Keeping Burlesque Affordable: Saving Money in a Pricey Industry
A couple months ago, I asked the question “how much do finances affect our ability as performers?” Unsurprisingly, most responses instantly pointed out the classism of burlesque and how many performers are unable to create various routines due to the cost. And the more you want to do... from more routines to getting established, to travelling, to even taking classes or attending various festivals… it all adds up. I won’t get too much into the nitty gritty, because after a debut, most performers can tell right away that they didn’t choose a cheap hobby or profession. But instead, I want to focus on how we can make it slightly easier on our personal bank accounts. So, let’s get into it!
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! (…Or Recycle, Reuse, Reduce)
Costumes are the base (and sometimes the beginning) to creating what will soon be a titillating, exciting, and memorable act. So right away, you’re spending money. But, if you have a routine that you plan on keeping and performing multiple times, you can always start with a simple base costume and alter it as time goes on. The longer you have a routine, the easier it is to add to it over time until you get closer to your original vision. Don't forget that you get to pay off your costume the more you perform it! Or better yet, upcycle some of your old bras or clothes that you don’t wear often! Most of my performance bras are just old bras that don’t fit properly anymore. I cut them up, reinforce the elastic, maybe throw on some paint, and voila! A brand new, “fancy looking” burlesque bra. Almost every time I buy myself a new bra, an old one gets used for burlesque.
Or maybe you’re a performer with a pretty standard colour pallet or costume style each time? Why not swap some of those costume pieces with various routines? I own one corset; and I make sure to get my moneys worth with it! I wear it for most one-off shows... improv burlesque, Christmas shows, possibly for more intimate private shows, and even for my actual “Dream On” routine. I know how amazing that corset is, so I bring it out every chance I get. If you can get into the habit of reusing your costume pieces, then you could have a solid selection for various shows!
And finally, reducing your new routines. It’s so easy to get wrapped up and want to create a new routine every month for every show... themed shows are especially terrible for this. But I can say from experience, that this can quickly drain your bank, as well as lead to mental and emotional exhaustion. In my second year of performing, I created seven new routines. There were a couple of times when two or three routines would debut in the same month. By the time December came, I said never again. Now I’ll likely do two, maybe three, new routines in a year. And because of that, I am now only creating routines that I identify with, not just to fit a theme… and this change has saved me in multiple ways.
Use Your Free Resources
This next part is one of the biggest money savers for me, personally. I hear a lot of performers mention how they can’t afford studio time, or classes, or anything to “make you a better performer.” I’m going to sound absurd right now, but… you don’t “need” to be a dancer or take classes to be “good.” Want to know the most affordable way to learn to move?
Move. Experiment. Play.
YouTube is your best friend now. Most new styles or moves I have learned are from YouTube. They have amazing tutorials and even just watching various performances has helped me immensely. This goes for watching shows too. I am always studying other performers and how they move, use their face, or do a reveal. I love picking routines apart to know what makes them exciting or unique. And on top of this, there is an abundance of free resources online for learning about burlesque! I have an entire blog post on how to develop your burlesque with different resources.
Get together with your friends and move together. Each of you has your own dance vocabulary, so learn from them and you can share your style with them too!
Not for everyone, but I watch what my Facebook/Instagram friends are saying about their opinions with moving and burlesque. For example, if someone mentions that they love how certain performers always point their toes… or maybe they’re ranting about how others never do in bare feet… I take that, and I learn to point my toes. It is up to you what you take as advice vs. preference. And from that you can create your own preferences for how you move and study others movement.
I have had very limited classes, but a lot of performers think I am a dancer. Honestly, the only classes I have really taken have been through burlycon or the various workshops that other performers bring when they pass through town. This is not me saying to never take a proper class. But if you cannot afford those dance series classes or to be a part of a studio, then you can still learn from other, more affordable (often free), resources. This goes for learning how to sew, doing your makeup, using various props, getting flexible… literally anything!
Buy fabric or materials when they’re on sale! Use coupons! Only rhinestone when you can afford it and your costume doesn’t need anymore adjustments! Because honestly, not all costumes need sparkle (despite how much our minds – mine included – insist that we need MORE sparkle). Research affordable alternatives for different costume pieces, like using craft foam to create various structures. I’ve seen incredible costumes and routines that have come from completely recycled or dollar store materials. As performers, it is so easy to get in our head that we need to have more and the best when it comes to our costumes. But, if you shop smart and know how to get creative, then you’re on the path to an affordable burlesque journey.
Alright, we’ve come to this point… the one where many performers hope to get to, but then need to fork out even more dough. Yes, adding travel adds a LOT to finances, but there are ways that have saved me from going broke. I was going to have a whole section written for travel, but it turns out that small section of this large blog post ended up being a lot bigger than I had anticipated. So, I have written another post dedicated to the travelling showpony. For now, my advice is to always plan ahead if you’re travelling. Create a budget, share expenses with other performers when possible (like sharing hotel rooms or carpooling to other cities), make your own food rather than eating out. And unless you’re performing in another city for a festival, make sure you are being paid fairly. Similar to how you would create a budget and a plan for a personal trip to visit another city or country, the same financial information applies to travelling for burlesque. Know your expenses and where you can save.
And last, like planning for travel: plan out your burlesque year. Everyone has their own methods on how to organize their burlesque, and this is what works best for me. Like a lot of people, I can get overly excited and want to create everything in my brain right away. But before the year begins (usually in November), I’ll sit down and plan what routines I WANT to finally create, whether I need new routines (like, for a specific show or troupe shows), which ones I want to further develop that already exist, which ones I can actually afford to do, and which ones I can wait until the following year to bring out. Usually if I have a deadline, those routines trump the ones I really want to do that have no reason other than to exist. This way, I am sure to have more routines to look forward to in the future too! It’s kind of like a want vs. need for my burlesque. A lot of the time I resent that I have a routine or two that I've been wanting to create since I debuted that I have to wait another year for... but it keeps me under control.
These are a few of the main ways I actively try to save myself some financial stress when it comes to burlesque. I still spend quite a bit of money, and I still set my goals high, but if I am conscious of how I spend my money, I tend to have an easier time not throwing it around unnecessarily. Money is a learning curve, that’s for sure: especially with burlesque. But I want you to remember, that even if you don’t have a lot of extra cash to spend, you can still perform burlesque without it draining your bank too much. So hopefully what helps me will help you with saving your money. Good luck on your now more affordable burlesque journey!