Burlesque Beginners Dos and Donts

Aug16th2015-13

I’ve finally begun performing burlesque, and it’s been super hard work and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s had me somewhat creatively distracted for a while too, so it’s about time I check in with you guys here to teach you something new, in my usual by beginners for beginners format, with the help of my new partner Riley Strange!

So you’re intrigued by burlesque and you’ve never done it before, so you want to give it a shot. To go to shows and see the finished product on stage can feel pretty overwhelming when you have plans to try it out yourself. Just how does it all come together? If you don’t have a mentor to guide you you might be totally lost. Let us lay down a few simple dos and donts to get you started.

Riley prepared to go on stage for her Alice in Wonderland routine

Do…

-Your research. Learn by taking a class if there are any in your area, watching youtube videos, going to shows, reading up on burlesque history, and perusing informative websites such as 21stcenturyburlesque.com. Jo Weldon also has an awesome book on the subject that covers way more than I can here in a puny little blog article.

-Cut the damn tags off your clothes. As a performer you are delivering a fantasy. Tags and other flaws like stains, wrinkles and tears take the audience out of the moment.

-Be creative with your costume. Even if you must wear something off-the-rack, try to alter it in some way to make it one-of-a-kind. The last thing you want is someone in the audience pointing and going “Hey, I have that same bra at home!”

Adding rhinestones to these Victoria’s Secret panties add a little special sparkle

-Choose a song you absolutely love. With rehearsals you’ll have to listen to it a hundred times, so if you don’t love it, it’s going to be a nightmare to perform to once show day arrives.

-Be aware of what your audience will enjoy while not compromising your own tastes.

-Go big or go home. This is not a movie or a photoshoot, and there are no close-ups. Makeup and movements need to be seen from the back row. You WILL feel silly, at least in the beginning. You’ll get used to it.

-Make sure your stage name isn’t already taken by somebody else. A Google search should be pretty much all you need here.

-Make the most of your abilities. Any abilities. Dancing, acting, costuming, comedy, acrobatics, the list is endless.

-Be prepared for people to have misconceptions. Don’t get offended, it’s part of the deal. It’s up to you if you want to work towards changing their mind or not.

-Try to find a mentor if you can, to guide you through this stuff or just keep you company while you’re gluing on rhinestones.

-Consider the length and pacing of your song. You don’t want to feel rushed, or end up with nothing to do because the song was too long or slow.

-Be reliable and professional. This might be a fun job, but it is a job. It deserves to be taken seriously.

-Come to your show prepared. Remember not only the elements of your costume but makeup, pastie tape, a Tide stick, etc. This is the huge packing list Riley and I had last time we did a show, and this is only for three acts between us.

All this shit for less than 15 minutes total stage time. Also handy to make sure you leave nothing behind at the venue at the end of the night.

-Plan something achievable. This is something me and Riley have personal experience with. We kept coming up with extremely ambitious routines that were just way above our level. If you keep doing that you’ll never be able to complete the process to see it come to life on stage. You can keep having ambitious ideas, just tuck them away for a future date. A routine does not have to be difficult in order to be entertaining.

April 1 2016 - Heart-Shaped Box

Don’t…

-Think that the performances you see are the rules. This is art, there are no rules. You don’t have to wear a corset, you don’t have to choose a jazz song, you don’t have to know how to dance (although it helps) and believe it or not you don’t even have to be sexy. Let this be an expression of who you are, even if it only relates to one of your many facets. Well ok, there is one rule, and that is that you must be entertaining.

-Wear anything flat black unless your character depends on it. It’s too drab and somber. Either add some sparkle and shine or choose something more lively. Or better yet, both.

-Limit yourself. Explore new horizons and keep things fresh.

Just a backstage selfie with Adore Delano. No big deal 😛

-Focus on reasons why you “shouldn’t” do burlesque because it’s just not true. Any adult age, any gender, any body type, and any ability level (there are even burlesque performers who use wheelchairs in their acts) is accepted. This is the real beauty of this art form. It’s about celebrating what makes you you.

