Friday, March 30, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Cover Myself in Glitter

by Polly Surely, Rogue Burlesque

Little Polly in her gender-neutral overalls
with her proud feminist mama
From the moment I had any say in the matter, I was a girly girl.  This was actually quite a feat, in light of the way I was raised.  Those of you born in the late 70s and early 80s may remember the gender-neutral child-rearing that was popular with many baby boomer types.  I was no exception; at any given time you could find me in the corduroy overalls and primary colors with muted browns and beiges that were de rigeur for any self-respecting hippie parent.  I didn’t have any strong notions of femininity forced on me; for instance, I have no memories of my mother putting on makeup or perfume.

However, as early as I can remember, I wanted to be pretty and feminine and adored.  As I got a little older, this became more specific: I was totally in awe of the bombshell, the femme fatale.  By the time I turned ten, I’d discovered – and idolized – Marilyn Monroe and Jessica Rabbit (who I tried to emulate by draping my hair over one eye – I suspect the effect probably wasn’t the same).

Early self-expression
The thing is, I was never fed these images.  If anything, it was quite the opposite: I sought them out. I wanted to know everything there was to know about how to be feminine and seductive. My early make-believe games centered around scandal-ridden movie starlets and prostitutes (no, really).  And don’t get me wrong: I’m pretty sure this was met with a healthy dose of parental feminism (and well-concealed raised eyebrows, no doubt). But still, they let me be me. It’s not that I wasn’t given the opportunity to choose for myself between pink and blue or Barbies and Legos. It’s just that Barbie almost always won. And then I’d take her clothes off.

For some reason I was just totally fascinated by the idea of that femininity and sexuality could hold their own innate power.  Somehow, I understood this from a very early age (and yes, I knew about sex from a very early age).  I don’t know if I’ll ever really know why.  But for whatever reason, it seems to have been nature – not nurture – that made me into the flirtatious, glitter-loving, attention-seeking creature I am today.  All my parents did was let that person run free.

Of course, it wasn’t always that easy.  Like (far too) many women, I grappled with body image issues throughout my adolescence and most of my twenties.  Suddenly my body wasn’t my friend, and I didn’t feel like that powerful, sexy persona was attainable anymore.  After years of ups and downs (on the scale and in my self-esteem), I had a life-changing moment: I saw my first live burlesque show

Sure, I’d heard a bit about the neo-burlesque scene, and was secretly fascinated by it.  But the idea of doing it myself?  No way.  That felt wrong, almost narcissistic. Maybe if my body was “better.”  You know: flatter stomach, smaller chest, fewer scars, longer legs, all that.   But that all went out the window when I saw a show for myself.  I saw women of every shape imaginable on that stage. Women who looked how I thought I was supposed to look, and women who looked how I actually look. And they all looked beautiful and sexy and so very happy. And that’s when I knew I had to to get up there too.

Taking it off.
…and so I did!  I took classes, I volunteered, I did my research, and I bought my first pair of pasties (red sequined stars, for those who are curious).  By the time I entered Rogue Burlesque‘s Lucky 13 Amateur Burlesque Competition, I must have done something right, because, lo and behold, I won.  Somehow, after years of self-doubt, I found myself comfortable in my skin again.  It took a long time, but I could finally be the confident, sexy, powerful woman I’d been so fascinated by when I was young.  A year and a half later, I’ve joined the troupe as a full-time member.  And I’ll share a secret with you: I’m pretty sure I weigh the most I have ever in my life.  And yet, this is the happiest I’ve been in my body since I was a kid.

I’m not saying the only way to self-acceptance is to get up on stage and show off your ta-tas.  But it was certainly what I needed to do to remember that whatever my body looks like, it is a miraculous, magical, beautiful thing, and it is mine.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tax Man Cometh: Burlesque & Taxes

By SPECIAL GUEST Lexa Lusty (Dallas, TX)

This article was originally printed in Pin Curl Magazine.

Lexa Lusty by Oblivion Images
It’s tax time.  The time of year you act like all those burlesque shows, DJ gigs, and emcee spots were just for fun.  No need to report anything, right?  Many people think that as long as they are receiving cash or not receiving a W-2 or 1099 they are not responsible for filing the taxes owed on that income.  This is untrue. Filing your taxes isn’t just about obeying the law or contributing to the fiscal health of our country. It isn’t something to fear and avoid either .Let’s take a look how and what you need to file, and, of course, those exciting questions about what you can write off.

