Burlesque: Fuck Yeah!


Toni Rose
From the ‘Burlesque Historical Company’ series of postcards..


Toni Rose

From the ‘Burlesque Historical Company’ series of postcards..


80’s-era Tempest Storm..


80’s-era Tempest Storm..


Watercolor quick sketch. Bordello Artist Series, Studio L’Amour. 2010.


Watercolor quick sketch. Bordello Artist Series, Studio L’Amour. 2010.


Las Vegas showgirl, Dale Strong, 1952.


Las Vegas showgirl, Dale Strong, 1952.

elbowsaxx7 said: Hey there!

So, I am 19 years old and trying to find my purpose in life. One profession I would love to have is a Burlesque dancer. However, all the ideas I have had for a routine have already all been done so I am having trouble finding my own special trick that I do. Is it ok to do a routine similar to a famous burlesque star's routine?

I find this a very difficult question to answer… Most Professional Burlesque Performers have their own ‘Characters’, usually based off the whore/virgin dichotomy. Femme Fatale Characters are common, as are cutesy Cheesecake girls. There are political performers, satirical, there are some that are based from a certain era only (20s, 30s, 40s and 50s all have very separate moves and fashions) There are performers that do Comic Book Cosplay, there are some that have amazing Swarovski encrusted everything, and some that can never afford a real Steel Boned Corset.

My advice to someone who want s to go into Burlesque as a Profession is learn the basics first, from a pro. Perform at some small gigs, in group routines, if they are available to you. Learn about all kinds of art, film, photography and fashions. Go vintage shopping. A Lot. If you can, go to University to study Performance Art or get proper Dance Training in Latin or Bellydance or even Krunk.

Find specific things that inspire you. I am inspired by 20s flappers, and lots of beading, and brassy band music, bobs, smokey eyes. The artists I love are Alphonse Mucha, Frida Kahlo, and Dali… anything Art Nouveau and Art Deco and Surreal.

Get constructive Criticism from someone you trust. Go to shows. Make Friends… Getting your Character and figuring out what inspires you personally will mean you will always be developing individual, unique acts, even if you are inspired by one certain performer.

Good Luck


Viviane Mae

weirdlydelicious-deactivated201 said: Heya! I was in a burlesque show last year at my college, so it wasn't anything huge or professional, but I totally fell in love with it. I have a name and everything (La Dame d'Artois)!

I would love love love to pursue burlesque further, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to start. I have Googled myself into carpal tunnel syndrome trying to find burlesque troupes in my area (D.C./ Baltimore) and they're clearly far too underground for me to find. I've been trying to go to burlesque shows to squeeze myself into the scene, but they're all 21+ shows and I'm twenty. So close, yet so very very far...

So I guess what I'm asking is: How do you start in burlesque? I have very little background in dancing, and one burlesque workshop and performance at a college probably doesn't mean all that much, but I would really love to keep doing burlesque.

Any advice would be wonderful. Thanks so much!
La Dame d'Artois

Hello La Dame d’Artois, what a wonderful name :)

In each country, laws of entry have to be obeyed… in Australia, you must be 18+ to drink, gamble and go to a strip club. In the USA, it’s 21+. I’m pretty sure you have to be over 21 to perform and to attend events… but you should be okay to attend some classes. I suggest you contact the Baltimore Burlesque Academy: http://baltimoreburlesqueacademy.com/ and ask them if there are any age restrictions on their classes.

The truth of the matter is, Burlesque is, at heart, a strip. Sometimes Pasties fall off… sometimes women go ‘Crazy Horse’ and do a more Euro French style with Breasts fully exposed. Some women even perform fully nude. The age restrictions are there for a reason and need to be respected. Good luck :D

sonic-tits said: Do you have any advice (or a link to advice) on how to enter the field of burlesque for a struggling, broke college student who lives in a college town? Between finding classes, paying for classes, renting rehearsal space, and putting together costumes, starting out seems like quite an endeavor! I just read the article you reblogged from burl-expert and while on one hand it's quite helpful, on another hand it's kind of intimidating for someone who's not "in the scene" as of yet.

Classes don’t have to be expensive - try asking around your local burlesque scene and see if anyone’s willing to teach you for cheap, or in return for helping them out at shows and such. I have heard of colleges that have their own burlesque troupes, so what you could do is gather a group of likeminded friends and workshop routines together. YouTube and the rest of the web have plenty of resources on routine ideas, skills, and so on.

You’re in college - there should be multipurpose or club rooms that you can book for free. Ask the college theatre dept for ideas and suggestions. Community libraries and centres often have rooms available for free/cheap too. And there’s always your own house to rehearse in!

