Welcome to burlesque! The world where everything sparkles, everyone is weird, and you get naked. If you didn’t already know of those aspects of burlesque, you will soon enough! Whether you just debuted or are just beginning to become more active in your scene since your debut, one thing that you’ll notice is how massive it is. There are so many people involved in our scene, so many “unwritten codes,” and ways to “break into the scene,” that it’s hard to know where to even start... especially when you may have had a teacher to hold your hand, then suddenly you’re all alone to figure it all out: Good luck! I have written on being new in burlesque before with resources and how to grow as a performer, but it is just as important to learn about HOW to start in burlesque. There is no “right” way to get started in burlesque, but from my own experience, research, and talking to many other performers, there are some common or starting points to know to definitely make it easier.
1. Talk to producers. Attend shows. Volunteer.
You’ve just made your debut... and now you’re ready for more! If you want to get into the community, then you need to know what that community looks like and actually support it. The more you help with shows or attend shows that you are not performing in, the more likely producers will get a sense of you as a professional and they know that you actually support them. Attending shows also gives you an idea of what the standards in your local scene looks like... what the various types of audiences are like, the venues, the MCs, the performer quality/styles, the various atmospheres of productions, and so much more.
Volunteering also gives you an idea of what burlesque and the community looks like off the stage. You’ll get an insight to the many dynamics of backstage, learn what is needed from performers/kittens/producers, the occasional tip from other performers, and connection. I cannot emphasize enough how useful and helpful volunteering is; both to the community, and for your own knowledge.
2. Do your research
A lot of starting burlesque is educating yourself on what the scene looks like. If you can, do as much research as you can on both your local communities and the overall burlesque scene, it will give you a huge advantage. Not only can you learn who is who and who does what, but you can discover different burlesque groups and networks on social media to join. If you type in “burlesque YOUR CITY,” then you may find groups that will instantly expand upon your resources. Some good questions to ask yourself, others, and the internet could involve... who is the burlesque community? Who are the trailblazers, the teachers, the choreographers, the legends, the producers? Learn of surrounding areas & performers. What names are already in use or common? What are classic and neo burlesque? How do you make things? What are good burlesque resources? What is burlesque history? What are rhinestones? Where do people buy costumes and costume pieces? Learning and educating yourself never ends, we should always be working towards building upon our knowledge and skills as performers.
3. Be open with your new name
After you gain more knowledge to other performers, you may notice that there are a lot of common names. A lot. Names like Cherry, Ruby, Ember, Scarlett, Diamond, Sparkles, Ginger, Kitten, some form of black... add in those quirky names that are a play on words, and you’ll have a wide variety of... well... a lack of variety. It can be so frustrating when you’ve worked so hard, gone through so many names, before finally settling on your final official name for your debut, only to discover there is already another performer (or infinite performers) with your name.
Or, on the flip side, it can be frustrating when you do have a unique name within your community/area, and then a new performer comes along with the same first or last name. Your name is your brand. I have gone through so many stages of debating whether to keep my name “Cherry Cheeks” or change it to stand out from the crowd. But in the end, I have come to accept that if I’m going to be Cherry Cheeks... then I am going to be THE Cherry Cheeks. I still have debates with my name often enough, and there is a chance that it will change one day, but for now I am owning it. I recommend that you try your best to not become overly attached to your name right out of the gate, you can always change it. I know performers who have changed their names after ten years of performing, buuut it does tend to be easier to accept a new name (both for yourself and others) when you are able to come to that conclusion earlier. Either be open to changing your name, or commit to being the best or official persona with that name that you can be.
4. Try to avoid overlap
Speaking of having things in common with other performers... You may discover that you have an idea in your head or a song, or routine idea that may already exist or be very similar to someone else in the community. PLEASE reach out to performers who you are aware of that have this situation with you. Nobody owns anything, and very few ideas are truly unique, but it is respectful to reach out if you have something in common with another person. Even if you have done all your research, have seen a bunch of shows, and tried your hardest to not create too much overlap with others, this is still a common occurrence. Which is fair, sometimes it can't be avoided.
Often, other performers who you talk with about your idea may already know of someone with the similar song/idea etc. and will inform you of the potential overlap. This can also be applied to potential productions or show styles that also may have been through trial and errors through the years. At the same time, I have seen performers who have been ok with sharing an idea or song with a debut, or I have seen the exact same concept debuted within the same week. But if you decide to keep your idea, you’ve connected with the already existing act, or the song is so common that it doesn’t matter if there’s overlap... then make sure to make the routine unique to you. This may mean that you need to pick new music, cut and paste certain parts to a different routine, or bench an idea for a bit, but it’s something that we all have had to navigate at some point.
5. Meet with performers who’ve been around for a bit. Talk with them. Get to know them.
You’ll realize pretty soon that a lot of performers are happy to offer support to newer performers when they can. Learn to connect with the community. Not only are you gaining insights and knowledge about burlesque, but you are also building your network by doing this.
6. Send messages to people when adding them to Facebook
This goes both ways. Often, as performers, it can be exciting to see a performer onstage and think to ourselves how convenient it is that we’re both performers... now we can add them to Facebook and become friends! Even if you’re from the same city, there are times when those performers may not know who you are yet. Heck, even if you do meet another performer at a festival or Burlycon, we tend to meet so many people that it’s difficult to keep track of who we’ve met. Often, we are bombarded by friend requests, by both performers and non-performers, and we need to check if people are who they say they are and if they’re people we want to be associated with.
This goes for if someone is sending you a request as well. Be aware of people adding you who you do not know yet. Again, be sure to do your research. Look at their profile, see what they post, look at their photos. Personally, I never trust the “mutual friends” section, because strangers always sneak passed even the most thorough of us. If you do not know the person who is adding you, even after checking out their profile, it never hurts to send a quick “Hi, I noticed that you added me, but I don’t believe we’ve met? Tell me a bit about yourself, otherwise you can follow my page or Instagram, if you’re a fan.”
7. Be prepared for change.
This is an interesting point that many of us have had to discover on our own. Be prepared for potential judgement from friends, and be prepared for being embraced from some of the best people you will ever know. I have certainly gone through some interesting growth with various people in my life because of burlesque. I have lost connections and been harshly judged by some people who I had expected to fully support me. It has been challenging, at times, to be judged by those I cared about and those who I don’t even really know. As well, I have had to navigate through being judged by some, but both of us learning and growing together to appreciate burlesque and my participation.
I have also been surprised by who has been not only accepting, but enthusiastic about me being a burlesque performer. I have made so many beautifully empowering connections that I would not have made without burlesque: both with other performers, and non-performers. It won’t always be easy; people will surprise you either way... but be prepared.
Burlesque is rarely easy to get started after your debut, but there are ways to make it easier. There is so much to discuss when it comes to being a new performer. These are only a few of the main points that I try to let new performers know from the beginning. I will write the second part next time, because there is still more! But in the meantime, learn, grow, connect... but most importantly, don’t forget to sparkle.