Tuesday, December 4, 2012

5 Steps to Get Started in Burlesque

I love when audience members or fans approach me and ask how to get involved in Burlesque. Our community is very accepting of new supporters and performers, but there are certain ways that will rocket you to the top of the newbie ladder very quickly, if your goal is to get on the stage with us.

Here's a quick 5-step guide to getting involved in the scene!
- This should work no matter where you are, not just in Toronto. If you're from a city with a small or non-existent scene, more of your research will be online-based, but it can be done!

1. See Some Shows!
  • This should be obvious! You need to see the shows in the community and become familiar with your local performers! Go see and be seen! Take a moment after the show to compliment the producer or the performers that you liked and introduce yourself! Try not to do this before the show, as some showgirls (and boys) need to get into their headspace and may have a long list of things to do.
It's important to support the community in burlesque if you want the community to support you in return. Believe me, you do.

Burlesque is such a community-driven industry, and that (not the money) is one of the reasons I believe so many people are involved. You should never stop supporting other performers, and in return they will be the happiest, most encouraging, and possibly the most fulfilling supporters of you!

If you need to find shows to see in Toronto, take a look at my website! I produce three or four a month. There is also most definitely a meetup group, Facebook group, or other such thing in your city. Make use of it! Pick up flyers at shows you attend! Add the performers you like on Facebook or Twitter and take a look at what they're up to!

2. Do Your Research!
  • You should know what burlesque really is, and was, before you throw yourself into it. Never test the water with both high heels! Part of this is helped by seeing a variety of local shows, as stated above. Another amazing resource, no matter how amazing or empty your local scene is, is Youtube. Thousands of performances are available for you to watch and analyze,and you should do this throughout your burlesque career!
While the current burlesque scene and how to get into it may be your primary concern, you must learn about its roots. You don't need to be an expert (though the information is far more entertaining than the rest of history class tends to be) but you should know where burlesque came from, who Bettie Page, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Lili St Cyr are, and definitely MORE than that.

There are a ton of books, websites, and movies that you can take a look at for this. Take a gander at good 'ole Wikipedia or pick up some of my favourite books and movies on the Amazon sidebar.

Also take a look at the Burlesque Hall of Fame and some major burlesque news websites like my favourite: 21st Century Burlesque.

3. Find a Teacher!
  • Yes you need lessons. You don't have to be an amazing, classically trained dancer. You don't need to have a history in theatre. You don't need to take a university course. However, a lady taking a single ballet class and calling herself a ballet dancer is ridiculous. Burlesque is similar. Any performance background will help you, and while dancing skill is not necessarily needed on stage, grace and rhythm will only help you!
Find a local teacher who understands burlesque* and who is experienced enough to be teaching. The more experience and travel and professionalism (website, business cards, etc) your teacher displays, the better. Many cities have a burlesque school. The Toronto School of Burlesque is our local school. We have has been known to bring in outside teachers such as Ray Gunn, Dangrrr Doll, and Bettina May! New York has Jo 'Boobs' Weldon, Chicago has Michelle L'amour, there are plenty of classes you can take!


Your teacher may be able to connect you with a mentor, or become your mentor themselves. Take every opportunity to learn possible. Take dance classes (jazz and ballet, or maybe even the Pussycat Doll style burlesque classes to get 'sexy movement' down), take improv classes, take clowning or circus classes. The more you know the more you can apply to your stage persona and technique.
Performers who are constantly learning start from a strong base. I myself took lessons with Coco Framboise for about a year and a half before getting on stage. I was also a gogo dancer, ballroom dancer, theatre nerd, and more before getting interested in burlesque. You don't have to have previous stage experience, but you do have to learn. Believe me that you can tell the difference between performers who take learning opportunities and those who don't.

You can also learn from books, Youtube, and videos if a teacher in not available to you, or you can make the yearly pilgrimage to BurlyCon and learn from some of the top performers in burlesque. I'll see you there!

4. Volunteer!
  • Once you've seen a few shows, taken some classes, and learned what burlesque really is, approach some of the friends you've made and ask about opportunities to volunteer! There are many positions you could fill.
Stage Kittening is a very solid and great place to start. The job of the stage kitten is to set and clear the stage between performer's acts. This will give you a chance to learn more about who's who in the shows you're working, and get a backstage view of the shows. I stage kittened quite a bit starting out, and it's also a relatively easy job to excel at! Pay attention, smile, and be cute!

Merchandise and door tables are other chances to help out. Either the producer, or the merchant themselves, might need a little help here. Money is involved so you need to make sure you're comfortable with that level of responsibility.

Approach people you would like to help and offer away! Sometimes you can leave yourself open for whatever they may need you to do, but if you have special skills feel free to offer them up. Are you good at graphics, twitter, organizing or decorating? Make that known!

Do not expect to get paid for volunteering, but don't play down the importance of your position. If you're reliable and a hard worker, your work is worth some value. Whether this is monetary or networking, or something else, is up to you and your temporary employer to decide.

5. Practice!
  • Take your time between classes and show to practice moves and develop a routine. Always always rehearse. Even performers who have been doing this for ages rehearse. You may find that you like to strongly choreograph yours acts, or that you prefer loose choreography with defined moments, such as a glove at this point, followed by the next glove during the chorus, etc.
Practice and rehearsal are what set apart sub par performers from the stars. You can refine and polish your act and dedicate your time to doing the best possible act you can. Record your act with a digital camera or your computer, and watch it! Change and play.

When your teacher or your producer contacts decide you're ready for the stage you will have a set of skills to start building an act, or an act already polished and waiting to go! The videos will also give you something to show for your work!

There you have it! Some links and resources for you to get started in burlesque, no matter what city you're in!

Do you have some more videos or places to link? Suggest them in the comments!

~ Red
Related Posts with Thumbnails