-Forget your face in your choreography. It just won’t look good if you look like you’re taking a shit while you get undressed.

-Be a diva. Ok this isn’t just a burlesque tip, this is a life tip. There’s a difference between honestly expressing something that’s important to you and acting like a spoiled child about it. You’re not above anyone.

-Panic if something goes wrong. Because it will, even to seasoned performers. But guess what, the audience probably doesn’t know, and if they do they’ll think highly of you for being able to just move on with the act instead of freezing in a panic. Riley and I have both performed to the wrong track when the DJ made a mistake, and neither time could anyone in the audience tell. Keep in mind we are both still beginners. It happened to Riley on her second day.

-Make excuses! You’ll just keep missing out.

What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show, By Dr. Lucky

I’ve been deeply ensconced in burlesque for a while, and I’m constantly reminded that not everyone is privy to my insular world. So I wrote this as an introduction to those who may be curious or interested or concerned. This list is in no way meant to be ‘definitive’ or to ‘set the record straight’ about what to expect at a burlesque show. As with all live performance, the best way to experience burlesque it is to see it in person.

1. A Variety Format Show

Shows usually feature a host or master of ceremonies who keeps the show moving forward, introduces acts, and interacts with the audience, which may include audience participation. Performers often come from a variety of backgrounds and have an array of skill sets, and may include dancers, singers, musicians, circus performers, magicians, comedians, and, yes, striptease artists. In modern burlesque, acts are usually around five minutes, or the length of a pop song, though this can vary widely with ‘talking acts’ or headliners who may perform to a number of songs.

2. Acts that are as Uniquely Different as the Performers

Burlesque performers are not given a ‘script’ – they come up with their stage personas and concepts for their acts; they choose their music, choreograph their numbers, and usually create their own costumes. It is this DIY spirit, and complete control of one’s image, that is so appealing to performers and audience alike. Some performers like to keep their acts in the vein of classic burlesque, bedecked in gowns, panels skirts, boas, fans, gloves, and stockings etc., while others create acts influenced by popular culture, politics, current events, and/or familiar archetypes.
Inga Ingenue. ©Michael Albov (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)Inga Ingenue. ©Michael Albov (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)

3. Acts are Like ‘Mini Plays’

Dixie Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque and curator of the Exotic World Museum and Competition, described her acts as ‘mini plays’. An act has its own narrative, story, tone, and message. The ending of a striptease act may be more about a resolution of the tension of the story, or the delivering of a punch line, then it is solely about the physical reveal. That said, the reveal and the message are often intertwined, and can be dependent on each other. Burlesque acts, like other narratives, take the audience on a journey.

4. Over the Top Presentation of Self

You probably won’t see a parade of ‘girl-next-door’ realness at a burlesque show. Makeup is excessive, hair is big (often a wig), and costumes are elaborate. The performance style is more like Brechtian presentation than Aristotelian representation – think clowns, buffoons, and drag queens. The burlesque condition known as ‘Swarovski-itis’ is a serious affliction that compels performers to want to put rhinestones on EVERYTHING. Expect to be blinded by the light.

5. No Fourth Wall

With most traditional theatre or performance genres, there’s an ‘invisible’ fourth wall that divides performers from the audience. There’s no such thing in burlesque. This makes burlesque more participatory and engaging than your typical entertainment experience. In fact, the audience is an integral part of a burlesque show, and it is that carnivalesque (Bahktin) spirit that is so much fun for audience and performers. I can’t think of many social situations where it is not just acceptable to scream at a performer as she performs, but expected. Audience members don’t have to sit, hands folded on lap, and wait until the end of the show to show their appreciation. They do it along the way – with claps, hoots, hollers and screams of laughter and approval. And that’s just the way the performers like it.

