Friday, February 10, 2012

Newbie Burlesque: More Than a State of Undress

by Sweeney Tawdry

As I turned thirty this past year, I wanted to prove that I still had the ability to surprise myself.  Rogue Burlesque’s Lucky 13 Amateur Burlesque Competition was the challenge I needed.  Of course, it is no shock that burlesque ends in some state of undress.  The process of becoming a newbie performer, however, is every bit as tantalizing and revealing as the striptease -- both personally and on stage.

Photo by Lee Kilpatrick
Assessing My Talents:  With a background in ballet and assorted church plays, my background wasn't a puzzle-piece fit for burlesque.  I had a certain degree of comfort with being on stage, but I wasn't sure how to translate that energy into a different art form.

Doing My Homework:  Going to several troupes’ performances around town was an education.  Some troupes relied heavily on highly choreographed routines.  Some involved clever skits and more comedy and acting.  Others included the talents of hooping, belly dancing, pointe and pole dancing.  The common thread running through them all was a trail of glitter. After watching the highly recommended documentaries Behind the Burly Q and A Wink and a Smile, I began to appreciate the rich history and inclusiveness of this long-standing tradition.

Picking a Song:  Counting off steps to movement was nearly an internal metronome after my years in the ballet, so I chose a song I could dance to with ease: Janelle Monae's "Tightrope."  I began in front of the mirror in my room, plotting out my movements based on the amount of space the Middlesex Lounge stage provided.  Slowly, the routine came together, and the frightening reality of my imminent workshop with the ladies of Rogue became apparent.

The Workshop:  Many challenges in life are easily escaped without some sense of accountability.  The workshop -- an informal recital of the piece I'd been working on, yet in front of impartial and supportive burlesquers -- was what kept me from running.  I displayed what had been a bedroom flirtation and waited for their constructive criticism.

"You want to incorporate the tease into the dancing."

"Remember, this isn't just dancing with incidental taking clothes off."

"Once you get your outfit together, the tease will become easier!"

The workshop armed me with information and confidence. It was time to reward myself with some fun.

The Get-Up: I am fortunate enough to work a hop, skip and a jump away from a drag boutique, Dorothy's.  Dashing over during breaks at work was like going on a secret mission, and returning with fishnet tights, a lacy tutu, and a sparkly push-'em-to-the-sky bra felt like a top secret mission.  A friend gave me a pair of lovely, sequined, peacock- colored pasties with tassels that she'd gotten from New Orleans, and a guy friend loaned me a suit vest.  Armed with items purchased, borrowed and given, I felt like I had all the elements to give me the final push on the stage. 

TA-DAAAA:  The night of the performance, I gathered all the friends who felt comfortable seeing me partially nude.  This was a mire of social mores in and of itself, and certainly a topic of much discussion. The audience was the fourth judge in the competition, so stuffing the crowd full of supporters was a must.  Third in the line of thirteen performers, I waited in the wings for emcee/comedienne Liz Fang to rile the crowd up.  In a state of frenzied anxiety, I actually jumped up and down and shook my arms out, like a bedazzled athlete before the big game.  The routine, lasting all of about four minutes, whizzed by.  The excitement of the crowd bolstered my confidence to throw in an extra toss of hair, a wider smile, and a more dramatic pop of the hip.  By the time the whirl of flying clothes and precariously affixed pasties died down, I found myself standing in the Middlesex Lounge bathroom, out of breath, grinning from ear to ear.

Yes, burlesque does end up in some state of undress.  Being a newbie, I thought the biggest challenge was being comfortable with partial nudity in front of a crowd.  Yet, when all was said and done, more was done than said, and that is not something to be taken lightly.  I admired the charm, the tenacity, the humor and the creativity of each of the dancers I saw, and I realize now that, more than anything, burlesque is about being comfortable with yourself and your own individual talents.


  1. Yay Sweeney! I'm sorry I couldn't make the show, but it sounds like you did great. Any plans for a second appearance?

  2. Nicely done! And that is a kickass stage name.

  3. I was in the audience that night and my favorite part of your performance was your exuberance! You made me want to get up and dance too. Hope to see you on stage again soon!

    ~Allix Mortis