life lessons from burlesque

In case you’re new, I’m a burlesque performer. I’ve been taking classes for three years, teaching workshops for two years, and performing somewhat regularly for the past year and a half. It’s fun and exciting … and as with anything you do, I’m learning some life lessons.

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Ask for help.

Creating an act takes a lot of work. Coming up with a concept. Creating choreography. Rehearsing it so it becomes muscle memory to the point that you don’t have to think on stage. Costuming. Oh, costuming. It’s a lot of work for one person to do.

I like to be very self-sufficient and DIY and teach myself how to do new things. But that takes a lot of time, so I ask (and pay or barter) for help. I have paid friends to sew costume pieces for me. To make pasties for me. (I call that friend my Boob Stylist.) To help me polish up my act with choreography and face/body language. My burly friends and I help each other write our tag lines. Borrow costume pieces. Rhinestone costume pieces. Show each other our acts outside of rehearsal for more feedback.

I know if I tried to do everything myself, my performances would not be as good. It takes a village, which makes it feel more like a community. Together, we can help each other become better.

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You will mess up. And everyone will love you for it if you handle it well. 

One thing I try to remind myself of before a performance is that the audience is on my side. Just by getting on stage, the audience is with me. They want to see me do something great. And as long as I commit to giving my all … they will love it. Even if they don’t “get” an act, and even if I mess up, they will love me for trying.

Frankly, I think messing up on stage, showing vulnerability, and recovering, makes the audience love you more. Polish and perfection are nice and all, but showing your vulnerability makes you more relatable.

If you stumble, just recover with as much grace as possible, and keep going.  And then afterward, figure out what went wrong and make a change so it doesn’t happen again!

I’m perfect exactly as I am. 

Not to get all Gaga on you, but you’re perfect the way God/god/science created you. You don’t need to change a thing. It’s beautiful to see someone get on stage and show off who they are, inside and out. It’s beautiful to turn “flaws” into art. I was actually moved to tears by an act that kind of literally did that on stage.

Also, there is a lot of diversity in burlesque. Size, shape, age, gender, sexuality, color, lifestyle. The diversity of performers results in some really interesting and entertaining acts that couldn’t happen without that performer’s unique perspective, personality, and look.

You have your own unique way of looking at the world, and of being you, no matter who you are and what you do. And that is interesting and should be shared.

I have a lot of privilege. 

I have met and worked with a lot of performers who are capital-p Performers.  That is their job. I’m lucky that the work I enjoy doing as a career also has a lot of “value” and thus pays a nice salary.

But the work artists and performers enjoy doing is not as valued by others. To make a living, they take on “muggle” jobs that take time away from their art and don’t provide any personal satisfaction or enjoyment. Or they’ll piece together various different things related to their art (teaching, sewing/costuming, modeling, hair & make-up artistry, photography, video production, stripping, sex work), to cull together a livable income without benefits.

Is it fair that we value the arts so little in our society that those who create it usually can’t rely on it for a livable income? My plea to you: Support local artists. Especially if you have friends who create art! Go to their shows! Buy their art! It’s great to support any artist, but if you’re shelling out hundreds of dollars to see a pop superstar, perhaps throw $20 towards tickets for a local show once in awhile?

You have to do the work. 

When I don’t do the work, I have regret after a performance. If I went into a performance feeling like I should have spent more time on something – choreography, rehearsing, costuming – and then I end my act not feeling like I gave my best performance, I get frustrated with myself.

I’ve realized that I need to treat this like I do workouts. One reason ClassPass is so great for me is because it puts something on my calendar at a specific time with a price tag attached if I skip it. I’m going to start doing that with rehearsing on my own – renting space at a designated time at a nearby artist collective. Because when I have to motivate myself to move my coffee table out of the way and dance around my living room when I feel like it … it doesn’t happen.

So, you get out of something what you put into it. And when you don’t put in your best work, you don’t get your best outcome. You have to do the work to reap the rewards.

What life lessons have you learned in unlikely places?