Hustle... progression... success... these are terms that we often see together as performers. If you hustle, then you’ll see growth in your performance, which can lead to success in your art. It’s easy to notice when new performers are instantly “part of the community.” Whether it’s because they already know established performers and producers from the beginning or they’re really great at networking... it can feel overwhelming if you don’t have those same skills or connections when starting out. And of course, you are going to be aware of those few performers who seem to effortlessly get their name out there early and perform on all of the stages. Sometimes we call it luck... and other times we say those performers know how to hustle. We tend to focus on the progress and success of performers, and we are especially impressed if that comes early. But we rarely seem to discuss the slow hustle.
The slow hustle... that slow progression of discovering what burlesque is really about and how vast the community is... or those small victories that we accomplish over time... or that never-ending mountain that performers climb with little sight of “success,” then all of a sudden you make it over the edge and it just tumbles into one big ball of constant shows, teaching, touring, or anything you were originally working towards. And let’s not forget about those performers who have been in the scene for a while, but who don’t have the time, money, or energy to be frequently creating routines and performing, but they do what they can. This slow hustle is the path I see most often, yet we rarely hear about it. Instead, we put the lack of “accomplishment” on ourselves, like we’re not good enough or not doing enough as a performer.
I’ve been performing burlesque since 2014. When I was new, I was incredibly shy and full of doubts whether I belonged backstage with those “big time” performers, photographers, MCs, and kittens/volunteers. Even before I knew about outside scenes and festivals, I knew who I considered to be an established local community member (literally everyone, including the active performers that I debuted with). Despite how friendly and welcoming everyone was backstage, I still stayed in my corner of the green room, and kept to myself... and I never mingled with the audience. It took me at least a year and a half into performing before I actually started actively socializing with everyone. I have my first years of Burlycon and Burlesque Hall of Fame to thank for that push. And it was a year since my first debut before I took the intermediate class the first time with maybe one or two other shows I performed in between those classes. And in those first few years, I have gone through so many growth spurts I’ve lost count. Usually they casually happen every six months to a year, and I never see them coming until I’m on the next phase of my burlesque life and I’m reflecting to myself thinking “Holy sh**, where did this all come from?!” Each year I improve as a performer and a human.
What helped me personally to actively grow? I thrive on validation, and getting outside of my own local scene gave me that. My first year at Burlycon, I had to talk to so many new (to me) performers from outside of my home town. On top of that, I was constantly comforted, validated, offered honest insights, and given check-ins by the few Victoria performers who also attended that year. Those people continue to be some of my biggest inspirations and influences as a performer today. I discovered that it is ok to have strong or different opinions in an often community-based art form. I learned about imposter syndrome and how common it is, despite how new or experienced a performer can be. And I discovered a LOT of burlesque. I did not know how much there was to know and learn about until I attended Burlycon and I saw what burlesque could be. That is what has helped me to actively begin to work on my art and apply myself to network and help build community. I saw what burlesque can be, and I wanted that for our community. Our scene was much smaller at the time, despite it only being a few years ago, and it was hard to know which performers (let alone, reach out to people on your own) would have insights that they were willing to share. Since that first year at Burlycon, I have worked, to the best of my resources, to continue to put myself out there. Eventually everything just fell into place, and there have been many random growth spurts and opportunities because of it. The last couple of years, my performance and community presence have grown immensely, but it has come from a slow resting period... and I am still growing and have a long way to go. I still need to take breaks every now and then to recollect myself or slowly work on a new piece or chapter of my life.
It’s easy to get caught up with standards and progression with any art form. And if you don’t appear to be meeting those standards, then it can take a toll on how we value ourselves as performers. It can be even more frustrating if you do not have the time, money, or energy, or if you come from a small town that has very little to no burlesque. In society, we constantly talk of slow progression in starting a business and the amount of work it takes before you can begin to see any success, but for whatever reason, we don’t apply that principle to our hobbies or the arts. On average, I see a minimum of a year and a half – usually closer to two years – for performers to begin to really understand burlesque and where they fit or want to fit into it, or when they start to experience more performance opportunities and growth. We are the ones who know the slow hustle. All the effort and input with minimal instant output. We may not always see it until we reflect on our journey and where we have come from, but the slow growth overtime is just as necessary as getting to perform. This is my reminder to anyone concerned about their journey, whether you are brand new or have been around for a while but may be in a slump:
you are exactly where you need to be. Everything that you are putting into your art up to this point, will pay off and already has, even if you haven’t seen it yet. Even if you feel like you’re not making any progress as a performer, by any definition, you and your art are still valid. Most performers, if not all, have been where you currently are. You are not alone in the slow hustle, and you will reach that tipping point. I know you got this.