6. A Mixed Audience Comprised Mostly of Women and Couples

An audience at burlesque show tends to be mixed, and the demographics run the gamut from grandmas to girls out for a night on the town. Although it depends on the venue, producer, and the show, burlesque shows are most often very women-friendly. Rarely do you see primarily male audiences, except perhaps at a boylesque show. Couples are frequent attendees. Heteronormativity is not the expected norm.

7. Blue Humour and Content

Some would argue that blue humour and content of burlesque is its most important and defining characteristic. But like at a burlesque show, you might have to wait for the blue content. Furthermore, blue humour does not necessarily have to be explicitly ‘dirty’. It can be the implication of a double entendre, the delivery of a line with a wink and a nudge. So put your thinking cap on, otherwise you might miss the joke.
Aurora Galore. ©Chris Harman/Harman House Photography (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)Aurora Galore. ©Chris Harman/Harman House Photography (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)

8. Modern Political and Social Conscientiousness

Modern burlesque is the thinking person’s performance art wrapped up in a sparkly package. You may want to be up on current events before you come to a show. Politics and social commentary are often very central to burlesque acts. And even if not overt, there’s still something political about performers doing whatever they want on stage, force feeding it to an audience, and getting the audience to beg for more. This can be terrifying to those who want to keep established gender roles in place, and is often a driving force behind fear or censorship of burlesque and burlesque performers.

9. Burlesque is Parody

If there’s one thing that has been consistent about burlesque since its inception, it is parody. Parody was an intrinsic part of burlesque, even before striptease emerged. In fact, ‘to burlesque’ a thing means to poke fun at it. Nothing escapes burlesque’s parodic grip, and it is that inversion of high and low that is the delicious raison d’être of burlesque. So don’t be surprised if something you hold up as sacred is poked fun at, or something you think frivolous (or perhaps deviant) is celebrated and elevated. This is what burlesque does – it inverts social norms, pokes fun, and, ultimately, is meant to BE fun. Comedy is the central tenet to this fun.

10. Expect the Unexpected

‘Wait a minute. Dr. Lucky. I just went to my first burlesque show, and it was not what you described.’ Welcome to the world of burlesque! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from burlesque in the past fifteen plus years, it is that the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. As with any kind of live performance, the best way to experience it is to go to a show. Go with an open mind. And expect to be entertained.

NOTE: Wish you could include this in your next program? You can! Feel free to use ‘What to Expect at a Burlesque Show’ for your program, your website, or to send to reporters and/or local concerned community members. If this article is reused in part or in whole, author credit is required (‘Dr. Lucky’), with a note to the author (doctorofburlesque@yahoo.com) about where and when the reprint is published. All rights reserved, 2014.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Kay Sera and Taro Baugham for feedback on an earlier draft of this essay.

Dr. Lucky

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

One of the things I hate most is when people talk about shit they know nothing about as though they’re experts. We’ve all witnessed it. And Julia Serano is a woman after my own heart as far as this goes. Because there are certain experiences that need to be lived in order to be properly and fully understood. Here she is calling out all the so-called “experts” on gender and transsexuality for their ignorance and hypocrisies, and you can feel her anger.

So is this a book by an angry lesbian feminist? Yes. But the more you pay attention the more you’ll realize that this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s very much a good thing. Because one thing I didn’t expect this book to be was sad. To learn about all the ignorance this subject is steeped in and the very real negative effects this has on the great many people living it day in and day out is nothing if not upsetting. If the revelations herein don’t upset you, then I have to wonder how much you really care about this subject, and why then you decided to pick up this book. It should also be said that issues of feminism affect men, and likewise issues of transsexuality affect cis people. We’re all part of this world together and we don’t live in a vacuum.

This is a relatively new kind of gender-studies book in that it’s written by a feminist lesbian trans woman. This is a look not from the outside in, but from the inside out from someone who is in a position to experience discrimination, often perhaps unintentional, due to her inclusion in three different groups. To use the language of Hubbub‘s Emily Cockayne, she is an inpert, as opposed to an expert, as she relates to us her knowledge from first hand experience. She’s incredibly intelligent and makes her points very well, but she’s also completely unashamed of herself, and her personality – and anger – reverberate through the pages. This woman has earned her attitude and the right to speak authoritatively on this subject, and it’s for this reason that I really love this book.

