursue something you love, while you respect their preference not to be directly involved.
If the Judge is someone outside of your circle (I'm thinking journalists, internet commenters, random people with opinions in pubs) you have two choices. You can choose to let it go, or you can attempt to fight the corner for burlesque. If you decide to speak out speak honestly and calmly and don't allow yourself to be drawn into pettiness. Often, these debates are the only insight the outside world gets into our artform, so if you choose to engage, show them how great we are!
Finally, be aware of when to step away from the keyboard. A few years ago, whenever anyone had anything negative to say about burlesque I used to pile in. It became exhausting and I felt disheartened with continually having to offer the same defence of the thing I love. These days I pick my battles and accept that while some people are willing to have an open-minded debate, others don't want to. These people will never budge an inch, so I'm better off spending my energies on something more productive.
Penny Shallow-Pockets and Scout
Penny and Scout produce
burlesque shows. Penny is a fairly new promoter. She doesn’t have much budget as she isn’t sure she wants to risk her own bank balance in running a show. She will be performing on the night, alongside her troupe (it will be their third performance) and she just needs a couple of out of town performers to round out the bill. She can’t really offer you much in the way of money but it will be great exposure for you, you’ll get seen by all of her friends from her office! Also, she can promise you some great publicity photos, as her mate is bringing his digital camera.
Scout is running a newcomers show. It will be a great opportunity for beginners to gain some stage experience and learn to work an audience. As all the performers are newcomers no money will be changing hands but he’s still going to be charging full whack on tickets and in the adverts he’ll be careful not to mention it’s a beginners’ scratch night.
If you're approached to perform by a Penny Shallow-Pockets take her offer of 'great exposure' with a pinch of salt. Who will you be exposed to? If you'll be seen by jounalists, burlesque industry professionals, TV cameras etc or if you'll be working alongside high level headliners from whom you might learn a thing or two, you might consider working for less than your usual fee. Usually though, shows that offer you nothing to come and perform can't boast these sorts of perks, also be wary of producers who offer 'professional quality' images or video footage as payment for performance. Ask to see some samples of the photographer/videographer's work before you make a decision to check if what they're offering is kosher. In a nutshell, shows that can't pay might be worth it for the experience if you are a total newcomer in need of some practice, or if you have a brand new act you want to try out in a low profile setting, otherwise you might want to say thanks but no thanks.
Scout Talent is a slightly different kettle of fish, if someone is putting on a newcomers' show there is no excuse for advertising it correctly and pricing it accordingly. Newby showcases can be a great way to get your first taste of performing for an audience but make sure you are giving your time to promoter who is eithical. Nobody should be making a fast buck from your hard work and by misadvertising a newcomers' show audiences may not be receptive to what you do, which could lead to a disappointing experience all round.
Aunt Noroom has been performing burlesque since the early days of the revival. She works hard to make a living for herself through performing alongside a few other allied professions. She remembers when burlesque was a tiny niche and it was possible to make a little money and have some fun doing it. Now, to her, the scene feels overcrowded and competitive. When asked, she says that people should leave burlesque to those who were there from the start of this run of things, and that newer folks are taking food out of the mouths of established performers.
It’s easy to find empathy with Aunt Noroom’s situation. The boom
in burlesque has led to more and more performers coming in, many of them not from any sort of performance background. The quality of performers, from those early days now varies more greatly and some weaker performers are willing to undercut in order to get on a bill, forcing the fees down for all of us. The best way to deal with Aunt Noroom is to be the best performer you can be, so she does not see you as part of the problem. This is also the best way you can support your local and national burlesque scene. Train in performance disciplines that interest you, be that dance, drama, striptease or special skillsets and always charge a fair price for your performances, because undercutting sells us all out.
That having been said, don’t let Aunt Noroom put you off giving performance a go; she may not realise it, but new performers are the lifeblood of any artform and without them burlesque would stagnate and die.
So a bit like the seven dwarves, that's our lot.
If you can think of any other tricky burlesque types not mentioned here, let us know in the comments, along with any tips to make getting along with them easier.
First Published Tuesday, 15 January 2013 on my blog Emerald Ace: Adrift in the World of Burlesque
I am now just over two weeks away from beginning the six week burlesque course I will be teaching, www.nottinghamburlesquelessons.weebly.com
(plug, plug). In the run up to the class I thought I'd write a couple of blog posts with my teacher hat on and share a few pearls of my (dubious) wisdom.