First, let’s determine if you have a business or a hobby.  The IRS requires you to report all income regardless of the classification! Uncle Sam considers the following when determining if you are in it for fun or if you have a business:
  • Do you spend enough time and energy into the activity to indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Do you rely on income from the activity?
  • Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?  Did you build a website to promote yourself?  Did you take classes to learn new skills or refine the ones you have?
  • Did you make a profit in any three of five consecutive tax years?
If you answered “No” to all of these questions, then you probably have a hobby and a tax problem.  Unfortunately, hobby losses are limited to the amount of the reported hobby income and if you don’t itemize then you can’t write-off any of the expenses unless your adjusted gross income is less than $16,000.  If your adjusted gross income is less than $16,000, then you probably have more things to worry about than taxes- like trying to put food on the table.  I know.  Don’t kill the messenger!

If your adjusted gross income is greater than $16,000 and you itemize then you can deduct the hobby related expenses up to your hobby income but, they are subject to a 2% floor of your adjusted gross income.  For example, if your adjusted gross income is $50,000 then you must have miscellaneous deductions greater than $1,000 ($50,000 x .02).  The first 2% of miscellaneous deductions don’t count so to speak.

If you answered” Yes” to the last question, then you definitely have a business.  Sole proprietors report the income and expenses of their business on Schedule C of the 1040.

Finally, you’ll need to keep receipts for your expenses in the event that you are ever audited.  It’s also a good idea so you don’t have to guess how much you’ve spent in the last year.  Being audited is not as scary as it sounds when you have receipts to support your case.  To do it right the first time, let’s take a look at some common expenses that you might incur.  You might be surprised what the law allows and doesn’t.

Yes, you can write off the business portion of the following on Schedule C:
  • Photo shoots
  • Business cards
  • Accounting fees
  • Alterations
  • Amounts spent on exercise (i.e. gym memberships and class fees)
  • Props
  • Cell phone bills
  • Agent commissions
  • Rent for storage
  • Mileage or Actual Auto Expenses
  • Parking
  • Travel
  • Advertising
  • Computers & Equipment
  • Insurance
  • Interest on credit card charges related to business expenses
  • Festival Fees
  • Legal & Professional Fees
  • Office Expenses
  • Rent
  • Office Supplies
No, you cannot write off:
  • Clothing that is adaptable to everyday wear
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Interest on your credit card related to non-business expenses
  • Manicures, pedicures and other personal care expenses
Be careful with:
  • Lunches that have a business purpose – Yes you can write them of, but not if it is lunch with coworkers or considered a meal for yourself while working late.  It’s good to write on the receipt what was discussed and who was present.
  • Bar Tabs/Entertainment.  These have to pass the Directly-Related Test.  These are deductible (up to the 50% Meals & Entertainment limit) if the *main purpose* of the entertainment/meeting was to conduct business, you did engage in business during the meeting, and you expected to receive income or some other business benefit in the future.
For the most complete resource of allowable deductions and assistance in navigating your return, it is a good idea to consider the use of a tax professional especially considering their fees are deductible.  Feel free to contact me for a referral at

By day, Lexa Lusty has worked as an accountant since 2007, has prepared taxes for all business types and has experience in operations management, internal audit, and fraud. 

This material does not constitute tax, legal or accounting advice and Lexa Lusty is not in the business of offering such advice. It was not intended or written for use and cannot be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding any IRS penalty. Anyone interested in these topics should seek advice based on his or her particular circumstances from independent professional advisers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Feeling Fabulous! Burlesque Pre-Show Rituals

We all have our daily habits: a cup of coffee, a quick bite to eat, maybe a morning meditation.  These activities put us in the right frame of mind to start the day and tackle whatever might come. But transforming into one’s burlesque persona and getting ready for a performance can be a process in and of itself…one that apparently requires a lot of glitter!

We asked Boston’s burlesque beauties, “How do you make yourself feel fabulous before going on stage?”  Here’s what they said: 

Johnny Blazes puts on hir face
I listen to Salt n’ Pepa’s “Body Beautiful” while putting on my face. – Johnny Blazes

Giant eyelashes! – Femme Brulée

For me it's all about the hair and makeup.  How can I not feel otherworldly and magical and sexy when coated in glitter?  Oh, and about half a glass of wine helps too. – Polly Surely

I love makeup, and I love the time I get with it before a show.  I will specifically set aside an hour to really take the time and pamper myself, hair and makeup wise.  I hate that rushed feeling even if you are running number to number, so the time I have with my mirror is my own personal time. It's where I transform from "me" to Victory Rolls and it's the key to my psyche, not to separate the reality from the persona, but to merge the two into something powerful, brave, and sexy on the inside. – Victory Rolls