Costumes don’t have to be expensive - in face I’d personally recommend they not be, mostly because they’d go through quite a bit of wear and tear. You can get a corset effect for 10x cheaper with a bustier, and shiny material isn’t hard to find for cheap. Go to thrift stores and repurpose the material. Do t-shirt surgery. Get creative with costumes by going for the unusual.

Your low budget situation isn’t uncommon, and it can actually give you an edge in that you’re working with limitations that force you to be creative. It doesn’t have to be all glamour and glitz - but then again a lot of burlesque historically hasn’t been.

Good luck :)




Being in a tight economy can really take a hit on a budget showgirl or boy.  Below are some money saving tips and some harsh economic truths.

If you have a dozen acts, but you’ve only been performing a year, that means one of two things:  1) you have the money and time to spend on fully-realized act every month 2) you don’t, so more than one act is not a great costume, is not fully rehearsed, etc.  With any act, the more times you perform it allows for more money to be counted towards that act.  For example, my Bride of Frankenstein costume cost in parts and labor  $1200.  This doesn’t count renting a rehearsal studio to rehearse, make-up, pastie glue, all the auxiliary costs of an act.  When I perform, I like to take half of my fee and assign it to “paying for” my costs. (For example: I’ve been performing that act since 2003, I no longer have to rent a studio for more than an hour, as the choreography is complete, I only have to make repairs to the costume and not build any more pieces, etc.)  Eventually, the act should pay off.  If you have a new act all the time, you are using resources that might be better served by adding more rhinestones to an existing costume, or more rehearsal time  for an exiting act, thus making one great act, versus two mediocre acts.

Try to split the cost of a rehearsal space with at least one other performer (if not two).  I consider the time it takes to put my costume back on dead time—time I am not rehearsing.  If you split with someone, they can be rehearsing while you are getting dressed and visa-versa.  (Also, try to get all the music on one ipod/playlist/cd so you don’t waste time switching over.)  If you are sharing the space with BFF’s, then I suggest meeting 15 min early to get gossip out of the way.  Remember, you are paying for studio time to rehearse, not to find out “do you know what she did?”

I keep all my undergarments in bins according to color (not with their outer costumes).  When I do conceive of a new act, I go to my bins first to see if I have a set of underbits that fit the color scheme of a new act.  I have added additional embellishments (for example, adding copper colored fringe to my green panties) by tailor tacking them  (a light stitch I rip out later), hidden snaps or snap tape, or even small safety pins (providing I am not taking that garment off to reveal the pins).  All my panel skirts have panels that velrco so I can change the color or fullness.  Lastly, I construct all my pasties with interchangeable tassels so I can change their look and not need a new pair for each new act.

Using cheap embellishments (like the $1 a spool ribbon at the craft store, or 99c plastic Christmas decorations) might save you money now, but they are not archival, in that they may not survive the extreme wear and tear a burlesque costume must suffer.  If you need to replace a cheap embellishment after every third performance, you may not be saving money or time—and don’t forget, your time is money (how much do you pay yourself to make a costume?  $10 an hour?  $5?  None?).  Also, if the costume is well made you can e-bay should you decide to retire that act.

Clean your costumes every 6 to 10 performances.  Dry clean any outer garments (be sure to go to a drycleaner that specializes in couture cleaning so you know that your pearls, sequins, rhinestones, etc will not melt or fall off in the process).  Hand wash your underbits in Ivory dish detergent or cheap mild shampoo in cold water.  Do not scrub. (If you have a stubborn spot—like a wine stain—use a toothbrush to scrub just that area, and, switch to white wine.)  Do not ring out, just a quick swish in soapy water, rinse in cold water, lay flat to dry.  This will prevent any stains from darkening over time. (Did you know that champagne stains will eventually caramelize?)

In addition to costumes, make-up, wigs and rehearsal space, you’ll need to maintain an internet presence, business cards or fliers, having new photos.  I recommend a proper website (not just facebook).  It needn’t be more than a well –designed placeholder that has your best video, a few photos, contact info and buttons telling people to find you on facebook, twitter, etc.)  Some designers can work with you to find and easy web design program that allows you to make updates on your own, thus saving you from having to pay the designer (or be at the whim of their schedule).
As to photography, see if the photographer offers a buddy deal.  This way you can act as each other’s stylist (making sure your face is powdered and your fringe is straight).  Once you have your pictures, feel free to be a little stingy with them.  Our public loves new photos, so don’t release them all at once, but put up one new photo a month. 
Lastly, order business cards or fliers in small amounts if you are constantly changing your image, order a large amount if you have a photo you simply love, as ordering things in larger quantities are cheaper. 