In my first blog in this series I thought I would look at ten things I wish I had known (or that some wise burlesque mama-bear had told me) when I started out as a shiny new performer. This list is a relatively personal one for me, and it is by no means exhaustive but I'd love it if experienced performers would use the comments to tell me about other things they wish they had know when they started out, and for newer performers to tell me about the things they wish they knew about now (assuming you know what they are!).
So, shimmying straight in with the list:
1. Watch Other Performers
This one might sound obvious but you'd be amazed at how little burlesque I had seen when I first started! Between coming up with concepts, choreographing routines, creating costumes and trying to get booked I didn't watch nearly as much burlesque as I probably should have in those early days. It's useful, though, to watch as much burlesque as you can (live for preference, but if time and budget don't permit, then Youtube is your friend). By watching other performers you become familiar with the tropes, clichés and standards of the genre, the different sub-styles (such as showgirl, comedic, gorelesque, etc), costuming tricks, how performers work an audience and all sorts of other vital nuggets. It stops your work becoming too generic because once you know the standards, you'll get a feel for where you can play with them, and it also gives you and insight into how many different way a basic idea can be interpreted.
Watching other performers is invaluable, I didn't do it enough when I first started out and I feel it slowed my progress to becoming a more well-rounded performer.
2. Wear More Makeup
When I first started out performing I would always look at photographs after a performance and think how plain I looked, especially alongside the other burlesquers. I came from a background of amateur dramatics so I knew that makeup was important for the stage, but it never really dawned on me how much slap you need to trowel on for your look to be striking in burlesque.
This picture is a shot of me performing at the Pitty Patt Club back when I was a newbie performer. As you can see, under the stage lights it looks like I am wearing makeup, but perhaps only about as much as someone might normally wear to a daytime engagement such as work or a lunch. In the photo, it looks reasonable enough, but imagine what the people at the back of the room can see! Probably not much.
For the stage, especially for burlesque, as an exaggerated, over-the-top kind of art form you could probably benefit from wearing a little more so that the audience can read your facial cues clearly (and that you look good in photos!).
Now as a stage performer, I wear a LOT more makeup. In fact, I probably wear a lot more than many performers out there. Stage makeup has become something of a passion of mine! So I'm not suggesting you have to wear as much makeup as I do, and of course, you need to ensure that the makeup you wear is appropriate to your character, but the important thing is to highlight the areas that will help you express emotion and character.
Usually eyes and mouths are a no-brainer. If the audience can clearly see your eyes and mouth you can't go far wrong. As I got to know more about myself as a performer I came to realise that I express a lot with my eyebrows so I now always ensure that they are clearly visible when I am onstage.
You may also choose to contour or use other stage makeup tricks to help change your face to fit a certain character. In the picture to the right (me performing as young Baba Yaga at the Blue Room Burlesque, 2011) I chose to contour my cheeks as I have quite a flat face and I pictured this character having sharp cheekbones. Also, when wearing a wig I tend to shade a little at the temples to make the join between the head and the wig more natural looking. I have also found that when wearing wigs (especially ones in bright colours or big shapes), wearing a little more makeup can stop it looking like the wig is 'wearing you'.
3. End your act and edit your track.
This was something I learned very quickly but it is still a pet peeve for me now when I see it in new performers. If your music finishes when your act does, it looks complete and professional. If your performance finishes before the song does, it leaves the audience with questions such as, 'Did she get the timing wrong?' or 'Is there more to come?'. I have seen dozens upon dozens of newer performers conclude an act part way through a song, or sometimes even part way through a verse or chorus! It never looks great. This leaves you with two options, you either need to build an act that lasts the entire length of the song you are working to, or you need to edit it to fit your act
I am a big fan of using mixed tracks, so I pretty much always edit my music to fit what I'm doing. There are some very easy editing programmes out there, or you could pay someone to edit your music for you if you need something more complex. Even if you just want the music to fade out, it is much more professional to edit the fade into your track than to ask the DJ to do it blind on the night of the performance.
4. Always customise your costumes
In this picture of me, performing an early incarnation of my first ever solo act, Emerald's Cupcake (back in 2006) you can clearly see that customising my costume items had never occurred to me. Apart from my hat (it was meant to be a big cherry) and my pasties, both of which I made myself, everything was shop bought and not customised. It didn't even cross my mind that I needed to do it.