Not only is this book heavily saturated in personality and real-life experience, but it brings to mind issues that many of us have probably not considered, as well as how these issues effect all of us as a whole. Julia Serano opens up and allows us to take a deeply personal look into her life as she experiences it and experienced it during the various stages that she went through on her journey to becoming the person she is today. This might sound especially appealing to those very curious people who want a look into something somewhat “taboo,” but while it’s definitely interesting, it also has a way of deeply humanizing this subject, and in the process showing us how very important it is for this to be done. Julia Serano is not only incredibly smart, but incredibly brave, not just in that she has been extraordinarily true to herself but in that she’s offered us the chance to see things from her own perspective in such an unashamedly honest way. By the end of the book you’ll no doubt see femininity and LGBT* issues from an entirely new perspective, and this to me is what makes this book an utter success.

Have a look at the video below for a discussion with Julia about her book.

Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty

Ever wonder why babies are cute, why gentlemen prefer blondes, or why the human ballsack is the size that it is? Hmmm, ok maybe not that last one, but the answers are pretty interesting.

The subject of beauty is far from only skin deep, and it strikes me how very perfect the book’s title is. Beauty isn’t just incidental, and the source of frivolous fun or petty envy. It’s deeply tied into our instincts as living things, something we share with even the flowers, and goes back virtually as far as we do. This book leaves no stone unturned, and encompasses science, sociology, and of course biology in a way that’s truly fun to read. Not only that, but Nancy Etcoff’s own personal touch is extremely compelling, and this alone makes the book worth a read. This combined with the huge amount of learning inside is likely to leave you with a whole new perspective on a subject you once held strong and long-lived opinions about.

What’s interesting here is the particular way that this information offers up new meaning to the subject of beauty. To understand how beauty has transformed us biologically and culturally into the creatures that we are, it becomes both more important and yet less important all at once. Without beauty, we simple would not be, but who we have become also gives us the power to appreciate it in the most enlightening way possible. This isn’t a book so much about sitting in front of the mirror, putting on makeup and poking at your belly as it is about humanity itself. It strikes me as extremely valuable, and it can and should be read by people of all genders and ages. This book is awesome, and as it meets both my demands of educational and entertaining, I can’t recommend it enough.

Rather just see the movie? Well, there isn’t one exactly, but you might want to check out The Human Face.

Other recommended reads:  The History of Beauty, Sex in History.

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Minutes

We’ve all had that one boyfriend/girlfriend/other who irritated us to death, but that we just couldn’t bear to break up with because we felt sorry for them. What if there was an alternative – a way to get rid of him that not only doesn’t include breaking up with him, but ensures he’ll be happy to leave you? I have the perfect plan. Mix and match any of these tips to your liking for the perfect lover-repelling experience.

– Make his visits to your place extremely unpleasant. Show him some very old vacation photos and talk about your favorite gas station. Put your male pet in a dress and baby-talk to him. And make him talk back. For you. All the time. Involve him heavily in every conversation. Talk all about his favorite hobbies.

– Attempt to recruit him to help you with some very unpleasant chores. Like scrubbing under the sink. Say you’ve been trying all day but you have a bad back, could he please help? Oh what a darling he is! Oh and don’t forget to get all around the pipes. And get rid of that mysterious corpse-like smell.

-Make your dad, or any other male member of your household walk around in very tight short shorts. He shouldn’t wear a shirt and he should scratch his belly a lot.

 

Then start making all kinds of negative comments about “The Jews.” And the “homos” and the commies.

– Turn the tables on him. “Hey Lover, when are we going to get married? Maybe next month, we should elope to Hawaii. You can afford that right? Of course there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for me 😉 How many kids do you want? I’m thinking 6. We will name all of them Lover Jr. I don’t think it will be confusing, because we can just say each one with a different intonation, you know? Or we could put a different symbol in front of each one, like a hashtag. Our family band is going to be amazing. Speaking of which you need to get on those music and marketing lessons, I will not have a lazy husband.”

