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.

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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

Performance as Meditation

The difference between “regular” stripping and burlesque is that in the former, you’re showing the audience what they want to see, whereas in the latter you’re showing them what you want them to see.

Or at least that’s the way I see it.

But deciding what you want an audience to see, and how they’re going to see it takes quite a bit of effort. It’s not just your body you’re revealing, it’s your talent and personality, and this involves careful planning. You pick a theme, you pick a song, you pick an outfit, you plan your choreography, and you might also have some humor or other tricks up your sleeve. Quite frankly it’s exhausting.

But what this means is that when the moment comes to show your stuff, you’re actually working quite mentally hard. You’re thinking about not messing up your choreography, not having a wardrobe malfunction, and with all that concentration you still have to remember to look relaxed and smile at the audience. What I’ve found in the incredibly short time I’ve been doing this, is that this really locks me inside my head. I have ADD, but when you have absolutely no choice but to focus, focus is what you shall do. I can look right at someone and my brain just doesn’t register their face because I have too many other things on my mind.

This is weird, at least for someone like me, but come to think of it, it really feels like a form of meditation. During those 4 minutes or so, nothing exists outside of your performance. Not your day job, not your money or family concerns, and certainly nothing from the world outside the stage you’re performing on. It’s really kind of amazing. I once saw a performance in which the performer tripped and broke her foot, but her focus on the routine was so intense that she not only didn’t show any sign of pain, but she didn’t even realize that her foot was broken until after. I can’t think of any other situation when this would be the case, maybe with the exception of feeling extreme fear, which is really not so great.

As my nerves build up the closer I get to my first official performance, I’m reminded of that old tip to picture the audience in their underwear. I wonder if that still matters when you’re actually going to be in yours. But it really might not, because honestly I don’t think I’ll be capable of picturing them at all or imagining much of anything. I’ll have to look engaged, and yet the reality is that for these few minutes these people probably won’t even exist to me.

Sometimes we need this, to take a break from the world and just slow down. Meditation is recommended for a reason. When you have a hard time focusing, sometimes you need to improvise as far as just how you’re going to accomplish that. I was surprised when I first found that this is what performing feels like, and pretty intrigued. This means I’m benefiting from burlesque in more ways than are usually cited, building your confidence and expressing yourself. It means my mental health is benefiting to, and who couldn’t use the little boost? I wonder if this will remain the case or if as I get more comfortable my mind will become more able to wander. I wonder if that would be a good or a bad thing.

I wonder if any of you out there, who perform in any capacity, have felt the same way. Have you felt any benefits from performing that are usually associated with more typical kinds of meditation?

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.

The Burlesque Show Was Great!

Not so much an article, just a regular ol’ blog post.

So we went to The Best of Burlesque tonight and let me tell you it was an AWESOME show. It was super sexy, super fun, and wow do those girls ever have talent! It had so much great stuff to offer I would probably forget some if I tried to tell you about all of it, but as far as the highlights go there were fire performers  outside the theatre, a hilarious 50s housewife performance by Heather Witherden, and an awesome finale by guest performer Miss Rosie Bitts in which she pops a huge balloon and gets showered in gold glitter. It was positively ethereal. We met her after the show and she is so sweet and so much fun to watch on stage, I instantly became a fan. I must also say that I am a huge fan of the house band Johnny Pancreas and the Diabetics, too. Do they have CDs? Because I want one.

It was so cool to see everybody in the lobby all dressed up in their vintage gear. Everybody looked fabulous. And just as I said in the Stop Staring! post, I did have people asking where I got my dress, including a guy, and had my picture taken by a stranger who wondered if it was custom made! Didn’t I tell you the tailoring on these babies is perfection? If anybody is interested I’ll post some pics for you all of our great time out.

Coming soon will be another guest post about wardrobe in the film industry. It’s going to be really interesting so I hope you all keep checking back so you can check it out.

Don’t miss the next show! I’ll see you there!

Moonlight Madness Burlesque May 12th at the Park Theatre

Is there anyone who doesn’t just love burlesque? If you didn’t I’d be inclined to believe that you’re either half crazy or sadly misinformed. My dad certainly proved this when I arranged to have the very lovely and talented Miss La Muse perform for us at our wedding social. He was very angry with me about it, because he thought burlesque was equivalent to nudey bar type stripping, and it wasn’t until after the (very clothed) performance that I received a swift apology.
Burlesque isn’t just about nudity. It’s about the tease, humor, music, old school glamour, and so much more. There have been performances in which nothing was removed but a glove. It’s not about the stripping down so much as the way it’s done, and that’s with an incredible amount of style. Burlesque is a fabulous all-encompassing performance, a real show, and a treat that all adults can enjoy.


And that’s why I see burlesque as such a high art form. It’s the most fun and yet realistic portrayal of sexuality. And it’s deeply psychological. You certainly don’t need to see a fully nude woman in front of you to get the full effect of the performance.
As the president of Moonlight Madness Burlesque, Winnipeg’s sweetheart of society Miss La Muse is a master at this, and I’m proud to call her a friend of mine. I’m genuinely impressed by her commitment to the art, and the skill with which she performs it. Her shows are a real treat and I really enjoy watching her success grow.


So I’m urging all of you who live in the Winnipeg Area to attend Moonlight Madness Burlesque’s next performance, The Best of Burlesque Show & Fundraiser at the Park Theatre May 12th at 8pm. You’ll get to experience great music, comedy, and some very beautiful ladies, not to mention that the money will be going to the Red Cross for assistance in the earthquake relief effort in Chile. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Tickets are available at the Park Theatre and Kustom Kulture in Osborne Village for 10$. 15$ at the door or 10$ for those dressed in vintage or burlesque attire.
Have fun!