A large part of burlesque, however, is showmanship, and having an exciting costume is part of it. There's nothing worse that removing an outer costume layer only to hear a voice in the audience remark 'I've got that bra' (which happened to me, while performing this act!). Customising costume items need not be expensive and you don't have to be a whizz at sewing either, I know many performers who swear by a hot glue gun! And by using ribbon, sequins, beads, lace, crystals or even more unorthodox items (I have seen rubber gloves, cuddly toys and badges to name a few), or by dying items or cutting and re-making them you can make your costume items really express you character, and give the audience something exciting to look at. You can also think about changing clasps, closures and fastenings, as well as how garments come off, to help you create a smoother striptease.
Personally, I am pretty poor at dressmaking or creating an item from scratch but my customisation skills have come on in leaps and bounds since I started performing burlesque. For example, in this promo for my Jackalope act I started out with a plain bra, corset, bloomers and a plain white bridal underskirt and I customised them using tea dying, lace and ribbon, home made appliques, raw wool and tons and tons of strips of calico (on the skirt). I also changed the bra from a back to a front closure and changed the straps. It was time consuming, but the basic skills were easy enough to learn.
5. The audience want you to succeed.
I remember how nervous I was when I first started performing, especially when I first broke out from the troupe I started in and began working solo. I got really worried that people wouldn't like my performances and wouldn't like me. Then, a more experienced, wiser performer reminded me that burlesque audiences (in the main) come to have a great time, to be entertained and to have fun. They want your performance to be good and they're rooting for you. Burlesque audiences, for me, have been for the most part, the most generous, upbeat, welcoming audiences I have ever performed to, and any lone negative voices get lost in the crowd. Nerves are healthy but as long as you offer the audience your best, they will treat you kindly.
6. Choose your music carefully (or Everybody has a copy of Striptease Classics)
When I first started performing I felt that there were particular expectations about what sort of music I should be performing to. In my mind I thought Rockabilly, 50s rock n roll, Swing, Big Band and at a push a Charleston would be acceptable, with perhaps metal or rock music if you were creating acts for a neo-burlesque or alternative themed event. This can be rather limiting and it can lead to lots of performers doing routines to the same few songs. The 'Take it off - Striptease Classics' album is one that most burlesquers have in their collection and I would say that a large amount of us have used a track from it at one point or another.
While there's nothing wrong with using a standard, especially if you really make it your own, you shouldn't feel restricted to only use this sort of music. You can use music from any genre you like, from any era and from any source; just pick something that inspires you and that you won't get sick of. And you don't have to stop there, you can perform to dialogue, sound recordings, silence - anything! Don't believe me? If you've never seen it before, check out this video of Nasty Canasta performing her Car Alarm Fan Dance.
7. Go at your own pace
One of the things that threw me when I was new, and that still throws me now if I let it, is watching what other performers are getting up to and making comparisons. It's easy to get downhearted when it feels like other performers are putting out an exciting new act every week, or that everyone is picking up great gigs except you. It's important though to remember that everyone feels like they are lagging behind sometimes, even that person you really look up to. Online especially, a lot of performers will promote themselves by talking about their gigs, their new projects and their achievements but remember this is only half the story. You aren't seeing all their hard work, their frustrations and disappointments and the times when real life gets in the way. Just try to keep going at your own pace and things will come together. If you get too caught up with keeping up with what everyone else is doing you'll take all the fun out of creating and performing burlesque.
8. Don't get distracted by drama
Occasionally in burlesque, like in any other walk of life, things can get a little bitchy. With so many creative folks all crammed together in small dressing rooms and close knit local scenes it is inevitable that occasional dramas and spats will erupt. Its very easy to get drawn into drama and burlesque politics and it is pretty much always a waste of time. Focus on your own performances, avoid the backstage bitching and skip the cryptic Facebook statuses slagging fellow performers off. And most importantly, ignore anyone who threatens to ruin your reputation, stop you getting bookings or stunt your chances as a performer. These people rarely have as much reach as they think they do, and if your performances are good and your manner backstage is friendly, these things will speak for themselves. (PS. Apologies. I know GIFs can be rather annoying but I just couldn't resist this one!).
9. Follow your passion
If you look at the most successful performers in burlesque they all have strong, distinctive on-stage identities and performance styles and this is important even for newer performers. In my early days of performance I fussed about whether something 'fit' what I thought was 'burlesque' style, whether that be sounds, visuals or movement. The problem with this is that it makes for a lot of fairly generic burlesque. Burlesque gets really exciting when performers begin to shape the genre to fit them, when they follow their skills and passions and create something personal. When I first started experimenting with the genre and how I could make it my own a little more I did receive a voice of dissent from an audience member who stated 'That's not burlesque, Dita von Teese wouldn't do that' and I felt a little deflated, but then I had dozens of people tell me how much they enjoyed my take on the form. People will enjoy your take on burlesque too, so learn the rules and conventions of the genre and then learn how to break them, or at least give them a little bend here and there!
