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.

1 comment:

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