If you are taking a split off the door, that means you are working for whatever admissions come through the door, split between the cast and crew.  Keep in mind, that there can often be other costs that are taken off the top, like publicity (fliers, posters, etc), DJ, security, room rental.  Also be aware of the capacity of the club and the cost of admission, and how many people are in the cast.  If the club only holds 80 people, each paying $10, but the DJ gets $100 and security gets $100, and the producer wants to reimburse the $50 for the fliers, and there are 12 performers on the show, that means you all get about $45, if you sell out.  And the show may not sell out.  If it’s a distant location (you take 2 trains, or drive 25 miles), add in the cost of not just the train tickets or the gas and parking, but you’re time getting there, and it may be more profitable to stay home. 

If you decide to produce a show with guarantees, a basic way to arrive at the budget of your show is 2/3 the capacity of the club times admission price minus the hard costs (advertising, DJ, security) divided by the number of performers.  Better to tip out your performers if you sell more tickets, than to make a guarantee that you can not afford.  (This is only for a show by established producers—for your first producing venture, you should estimate 1/3 the capacity since you have no following or
Burlesque is also the most expensive to show to produce, as the average act is only 3-5 minutes long, versus 10-15 minutes per your average comedian, or 30-45 minutes for your average band.  By default you need more performers per 90 minutes of entertainment, as well as certain logistics like pick-up artist to retrieve the clothes, a dressing room or place to change, a sound system to play the performers music. 
Lastly, burlesque is still an unknown art form (ie unlike stand-up, a majority of people don’t have a clear-cut image of what they will see at a show), as well as being a sexualized form of entertainment, which may cut out a large part of any  potential audience.

Larger cities do not mean larger guarantees.  Yes, you may say the population of Los Angeles is 9 million, but 9 million people are not coming to a burlesque  show.  In fact, there is a great deal more competition for the viewing public.  At any given moment, my own show, Victory Variety Hour, could be up against a Mark Ryden opening, a  car show, a Dodgers game, Patton Oswald at the Improv, Neil Gaiman signing at Meltdown Comics, Prince playing a months worth of shows at the Coliseum for $25 a ticket AND everyone one of my friends in some other show (theater, band, stand-up).  In smaller towns, a burlesque show could literally be the only game in town.
Also, advertising costs in larger cities are more expensive, businesses are less likely to sponsor a show unless they know there are large numbers or celebrities are attached, and venues are more expensive to book.

You must have at least a DBA to write your performance costs off.  These costs include, but not limited to: costumes, materials and thread, rhinestones and glue, make-up, salon visits (hair, nails, facials, massage), rental of rehearsal space, dance and sewing classes, sewing machine repairs, shoes and jewelry. HOWEVER, this also means you must report your earnings and prove a profit after 3 years, otherwise your “career” is consider a hobby by the government, and why should they give you a break for a pastime (no tax break for scrapbookers).  Do consult a licensed CPA about the details of taking this route.

Being on tour means that the costs of being on tour (travel, accommodations, fees for performances) are guaranteed.  If you are not recuperating the costs, either in performance fees, saving on a hotel by crashing with another performer or hustling merch, then you might be on a subsidized vacation.  Not that there’s anything wrong with picking up a gig while you visit your aunt, but no one should hit the road without knowing that in advance, as many people will bill themselves as being on tour, when the reality of that situation may be very different.
With most bands, they do not make their money on ticket sales, but on merch. Just remember to make something for $20 or less, and have one piece of merch that is $5 or less.  This way, someone can always give you money if they want.  And be sure to carry change at all times.  You do not want to have to sell your merch for less money, or not sell it at all, because you couldn’t break a ten.

And just remember, in these trying times we have made a decision to make art regardless of the financial gain.  And if we can survive this economic climate, we can survive anything.


Dita Von Teese @ Crazy Horse (Paris)

“Contestants for Miss Burlesque Australia undertake weeks of preparation and are judged on a rigorous set of criteria that includes the historical accuracy of their music, their acquisition of period costumes, their mastery of traditional choreography and their execution of the striptease. Yet in media interviews the contestants were never asked about their actual performances but were instead questioned about whether they thought burlesque was a feminist practice and whether they thought it was empowering for women. This line of questioning is especially frustrating for accomplished performers such as Lola the Vamp, who notes with some exasperation that “burlesque is not therapy” but an extremely demanding performing art with a long history that forms a central part of the performers’ training. Moreover, most contemporary burlesque performers have training in several kinds of performing art: Lola the Vamp has a background in ballet and modern dance; Miss BB le Buff in hula hoop; Imogen Kelly is a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art. Others incorporate aerials, contortion or fire tricks into their routines. Male football players are rarely asked what their performance on field says about the state of modern masculinity, nor is their choice of profession taken as representing something about the state of contemporary masculinity as a whole. Yet questions about feminism and femininity encompass the entirety of the discussion about burlesque in the popular media.”
Chaotic cabaret | The Australian