10. Take a bow!
It might sound daft, but when I first started performing I would think nothing of leaving the stage as soon as my music finished and my final pose was over. When I watch early videos of myself back I can see how odd that looks. After your performance has finished, take a moment to enjoy your audience. Look out over the crowd and take a bow, curtsy or wave, or do something in character if you like. Either way, acknowledge your applause and enjoy it. It will make your performance look more complete and finished, the audience will feel acknowledged and it gives you a moment to drink in the rewards of your hard work.
So these are ten things I wish I had known when I was a new performer. I hope you've found them interesting. Now I'd love to hear what you wish you had known when you were new (or now, if you're new now). Please add your own thoughts to the comments section below.
Until the next time,
Originally posted on Tuesday, 27 November 2012 on my blog Emerald Ace: Adrift in the World of Burlesque
Firstly, two blogs in one week! I know, it's a rare and unusual occurrence!
I have been performing burlesque for almost seven years, and in that time I can't think of an issue that has been discussed more frequently, and caused more difference of opinion than the question of who should (and perhaps more importantly, who shouldn't) teach burlesque. The teaching question is a bit of a biggie because the teachers of today create the performers of tomorrow and new performers are, in many ways, the lifeblood of our artform. When newcomers are taught well they bring a flood of new ideas, enthusiasm and freshness to the burlesque palette; when they are taught poorly we end up with a glut of identikit, uninspired performers who then feel disillusioned and pushed out by the burlesque scene when they don't find bookings easily. Or worse, cheeky promoters put on shows entirely peopled by unpaid, inexperienced newcomers who cannot find work elsewhere and audiences come away feeling this is the the be all and end all of what the genre can offer, closing off potential audience members to the rest of the industry. So, teaching really is a bit of a biggie indeed.
If you look at the different viewpoints in our burlesque community there are many differing views on who should teach. Many agree you should be an experienced performer, some feel you should be a formally trained teacher, some people think dance training is beneficial. Some contingents have argued that only performers who work internationally and consistently in headline spots should teach while others feel that if you have taken and completed a burlesque class yourself you are now qualified to pass on what you know. Alongside this, many gyms and dance classes now offer burlesque lessons taught by fitness instructors who have never performed, taken a class or even seen
a burlesque performance (and that film
doesn't count!). However, some would counter that these classes are not aimed at aspiring performers, more for those seeking fitness and fun.
In this blog I want to talk about teaching aspiring performers, as I feel that hen party classes, burlesque themed fitness classes and lessons that are clearly marketed as just-for-fun do not necessarily have the same impact on our industry that the training of our successors clearly does, and therefore, the credentials of those who teach them are (arguably) less of an issue.
In the past, when the teaching debate has arisen, occasionally the idea of accreditation of teachers or qualifications in burlesque has come up. You can see why it might; in other performance disciplines such as playing a music instrument, dance and drama learners take exams and once they reach a certain level they can take teaching exams. If they pass, they can teach. So why not burlesque? I think it would be difficult to do a similar thing in burlesque for one big reason. The skills you need to play a violin or dance ballet en pointe are standardised in a way that burlesque is not. Some burlesque performers dance, some don't and even those who do won't all be dancing using standardised steps or techniques. Some performers make narrative acts, others plan to create a moment or simply an aesthetic statement. Some burlesquers aim to entertain with a musical performance, others to entrance with a sensual striptease, still more to amuse through comedy or visual gags. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! With performers each bringing their own skill sets from hula hooping to mime to trained animals to pain and endurance shows, how could we ever standardise burlesque down to its fundamentals?
I think one of the reasons that burlesquers, by necessity, must each do their own thing (as Gypsy told us 'You Gotta Get A Gimmick'!) is because of burlesque's short form nature. You need a tap dancer, followed by a stripping axe thrower, followed by someone who plays the trumpet in their act to stop what I have heard one respected promoter refer to as 'the dreaded fan-dance-to-bumps-and-grinds pile up'. All aspiring performers cannot learn the same skills, routines and approaches because that would make the shows samey and boring, and this would eventually lose all of us our audience.
