Written by Holly Dai April 25, 2015
I have been performing now for six years and as my small community in Portland Oregon grows, there has been many things I have had to remind myself as well as my students. I founded the first school in Oregon to teach burlesque and am now the headmistress of All that Glitters Burlesque Academy with Tana the Tattooed Lady. Here is my advice for newcomers, and maybe not so new performers of burlesque.
1. Don’t give up. Starting in an established scene can be very intimidating and sometimes cliquey. New performers often feel like they don’t know how to get seen by others. Attend shows, continue to introduce yourself and practice, practice practice. Conversely, I see veteran performers give up as well. If your town isn’t getting you places, try traveling and attending festivals. I have met so many wonderful people by going out of my comfort zone.
2. Don’t think you’re finished learning. The amazing feeling after first performing is often praised by friends or peers and too often do I see new performers instantly believe that they are ready for all the big stages. ALWAYS continue learning. Too many veterans are also stuck not moving forward. Continue to take dance classes, costume classes, and attend peer reviews. If you don’t have them, create them.
3. Don’t be stubborn. Ask people that are not just your peers what they think and be open to advice. Allow room for change and growth!
4. Don’t think you have to do it all to make it. I used to think in my first year that I needed 10 acts and I needed to be on the major stages in the US. If I wasn’t doing all of it, then I was no good. I was ambitious and probably very annoying when I first started. It is ok to take it a little slow! Burlesque is developed and there are many performers who have taken years to create their persona. Take your time and try not to burn out in overthinking it.
5. Be ok with failing. Failing can mean an act that didn’t go so well. Getting off the stage and NOT complaining. People usually dont know you messed up. I used to think failing was rejection. I have learned to let that go. Instead, I use my failure to try to take more classes, ask for more feedback, and fail forward.
6. Take a break. I quit burlesque. Straight up said I am retiring and sold all my costumes. I was tired. I dont suggest you take that kind of break but allow yourself a hiatus. Take time to evaluate what made you fall in love. My retirement lasted 7 months and after I rebuilt a new burlesque school, opened a burlesque dance studio and helped produce a new burlesque festival.
7. Take risks. If you want to try something you’ve never done, do it now! I began teaching after a year of performing. While there is some debate if I was really qualified to start teaching, I knew at that time no one else was willing to teach others in Portland. I was criticized and sometimes felt very bad about stepping out. I am grateful I didn’t let that stop me and I think my community is too as most of the performers in town have taken classes in one school or the other. I also, along with Tana the Tattooed Lady and Ellie Darling, started the Oregon Burlesque Festival. There was concern over its success and again the underlying critique of who should have produced such a large endeavor popped up. But we moved forward, and have since heard wonderful things from peers and those who weren’t so sure. Taking risks can be scary, a failure, and sometimes the best decision ever.
8. Have fun If you’ve stopped having fun consider tip #6. Burlesque can be hard work. Making costumes look like they are not just “off the rack,” rehearsing, getting inspiration, can all be daunting experiences. Make sure you are having fun at the same time.
9. Be serious At the same time learn something more about burlesque. Learn the history. Have fun but dont brush off that this is still about an art-form and get educated. Take it seriously even if its your hobby. Make it a hobby you are loving and give it and the others who may not be hobbyist, the respect it deserves.
10. Be more creative with each new act. That doesn’t mean you need to create five foot props. But maybe it’s getting a fancier bra, maybe its adding in floor work that you’ve been afraid to do in heels. Don’t limit yourself to the same routine each time and always continue your growth!