Usually good music helps create or maintain my mood, gets me excited for a show, or helps calm the nerves if I am feeling anxious.  – Malice in Wonderland

Mary Widow puts on a wig cap.
Photo by Albie Colantonio
I apply tons and tons of foundation, put in my contacts, and practice twirling. There’s something about twirling tassels that makes me feel so amazing. – Allix Mortis

When I get into costume and people tell me how they “Can’t wait” to see what I’m about to do, [that makes me feel fabulous]! – Mary Widow

The transformation to Dixie is not complete until the shiny red wig and glitter lipstick is in place. Once those are on, I’m ready to tackle the world! – Dixie Douya

It’s all about finding that right prop or gimmick or movement that allows me to fully inhabit the character or the spirit of the act; whether its having one shoe on in my zombie acts, turning on all my LEDs in my Robo-Antoinette act; my prosthetics for Ereshkigal -- just those little elements that flip a switch in me so I can live in the moment of the act. Devilicia

I dance (wiggle and squirm really) in front of the mirror - but then again, that’s how I make myself feel fabulous before leaving my bedroom in the morning, or the dressing room at a store, the table after lunch, or at a sunglasses display on the sidewalk. – UnAmerika’s Sweetheart Karin Webb

Polly Surely and her glitter
Photo by Julie Gelfand
So whether you wiggle, squirm, coat yourself in glitter, or rock out to your favorite jam, developing an “I’m so f’ing fabulous” routine can make you feel like a million dollars.

What are some of your favorite ways to pump yourself up, whether you’re going on stage or out for the night?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Side Effects - Breast Cancer and Burlesque

By Cyndi Freeman

This week we bring you a very special article from guest writer Cyndi Freeman and illustrator Tammy Stellanova. Cyndi shares her story about being advised by her doctor to have a double mastectomy "as a precaution," and how it inspired her to take up burlesque! 

If you have boobs...or just enjoy them...this story is for you! Below is a sneak preview -- to hear Cyndi's story in its entirety (and to see all of Tammy's awesome accompanying illustrations) go to The Story Collider, which originally published the story, Side Effects.

For the rest of Cyndi's story go to Story Collider. There's even an audio podcast!

Story by Cyndi Freeman. Ms. Freeman is a two-time FringeNYC award-winning performer and playwright. She performs burlesque as Cherry Pitz and is a co-producer of and performer with Hotsy Totsy Burlesque, New York’s only ongoing monthly burlesque soap opera. She is also co-producer of and a performer with monthly burlesque, storytelling, and comedy show And I Am Not Lying. In addition to burlesque, Ms. Freeman is frequent performer of live storytelling in NYC and a recipient of a grand prize playwriting fellowship award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (with collaborator Ellen Groves). Her other credits include HBO, Comedy Central and Showtime Television.

Tammy Stellanova is an illustrator and comic artist who splits her time between the big island of Hawai’i and Berkeley, California. Tammy is the author of a number of self-published comics, as well as an upcoming book featuring her nature illustrations. You can read more about Tammy and see her work at, as well as at, a site that features her illustrated natural history jewelry.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Breaking Into Boston’s Burlesque Scene

By Dixie Douya, Rogue Burlesque

So you’ve bought (or made) your first pair of tasseled pasties and now you’re ready to twirl them on stage for the entire world to see! But how do you go from dancing alone in your living room to performing for a real live audience? Here are seven steps to begin your burlesque career:

1. Go see live burlesque! There is so much burlesque in Boston, and the tone and style of each show varies considerably (check out the calendar of events on the Hubba Hub home page for listings). Whether you are into gore and horror, goofy storylines, fabulous costumes, incredible dancing, political satire, weird characters, high glamour, comedy, or the grotesque and macabre, there is quite literally something for everyone. By seeing what already exists in the scene, you’ll find what style of burlesque you gravitate to and what most appeals to you. Knowing what you like and don’t like is the first step in identifying your own persona and style.

After shows, spend some time thinking about which performers and routines you most enjoyed and why (or didn’t enjoy and why). Watch shows not just as a fan, but also through a critical lens. 

2. Start thinking about your persona and skills. Are you naturally funny and goofy? Have you been dancing since you were young? Do you like acting and being a different character on stage? Did you love playing dress-up as a child and want to do it again? Whatever your skills or desires, know what they are so you can play to your strengths. Start to develop a burlesque persona that highlights who you are now or who you want to be on stage. This will help you find your niche in the larger scene and will help you later when you pitch yourself to producers, trying to get that first gig or audition.

