I have by no means lived by these words for my entire career. After spending my first 3-4 years experimenting, I started to create acts that I thought would “get me somewhere” … and for a while, they did! But a few more years passed, and I realized that I was no longer inspired by my work, and ultimately unhappy. The spark I used to feel when I was on stage was gone. And to make matters worse, it showed up in my performances: there I was, headlining major festivals in other countries … and completely bombing (if not on the outside, then definitely on the inside) because I just didn’t love what I was putting on stage, and thus I had no love to share with the audience. I was miserable.
I’ve spent the last two years in a bit of a (ok, actually a MAJOR) performer-identity crisis, reevaluating myself and figuring out what makes me feel happy and fulfilled. I’ve changed my name, rethought my character and my overall look and style, and very slowly come to the realization that I’m too much of a weirdo artist to perform work that I don’t adore–I have to feel connected to it, or else I’m unhappy and just don’t perform well.
When this year’s Burlesque Top 50 came out, I wasn’t expecting to be on it and wasn’t surprised when my name wasn’t there. I haven’t been on the list for a couple years, and I’d laid pretty low in 2015. But there was something different about how I reacted this time around; I didn’t feel as broken or rejected as I had before. In fact, I felt weirdly ok with the whole thing, and couldn’t quite figure out why. Then it dawned on me: I don’t do what I do to get on the list, or win awards, or even headline shows anymore. I do it because I love it. Simple as that. I exhaled as I realized this and it felt as if the cloud of confusion and doubt that had hung over me for so long suddenly dissolved, and I saw myself clearly for the first time in years. It was a beautiful, eye-opening realization that was SO damn obvious, but of course so hard to see when I was struggling.
I wasn’t expecting to be on it and wasn’t surprised when my name wasn’t there … But there was something different about how I reacted this time around; I didn’t feel as broken or rejected as I had before…
A couple of days later I read my friend Sydni Deveraux’s FB post about recognition vs results in burlesque; her words really hit home for me. I saw how many others were affected by her message and seemed to be struggling with the same issues I was. I decided to get over my usual shyness and share the knowledge that had helped me so much. Even if no one read it, it would feel good to put it out there.
The response so far has been overwhelming, and I’ve received messages of gratitude and love from people within the burlesque community and outside of it. I’m a little astounded by the whole thing. But maybe this is a sign that our little stripper world needs to hear messages like this more often–reminders that we are all, first and foremost, artists. And that our artist souls need to be driven by passion and love, not titles or awards.
I’m still figuring out what “loving burlesque” means to me, how I want to display that on stage, and who I am as a performer. I suppose that’s what being an artist is all about, right?
I rarely ever share personal feelings or sentiments on social media–mostly because, though I am a professional naked lady, I’m also a very private, shy person … I open up on stage, to my amazing wife, and to my closest friends. And that’s about it. I’ve been this way my whole life. I have no problem with anyone else sharing or speaking out online, it’s just not what I do.
That said, I felt so inspired by Sydni Deveraux’s lovely post yesterday about recognition vs. results in the life of a performer, that I’m actually going to say something about this topic. So here it is:
Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but being an artist is fucking hard. You are always working, always struggling … even when you seem “successful” in the burlesque world (crown on your head, notoriety, touring constantly) you’re most likely still broke, your private life is often a disaster, and you have no idea what’s going to happen to you next year, or even next month. Such is the life of artists, and the one I’ve chosen.
…the competitions, the titles, the Burlesque Top 50 … we need them. They help bring us together, inspire us to grow, and can remind us that people DO care about what we do, and DO pay attention to our hard work. And that acknowledgement can give you the push you need to keep moving forward and continue wading through the tough life that comes with being an artist.
Because of this, I think that all of the systems of recognition we have in our sparkly community are wonderful: the competitions, the titles, the Burlesque Top 50 … we need them. They help bring us together, inspire us to grow, and can remind us that people DO care about what we do, and DO pay attention to our hard work. And that acknowledgement can give you the push you need to keep moving forward and continue wading through the tough life that comes with being an artist.
When you’re included in these systems, it can mean more gigs, more recognition, more of your name in big letters on posters and marquees. And those are wonderful, seemingly glamorous perks to doing what we do. But they’re not why we do it.
Alternately, when you’re not included in those systems, it is easy to feel broken, forgotten, and a little lost. And it’s also easy to start believing that if you *were* included, you wouldn’t feel that way and things would be better. But let me assure you: as an artist, you pretty much always feel broken/forgotten/lost, no matter what. Those feelings just get bigger when you’re feeling small.
That said, those systems are not everything, and they are not the reason why we do what we do. It is the art that is everything.
At 35, after 11 years in the BQ world, I’m finally in a place where I don’t need anyone else to tell me that I am a real artist or a good performer. I know I am. I am always truly grateful when I hear it (because broken/forgotten/lost) but that’s not why I do what I do. I do it because I love it, because the art is everything to me, I am everything when I do it, and I want to create. Acknowledgment will come and go throughout my weird artist’s life, but the art is forever.
I have failed over and over again in my career due to my own faults and bullshit, far outweighing the number of times I have actually “succeeded”. But because I’ve failed so much, I know without any doubt why I do what I do, outside of our systems of acknowledgment–and that is very powerful. That is something inside me that I will have for the rest of my life. And I am endlessly grateful for it.
I guess my overall message is this: burlesquers out there … even if it feels like no one knows who you are or what you’re doing, keep making art. Keep learning and growing, keep being driven by your passion for this bizarre, sparkly, naked form of expression that we adore. Do it because it fills you with light and truth, do it because you love it. It will always be hard, but that’s ok. If being a stripper was easy, everybody would fuckin do it. And not everybody can. But if you do it because you love it, you will make art that you love–and that it is a reward that will fill your hussy/artist’s soul forever. And who knows? Maybe our systems of acknowledgment will reward you for it, and that would be amazing! If it happens, revel in it. And don’t be afraid to seek out those systems and pursue their rewards; they are good things. But always remember that they are not why you do what you do. You do it because you love it.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.