So there are no fundamentals that can be taught for burlesque? Well, I thought so when I first examined this question, but I, like many others was thinking in terms of dance. Burlesque has no fundamental steps or moves. It may have standards we have all seen and know; the Dita-esque over the back shoulder stocking removal, the feather fans used behind the head to make a clam shell shape, the walk-walk-walk and pose, walk-walk and pose. But these are not the fundamentals of burlesque the theatrical genre, we are back in the hen party class if that's what we teach as the bare bones of burlesque. While there is no harm in performers using any of these well known burlesque tropes at any time, they don't make burlesque what it is. If they were missing from an act, it would still be a good burlesque act, if it was good (so to speak).
So I looked at my own experience as a recently qualified drama teacher. I started thinking about what makes live theatrical performance good in general and I found there were three areas that really stuck out as important and that could be taught - because I had been teaching them to my own students. And when I thought about it, they started to feel like the fundamentals of not just good performance, but also of good burlesque performance. If any of them were missing, your burlesque act would be missing something. So here are my three fundamentals of good burlesque:
Characterisation (or persona) - Many burlesque performers work with a specific character (Edward Scissor Hands, Kurt Cobain, Elizabeth Bennett) or with a character type (nurse, panda, anthropomorphised cake) but those that don't use discrete characters for different acts still come on stage as somebody other than their day to day selves (unless their day to day self is really, really full on!), they must have an onstage persona. For burlesque performance to be strong learners have to be able to create a character, learn how to express that character in how they move, the expressions they use, the music they select, the costume and props they select etc, and they also have to practice sustaining this and not slipping out of character and showing us a flash of their day to day self.
Narrative or Concept - Not all performers work in a narrative style but you still need a strong idea or concept of what you're going to do. It should be well thought out, personal, original. Or if the concept itself is a standard or well worn idea, learners must find a way to make it new again, to make it their own, to put their own personal spin on it. If the concept (or narrative starting point) is 'Housewife' there are a thousand directions you could take that narrative in and learner burlesquers can be encouraged to explore past the first idea. In drama teaching, I would never allow my students to use their first narrative or concept idea without first encouraging them to explore some alternatives because the first idea often comes from your comfort zone or the familiar. It's only by exploring what else you could do with a concept that you can figure out if your first idea was the best one, and the only way to produce something original.
Relationship with the audience - Bizarrely enough, I think this is something that is sometimes forgotten in burlesque teaching. Burlesque is an interesting form because there is not usually a fourth wall, and if there is, that is usually a conscious decision by the performer (and creates a whole different relationship between performer and audience). In drama teaching, when I was working on plays with my learners, sometimes I had to remind them to stop mugging to the audience at, for example, a particularly funny moment. But then when we ran a variety unit it was a different story because that fourth wall dissolves, the audience are there in the room with you and there's no getting away from it. Burlesque performers, in general are working to, for and in response to the audience. Or at least they should be. I have seen many, otherwise strong newcomer performers perform their routine as though they are performing to a video camera or an empty room, but the greatest, most popular burlesque performers know how to make their audience feel involved and included, they know how to work the room and draw people in, and I believe that can be taught as a performance skill.
So these are my big three burlesque fundamentals, common to all good burlesque. Sure, there are other things that are important like being good at whatever skill sets you are bringing to your acts (dance, singing, comedy, hula hooping) but in a group class, unless you want all your learners to come out the same those are not really areas you can focus on so closely.
I have done some research and, in my area at least, I have not found anyone teaching burlesque in this way (apologies if you are out there and I have just not found you), teaching holistic performance and creativity skills, specifically geared to burlesque performers, that they can then take away and use in their future performing lives. So I have decided that I will throw my hat into the ring and give it a go. As I discussed above, there will be some people who think I don't have the ideal credentials to teach, and there will be others who think I am in the right position to do so. I'm not claiming to be the best performer out there, and I'm not claiming to have all the answers, I can't teach learners to dance, or throw knives or rollerskate in their acts, but I can help them unlock their individual creativity and skills in the areas I have just discussed. I am approaching this with integrity and a genuine desire to see learners become creative, individual performers with the tools they need to create personal burlesque acts for as long as they wish to perform.
Teach a woman a burlesque routine and she'll burlesque today, teach her how to create her own burlesque routines and she'll burlesque forever.
With that said, if you are a new or aspiring burlesque performer who would like to take my class please visit my burlesque lessons website, Drama Queens Burlesque
Til next time,xEmerald