Ms. Sassypants & Polly Surely
teach boa moves to beginners
Photo by Julie Gelfand
3. Take a class. You can home your dancing skills, acting chops, or comedic timing through classes on each. But if you’ve never done striptease before, taking a beginner’s burlesque class is worth doing.  Learn the lingo, identify your best assets, strengthen your persona, and learn the basic moves and removes. The Hubba Hub’s own Rogue Burlesque teaches both a beginner class (Sassy, Classy & Brassy: Burlesque for Beginners) and one about developing a narrative for your routine (Burlesque Fabulousness: Taking Yourself to the Next Level).

4. Google and watch burlesque online. Get to know who the big players are nationally and what makes them so fabulous. Hint: Avoid clicking on links to Burlesque: The Movie or The Pussycat Dolls; these may show up first in your search but are not representative of most actual burlesque. Instead, search for performances on YouTube from Viva Las Vegas, the Burlesque Hall of Fame, the New York or New Orleans Burlesque Festival, or Tease-o-Rama. Once you find someone you like, Google that performer and see what else he or she has done. Seeing the breadth of what is out there at the national level, you’ll soon realize that burlesque can be subtle and sexy, or crazy and over-the-top. But first and foremost, it aims to be entertaining and unforgettable.

Note: Watching burlesque online can be a great way to pick up new moves or get costuming ideas, but be very careful not to imitate your favorite performers too closely. Choosing songs that others are known for, lifting choreography or storylines wholesale, or imitating someone’s character without acknowledging it is not paying homage to these performers – it is stealing. Consider it the industry’s version of plagiarism. It is not looked upon kindly and will get you noticed for all the wrong reasons. Find ways to develop a persona, style, dance moves, character, and storyline that are unique to you!

5. Start working on a routine of your own. You’ve done the research, you’ve taken the classes, and now it’s time to actually DO it. You’re ready! Start with something that inspires you – a song, a story idea, a character – and begin to build a routine around it. Map out your choreography and write it down (seriously, write it down!). Ask friends and roommates to watch you and critique. Borrow a video camera, film yourself, and watch the results (watching video of ourselves is incredibly difficult but super, super helpful!).

Your first burlesque routine should be a solo, and should highlight your strengths as a performer. While duets and group numbers are fun to watch, they’re typically not allowed for auditions or amateur competitions.

6. Volunteer at shows. Volunteering is not only a great way to see lots of shows for free (all those ticket prices can add up!) but is also an important way to network with producers and performers and see if their scene is right for you. For example, stage kittening allows you to be backstage with performers but also get a little bit of face time on stage, too.  By getting to know performers on- and off-stage and developing relationships with them, you can learn backstage secrets (like where to shop for costumes), find out about upcoming auditions/opportunities, and build a rapport that will allow you to ask for advice.

Ask first if it is a good time to talk. Some performers will surprise you and say, “Sure, I’ll answer your questions while I put on my face.” Others would much rather talk to you outside of a show. Be respectful of these boundaries. Remember that show days can be hectic and stressful for even the most veteran of performers; the dancer who seems aloof and hard to approach may not really be a bitch, but may be calming her own nerves and trying to mentally and physically prepare to go on stage.

While there are plenty of exceptions, most people don’t land auditions or get hired to be part of a troupe from a cold call. In almost every case I can think of, producers and troupes hire whom they know or have gotten to know over time. Volunteering backstage is a great way for producers to know your name, overall vibe, strengths, professionalism, and personality. In the case of troupes or large casts who spend a lot of time together, backstage fit is at least as important as on-stage skills. So get to know us and let us get to know you!

Liz Fang announces The Bon Vivant as winner of the
November 2011 Lucky 13 Competition!
Photo by Lee Kilpatrick
7. DO IT! The best way to improve as a burlesque dancer is to get the hell out there and try it. There are regular annual auditions (such as for the Slutcracker), random auditions that pop up (you’ll need to keep an ear out to find out about them), and amateur competitions such as Rogue Burlesque’s Lucky 13, which happens 3-4 times a year.  Between the guest judges and the local producers who come to scout new talent, Lucky 13 is a terrific way to get stage experience in the eyes of Boston’s burlesque community. In addition, you’ll come out with a video of your performance, something that will significantly increase your chance of getting a response when you contact producers as a performer.

As with any new venture, going from enthusiastic hobbyist to paid professional can take time, talent, and patience, but the Boston burlesque scene offers many opportunities to get your first big break. Now get out there and, as we say before shows, “pop a pastie!!”

* Dixie Douya is the co-founder and director of Rogue Burlesque, and has coached dozens of first-time performers into Rogue’s Lucky 13 Amateur Burlesque Competition.