“OMG I should tattoo your name on my eyes!!! Wouldn’t that be awesome?? And you can get MY name tattooed on YOUR eyes!! HOLY CRAP THAT WOULD BE SO ROMANTIC!! I’ll make the appointment tomorrow!!”

– “Oh and since we’re getting married I guess I should tell you now. I’m into furries. That’s ok right? I mean I participate in YOUR fetishes. I’m going to buy you a furry head as a wedding gift and you can wear it ALL THE TIME! You are the best boyfriend ever!”

 – Goth Rosary brand perfume makes gross smells. Including barf and body cheese. Wear them every time he comes over.
– This is you…
– This is household member/friend #1..
-And the rest just dress like this…
– INSIST that these people become the godparents to your 6 kids. After all somebody will need to watch them when you go on your very frequent vacations to Antarctica.
– Start serving Fancy Feast for dinner. Tell him you just learned how very healthy it is, so now you insist the two of you eat nothing else.
– Keep offering him a beverage, but wink every time you hand it to him.
-Tell him how excited you are about him joining The Last Kindred of the Forgotten Divination, which you’ve already joined.
-Tell him you feel strongly about all sexual contact being only through the use of your astral bodies.
– Pick your nose. With your fork.
-Tell him about your big plans for a career in Philosophy.
– Related to the above, tell him you don’t need an income, because you don’t like, believe in the economy. It’s just an imaginary construct of society, man.
-Tell him you absolutely adore the brilliant musical stylings of Kanye West.

Mirror, Mirror, Off The Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at it For a Year

Omg I can’t believe I read this so long ago but still haven’t written a word in review. Well, since my blog has been a big stagnant lately it’s worth a shot trying to remember this one.

I first heard about this book when the author was interviewed on The Daily Show. This is a sociologist who challenged herself to not look in a mirror – or any reflecting surfaces – for an entire year. A year which just so happened to include her wedding day. Now while this may come across as a nice fluffy little self-esteem booster book, the author is well-educated enough to take this subject deeper, and we’re not left without a good dose of accessibly written psychology and sociology. I can’t remember all of the points she made, but the most fascinating one to me was exploring how mirrors almost serve as a form of companionship when we’re alone. We know it’s only the illusion of another person sitting there, we’re not beta fish, but we get a small amount of satisfaction that there is either way. Mirrors also have a way of affirming our existence. It sounds silly, obviously we know we exist, but it was interesting to note how Kjerstin started to feel after some time, almost doubting that because she couldn’t see herself, she wasn’t really there. She could only see other people.

The biggest message I got out of this book though was not that she suddenly started feeling physically beautiful – she was forced to focus more on her emotions, deep within herself, and her loved ones around her, those outside of herself, as opposed to the body in between. She learned to trust those around her more because she relied on them to make sure that she didn’t, say, have a booger hanging out of her nose, and she learned to pay more attention to her emotional self-esteem rather than her appearance. She didn’t feel beautiful because she knew she looked beautiful – she felt beautiful because she felt loved by those around her, and that’s what really mattered. Her appearance still caused her anxiety, especially as she had no idea what she looked like, but she gradually learned not to care. It simply wasn’t important. I think that’s a very valuable thing to take away here. Some people are ugly. Yep. While it’s nice to want to make ugly people, or yourself, feel physically beautiful, I felt the most important thing here was to learn that it just plain doesn’t matter. It’s such a tiny part of life. What matters is your mind, and your soul, and your relationships. Looks are a thing, but they’re not anywhere near being the most important thing. We have so much more to get our validation and happiness from. And while learning these important lessons it was nice to hear about these soul-searching thoughts and every day experiences from a very educated, sympathetic, real-life person. This wasn’t philosophy, it was real. We get to read all of her insecurities, all her learning experiences, and how all her relationships evolve. It was enlightening and it was fun. This was a great book, but it was great in a way that I didn’t expect. I feel that it could easily prove to be an important book for a whole lot of us, women, men, or anybody else.

