How to become a burlesque dancer
These ten top tips for aspiring burlesquers will help you create a unique act you’ll be proud of and can branch out from. Burlesque beginners and veterans unite in dizzying splendour…
In the last five years burlesque has gone from being a largely forgotten relic of a bygone age to the hottest performance art on the block. Burlesque clubs are springing up across the country, DVDs of Immodesty Blaize and Dita von Teese are flying off the shelves and hen parties are ditching their L-plates and shot glasses in favour of a shimmy-shaking workshop.
Performing burlesque is a wonderful way to improve your confidence, but how does one stand out from the crowd? Join me for a sashay through my ten top tips for beginner burlesque queens!
1. Smile. Taking yourself too seriously has no place in burlesque, and a mean and moody look is only appropriate as part of a character-based performance. Your audience will find it easier to enjoy themselves if you are, and a lovely natural smile will help to draw them in and keep their attention. Always remember to smile with your eyes as well as your mouth.
2. Do your research. Whenever you create a new burlesque act it’s wise to do a really intensive internet search of every theme you are using; there is nothing worse than being accused of stealing someone else’s idea, or having one of your own burlesque acts pinched. YouTube can be a great help with this, as can other performers’ websites. Using the same music as someone else is not necessarily a problem (there are only so many tracks out there) but if your costume, story or moves are uncomfortably close it’s probably time for a rethink. Attend other burlesque acts to see what today’s performance standards are. Attend burlesque courses if you think you have it in you but aren’t sure where to start.
3. Make your own pasties/costumes/props… Even if you aren’t blessed with dressmaking skills, you can learn how to embellish your outfits with sequins, rhinestones, ribbons and frills. With a little practice and a lot of patience it’s possible to turn the plainest of lingerie into something a Moulin Rouge showgirl would envy. A Hotfix Applicator for attaching crystals is an essential purchase, but it is addictive and you may get carried away. Not that there is anything more burlesque than adorning everything you own with rhinestones! Stop at pets, of course. Set your limits. There is nothing less dignified than the expression on a sequinned cat.
4. Burlesque and stripping are not the same thing. Not all burlesque performances have to involve a full strip, or indeed a strip at all. As an example, take a look at this hugely effective but remarkably demure set by Gypsy Rose Lee.
5. Chose your music carefully. I’m not necessarily advocating using only music from the 40s and 50s, but the music should be appropriate for your act and your audience.
6. Use your existing talents. If you can tap dance, why not incorporate that into an act? When I book performers, the most appealing thing for me is an act that is unique, entertaining and fun. Magic, fire (but check your insurance!), different dance styles, acrobatics and circus skills all have a place in burlesque, so don’t be afraid to push the boundaries.
7. Keep it clean. This one is up to you and your direction as a performer, but burlesque, to me at least, should be cheeky and playful while not overtly sexual. If you wear a merkin or a c-string, be careful how much your audience gets to see, and don’t forget that lots of knickers are see-through under stage lighting!
8. It’s not about the money. As a new performer, you may initially find yourself performing for free or for your travel expenses, and bear in mind that sometimes clubs may not know beforehand how much they will be able to pay you. The most helpful thing you can do is help them to sell as many tickets as possible. For many performers, burlesque is a self-financing hobby, not a way of making lots of money.
9. Remember your manners. Bad manners and impoliteness may damage your reputation and affect how regularly you are booked. Professionalism is about turning up at events on time, giving as much notice as possible if you have to cancel, and being as pleasant as possible to the people around you (and that includes social media).
10. Have fun. Good heavens, yes! This is, after all, what it’s all about.
Find out more about what it’s like to be a burlesque artist with career advice from Miss Roxy Velvet…