Friday, February 24, 2012

Face, Face, Give Me Face!

On Utilizing One of Your Best, and Most Visible, Assets.
by Allix Mortis, Rogue Burlesque         

In my professional, non-performing career, I’ve had to spend a lot of time in front of cameras.  As such, I’ve seen a fair number of really not-so-hot photos of myself.  Eventually I started to familiarize myself with my best angles so that I’d never have to live down a “hilarious” Flickr shot or an unflattering candid again.

Photo by Lee Kilpatrick
When I started burlesque, though, I needed more than angles.  Some of the best tips I learned related to facial expressions. As Dixie Douya told us, “it’s all a confidence game.” Early on in my performing career, Kitty Spanks counseled that I could “hide some of my jitters behind great faces.” And so I started to hide my nerves, and work my attitude, behind big smiles, big eyes, and big “holy shit!” moments.

On Twitter, Michelle L’Amour’s “tease tips” hashtag offered: “Give good face. Work on facial expression by sitting in front of the mirror and doing your act just with your face.”

I took the above #teasetip to heart and started to study my expressions as I had angles and photographs. Even now, I look at clips of my favorite performers -- comedic, musical, and burlesque -- and try to emulate their expressions. I work my facial muscles; I test the limits of my smile, my frown, my pout. I compare my expressions when I’m not made up with how they read with the full “Allix” face of foundation, lipstick, lashes, etc.

Giving plenty of face can take a simple strip from basic to bombastic, in a fabulous way. Here are my favorite recommendations for learning to work your face:

Photo by rubicat design & photography
1. Have a friend take photos of you from various angles. If you don’t have a friend (which I doubt), grab your cell phone and take self-portraits. Make note of which expressions, angles, and lines you like the best. Practice these in the mirror. Get to know the feelings your facial muscles make when you’re creating those expressions, and memorize them so that you can make those same expressions without a mirror in front of you.

2. Mimic! Check out clips of your favorite performers and comedians and try recreating their signature faces. I love watching Maya Rudolph, Nicki Minaj, Kristen Wiig, and just about any 70s or 80s metal frontman. (Seriously, Dio, Alice Cooper, Dee Snider -- dudes know how to give face).

3. Outline the faces for your routine. Just as I choreograph the steps, reveals, and dance portions of my routines, I also choreograph my faces. I sit in front of a mirror while my music plays and make note of moments when I can convey certain feelings or even anticipation with my face. I practice big moments as well as eyes-only moments. I’ll listen to my music on repeat until I can do the expressions on auto-pilot, focusing my energy on reveals and removes instead. Bonus: If you have a hiccup in your routine, keeping your face in check can really save things. (Dita Von Teese is great at this and she makes really subtle facial expressions).

4. Finally, ask for feedback! Make faces at your troupemates, your partner, your coworker, your kitty, whomever. Ask if they can tell which emotion your expressing or what you’re relating. Adjust or exaggerate based on their feedback. (Note: kitties are not helpful with this part of the feedback).

Now go forth and give face. And remember: If your expression feels over the top, it's probably perfect!

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