Strange Burlesque

I was going to wait to post about this until I had actually done a show. I still haven’t. But I just had my first one-on-one burlesque lesson and it was so much fun I’m just too excited to wait. You’ll have to forgive me.

Since there are no actual shows to speak of yet I’ll give you my backround and what’s been going on so far. I’ve been a fan of burlesque for many years. It’s such a beautiful and fun form of artistic expression. It’s a feminist art form that celebrates each person’s own unique beauty and personality. I was the type of kid who always wanted to put on dances and plays for the family, and always loved history and elaborate costumes. So damned if I wasn’t going to want to be part of it. Contrary to what you might believe however, I’m not a particularly extroverted person. I can get suddenly and inexplicably nervous in front of people and in those situations it can take more than a few drinks to loosen me up. I really never believed then that I would be up to the challenge, and focused my little burlesque dreams on being the hero back stage, the one who could arrange for the performers to have gorgeous costumes and help put on their shows without a hitch.

Attending a burlesque worshop in Feb 2013.

This did not happen. But I did one day a couple years ago find myself working a little magic for a fashion show for a local shop at the Taboo sex convention. We were short a hairstylist, so I did my best to get half the girls for each of two shows looking their best. It was an extremely hectic and exhilarating day. Now then, the afternoon show featured pinup dresses and other cute everyday looks, but the evening show was something else. This was all about sexy lingerie. One of the girls during the prep for this evening show came up with the idea that one of the models should go out wearing nothing but some frilly underwear, holding a giant pink powder puff. Guess who was in a brave mood, Strangers. I was caught at a moment when I just did not give a fuck. I would do any dare they threw at me. Maybe it’s because I was still on a high from the first show, my first fashion show ever, after realizing that it was much more fun than terrifying. So I did it. The underwear was big enough to fall half way down my ass and I didn’t even have pasties to cover me up behind that powder puff. But even more so than being in the earlier, tamer fashion show, I realized immediately that I was being not at all traumatized, but having the time of my life. Don’t ask me why, maybe I had just unearthed a secret little exhibitionist part of myself. Or maybe it’s because I really enjoyed the look on everyone’s face. I remained in this state for a little while after the show too, walking around the convention appearing practically naked to hand out flyers for the shop. I even got my picture taken in a photo booth for free. I had a really great time.

I took a really long time to let this all sink in. Almost a year actually. I thought about how if this wasn’t scary, if it turns out I don’t have stage fright, especially without much of anything on, maybe I really could consider doing burlesque. And then my position and my schedule changed. Saturdays were out for another 8 months and my ideas had to be put on hold. I just couldn’t imagine establishing myself as a performer who only worked Sundays and Mondays.

And then finally, FINALLY, I was ready. I was back working Mon-Fri and had started to put together a few costumes. This wasn’t something I just started once I decided to perform however. I’ve always loved corsets, glitter, and ridiculously glamorous things. It’s another art form to me. The only difference now was that I had a real focus. Instead if acquiring a bunch of random pretty things, now I had a goal of specific outfits in mind. When I suddenly realized that one of these outfits had already been sitting in my closet for a while I decided it was time to set up a one-on-one lesson with Miss La Muse to see how it was all done. Of course by now I had already chosen my name and image, purchased my domain (this one), and attended a beginners workshop, also taught by Miss La Muse.

Without getting into too many details that would ruin any surprise at seeing my future first show, I will say that all the basics were covered and a routine was planned out from start to finish. It was even more fun that I expected, and I woke up very sore the next day. I couldn’t wait to get home from work and start sticking little jewels onto my costume. So this is where I’m at now, writing this post in an attempt to lower my temptation to tell everything to the whole damn world. I have to practice and I have to polish. But a performance by Ava Strange is finally something to be seen on the horizon.