You've all seen the burlesque shows, watched the Dita & Immodesty DVD’s ,the You Tube video’s...you want a piece of the glitz & glamour right, who wouldn't? .
I mean how hard can it be, get a glitzy costume of eBay and a pair of feather fans, a few ostrich boa’s, your * music to strip by* CD and your a burlesque dancer right?
I wouldn't blame you for thinking it was all glitz and glamour, and with Burlesque being the topic of new films out and a fashion craze sweeping through the shops at the moment its easy to understand how you can believe what you see on the big screen & feel *empowered* (yes that’s the key word that seems to be the tag line for many burlesque starlets at the moment)
Well before you take the plunge and start down that journey let me tell you about the very unglamorous side of Burlesque, the side that doesn't get published in magazines and the side you dont see on DVD’s....
Ive read many blogs and articles that give a rose tinted view on burlesque, how the dancers live these decadent lives and make hundreds of pounds for a 5 minute show. Sadly its not like that for the majority and it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance (and a tough skin and attitude) to get the that point in your career.
As Gypsy once said, “ you gotta get a gimmick If you wanna get a hand”. The giant Martini glass has been done, a pair of fans are beautiful but you've got to make that dance your own, you need to think long and hard about *you* and what you have that you want to share with the world, that’s what’s going to get you noticed. No one wants to watch a show that they have seen performed before by a thousand other dancers, you need something to make you stand out from the crowd. I’m talking Music, Costuming, Make Up and everything in between.
I’ll freely admit, when I first started dancing I was scared to bring the element of me that has made me who I am today out for the crowd to see. I was blinded by the rhinestones and ignored that little voice inside me that was telling me to look to the B movie queens and Hammer Horror classics that I admired for inspiration, I tried to model myself into a 1940’s housewife thinking that was what the audience wanted to see.
I worked on routines for days, weeks months and didn't realise why I wasn't as comfortable doing them as I hoped to be. It wasn't until a year after my first performance that I really embraced my true inspiration and developed my first B movie inspired act. I took to the stage as Elvira throwing glittery spider confetti over the audience and danced to something a little more edgy that the music I thought I had to, the audience loved it. The finale was my death with blood spouting from my chest after I plunged a knife into it knowing I wouldn’t be able to be with Frankie ,(SFX I hasten to add, I had not turned into a manic depressive and committed suicide onstage)
I could hear the audience still clapping and cheering as I took to the disabled toilet cubicle that was my (and every other dancers that evenings) dressing room. I took my petrol money (yes no fee I was still dancing for the exposure and the love at this Point), wiped of the toilet paper that was stuck to the bottom of my shoe, wiped down the fake blood with my baby wipes and started my 3 hour journey home. I must have looked like I’d murdered a pixie caked in a mixture of fake blood and glitter, but I didn’t care I was on a high!
During that journey home I had an epiphany, I embraced me and in consequence “my gimmick”. Id already re worked my fan dance to my favorite Marilyn Manson song and thought up idea’s that would bring more blood and gore to my acts in my head before I opened my front door.
The following months were spent rehearsing my fan dance and researching SFX. I kid you not there were days that I couldn't even lift my fans from all the practice, My fingers bled from the fans rubbing them, and my feet had swollen so much from dancing in high heels that I couldn't bear to put shoes on, I gained bags under my eyes large enough to carry my shopping in from sat rhinestoning outfits until the early hours of the morning, but if you want the reaction you got to put in the work- that’s some of the best advice I could ever give!
The dedication that I put in was immense, I often went months without seeing my friends and family due to traveling all over for that one show that would be my launch pad, or so I believed. I dread to think how many miles I have traveled in the search of that one opportunity that would benchmark my career, that one gig where there would be someone, something that would happen, I don’t think I was ever sure what that opportunity would be and if I would even recognize it, but I carried on traveling on cold trains and coaches, driving back from venue’s at stupid o clock.
So does it sound glamorous? Nope it wasn’t, those rhinestoned g-strings look impressive but they chafe, they are also not the most comfortable things to travel in when you have your costume on under your clothes because the venue you’re heading to lacks changing facilities.
There’s also the question of props, the more you need onstage the more that can go wrong….there was an incident where I was onstage stood infront of my glitter cannon – gracefully swept of my dress and swung it round, unbeknown to me that I had hit my glitter cannon and it was now aiming at my scantily clad derriere….I pressed the detonator and instead of glitter shooting up into the air and making everything in the room sparkle …it shot right up something else and I was farting glitter for a week, Of course you smile sweetly, do a cheeky little whoops face to your audience and make it look like its all part of your act….then you get home to discover a giant purple glittery bruise – only ever in burlesque eh? Burley war wounds who’d want them!
