How to become a burlesque dancer / artiste
by Raven Meadows
These 10 top tips for aspiring burlesquers will help you create a unique act you'll be proud of. Burlesque hobbyists and careerists unite - in dizzying girlish 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 and stroke your inner coitus kitten, but does one stand out from the crowd? Join me for a sashay through my Ten Top Tips for 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 only enjoy themselves if you are, and nothing beats a lovely natural smile 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 elseís 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... indeed, aim for DIY in all aspects of your act. A unique look is so important when performing burlesque, and even if you arenít blessed with dressmaking skills, 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. Iíve seen several performances over the years that blur the boundaries with moves that are more pawn than pinup, with inappropriate music (see point 5!) and a general lack of tease. Not all burlesque performances have to involve a full strip, or indeed a strip at all. If you donít believe me, take a look at this hugely effective but remarkably demure set by Gipsy Rose Lee.
5. Chose your music carefully. Iím not necessarily advocating using only music from the 40s and 50s, but it 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 donít be afraid to push the boundaries.
7. Keep it clean. Burlesque, to me at least, should be cheeky and playful but not overtly sexual and certainly not pawnographic. There are various acts out there that are closer to live coitus shows than burlesque, and this gives everyone involved a bad name. If you wear a merkin or a c-string, be careful how much your audience gets to see, and donít forget that lots of knickers are see-through under stage lighting!
8. Itís not about the money. As a new performer, be prepared to perform 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 most performers, burlesque is a self-financing hobby, not a way of making lots of money.
9. Remember you are a lady and should behave like one. Bad manners, impoliteness and bitching are not only deeply unattractive, they will damage your reputation and you will not get booked. Whilst Facebook and MySpace are excellent networking tools I have also seen them abused by performers bitching and bad-mouthing each other. I canít stress how important it is to be polite and professional. This also extends to 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.
10. Have fun. Good heavens, yes! This is, after all, what itís all about.
Find out more about what it's like to be a burlesque artist with career advice from Miss Roxy Velvet...
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Raven Meadows at work...