I’d coined my *B movie Queen* tagline by the end of 2005 in on the underground clubs and on the fetish scene, mainly by my Nurse autopsy act but it wasn't until I was invited to perform “Nurse Autopsy” at Club Golden Lotus in Newcastle in 2009 ( 4 years after creating the act) that it hit the mainstream Burlesque audience.
That was also one of the first venue’s where there was a real backstage area and I didn’t have to change in a toilet!
Id been offered to perform it in mainstream Burlesque clubs beforehand but the clubs had always changed their minds before the booking and wanted something a little less rocky and a little less edgy, I always ended up toning the acts down or going with the earlier more traditional routines at their request, OK they always got a good response but I felt like a fake up there doing the whole sparkile..Smile…pose.. Smile..sparkle ..pose ....shimmey...
It was at this point where things went oh so right and oh so wrong, you could say I was snagged up in the spider webs after I was blinded by the rhinestones…..
I became slightly obsessed with costuming, I bought swarskovski crystals galore and everything become rhinestoned, I went shopping and instead of looking for clothes I’d be looking for things I could make costumes from, everything became about burlesque, I ate, drank, slept and even shit burlesque, that was dedication right ?
To me I thought it was I thought it was me embracing the culture of what I was doing and striving to be the best I could be…unbeknown to me at the time I had turned into a crazy lady who only ever spoke about rhinestoning pasties and g strings and sat in patiently gluing hundreds upon hundreds of swarskosvki’s to dresses to give me more sparkle. I craved sparkle. I was lost without it. I was a human magpie, I had rhinestoned skulls and spiders galore and always craved more bigger, brighter, sparklier!
Yes I lost touch with reality slightly, everyone and everything that was important to me was drowned in my rhinestoned reality and although the gigs were pouring in, I lost touch with me, I was being moulded into what I thought people wanted to see…..I was worse than the crazy cat lady!
The months/years rolled by and I decided to use my new found powers for good and started charity work, I held events for causes such as Women’s Refuges and made thousands for charity, I then decided to start my confidence building classes for women. This was the start of my downfall and recovery…
For many women I was a stepping-stone into burlesque and my lessons had helped them into the scene and for some even into the local troupe I was part of. For some it gave them the confidence to embrace their femininity and wear more feminine clothing, one woman even told me I had saved her marriage. I was happy to be giving and happy to be helping but there is only so much you can give before your sucked dry, I hadn’t learned this lesson yet and was about to learn it one swift kick to the metaphorical nads!
A few of my students had shown a promising start to their careers in burlesque and I had taken them under my wing, I took them away with me to shows and gotten them their first gigs, even acting as a manager for some dishing out contracts for performances id gotten them..…I helped them with costumes and they would discuss routine ideas with me and as far as I was concerned I had made some very good friends…I couldn’t have been further from the truth
It was when the students had had their leg up and were staring to develop themselves that the cracks started to show…They came to me in awe of Dita and Immodesty and the twinkly traditional burlesque…I was more than happy to help them but telling them they had to create their routines to stand out reiterating gypsy’s words of advice “you gotta get a gimmick If you wanna get a hand”.
Their gimmick however was me, numerous folk had told me about routines involving blood, rock music, fire, knives and I had just kept telling myself imitation is flattery. I tried to steer them into figuring out what they wanted to be..what they wanted to do …besides they weren’t exclusively my gimmicks, there were other girls doing this out there, but in their own unique styles.
I soon found out that what one of these girls wanted to do was steal my costumes/idea’s acts and bad mouth me to as any promoters as possible, even having the nerve to tell people that she had taught me burlesque- I was mortified; I had created a monster and I had let her loose on the world.
It had brought to my attention the “friends” who wanted to know me because I could help them and never actually were around when I needed them, and the friends that were there for me no matter what, It made me realize the important things in life that I needed to re embrace, the things that I am, the things that make me happy and more importantly the people who weren’t there to just take from me…the people who gave back and I was proud to call friends.
It had made me realize just how much the glitter and sparkles had taken over my life, how everyone and everything I loved had suffered for my love of burlesque.
Don’t get me wrong I have met some amazing girls and boys on my travels and some of these girls have spurred me on In my darker days and been there to celebrate with me throughout my highlights, By no means am I saying be wary every person you meet, I’m saying its an industry where women and men compare themselves and are in competition, and every industry where this is the case you have to be wary that there will be people prepared to do anything to get “one step ahead” and that rhinestones aren’t exactly stab proof.
I see this all the time, girls think it makes them a better burlesque dancer because they breathe it, they live it 24/7…they don’t realize they will burn out faster that way and a candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. I’m definitely an advocate for putting the work in the get your desired outcome, you cant piss about and expect the world to be handed to you on a silver platter, but you need a happy medium- don’t let it take over your life!