I am sure that somebody has touched on this subject before, but I thought I would suggest my own rendition anyway! As a neo-burlesque dancer, I am often presented with assumptions about what burlesque is, as well as how it all works.
To outline the realities of our artform, here are some common misconceptions about burlesque:
1. Anyone Can Do It!
Whilst any person can in fact go to a burlesque course, train to be a dancer and buy a costume, it takes a talented individual to become a burlesque dancer. I think that sometimes our job is trivialised for marketing’s sake and I for one applaud anyone who has the confidence to get up on stage and perform. However, I don’t believe that anyone has the discipline and love to be a burlesque dancer. Similarly, ‘anyone’ can become any profession, but it takes raw skill and hard work to become a pro at it.
2. Only Females are Burlesque Dancers
Don’t quote me on this as I do not know the origins of the word, but I believe the term ‘boylesque’ was created to differentiate that it is a male on stage rather than a female. Men also put a lot of time and energy into their burlesque careers and some are incredibly dedicated to their artform. I think men can get away with a lot more than women, but I think that they also have to fight harder to be considered an artist.
3. You Have to Take Your Clothes Off
Being a burlesque dancer does not mean ‘taking one’s clothes off’. In actuality, the term burlesque is a synonym for parody referring to a specific type of mockery (again, don’t quote me on that). So in reality, what we do now does not pertain to the original meaning of ‘burlesque’ at all (but of course evolution happens with everything). One does not have to take off any item of clothing to be considered a burlesque dancer. In my original fan dance, I didn’t take anything off or even get my pasties or my bum out. It does not make you any less of a burlesque dancer if you don’t take your clothes off!
4. We Get Paid £50 a Minute
When you look at it from an audience’s perspective, yes, we are on stage for four minutes (more or less for others), and at a nicely paid gig that may equate to £50 per minute. However, I personally work around fiteen hours per day – from the time I get up to the time I go to bed – on my work. I do hours of admin, training, costuming, my blog, videos, blah, blah, then once I arrive it takes me about two hours to do my makeup, then after the show you have to mingle and make contacts and so forth. So for the effort that is put into what I do, I feel as though I don’t get paid enough! But there is no way that a person could show up seconds before they were on stage – show-ready – without any prep and perform to a professional standard; they wouldn’t even have the show in the first place with any sort of admin work!
5. It is a Glamorous Life
Some aspects of burlesque are incredible. The fact that I get to do what I have always dreamed about, get paid for it, travel the world and be as creative as I want to be is unbelievable. I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything. However, it is not always sparkles and glitter. International shows aren’t a holiday! More times than not, you are booked (or book yourself) on the earliest flight/train possible which means that you don’t sleep and have to pay a premium rate to get there. You don’t get to explore the city you are in because you are working and teching all day. Having to run on the tube to get from show to show is stressful and sweaty and you may get abuse because you are in full show makeup. Friendships and relationships suffer because if a bill needs to be paid and we get offered a show when Nanna’s birthday is on – we take the show. Our diets are difficult to maintain and there is a lot of waiting around. But, as I said, there is nothing I would rather do!
6. Burlesque Sets Are 30 Minutes Long
Apologies to all of the corporate and private clients that have this assumption, but our performances are not half an hour long! Singers, yes. Many other disciplines, no problem. But how long does one think that it takes to get undressed!? In the past when I have been asked to do a longer set, at a push I can do a striptease and a full fan dance and even end with a fire set. At max I can push it to around fifteen minutes, but that is all the material that I have! My style of burlesque would suffer if I prolonged a striptease for an additional seven minutes, because I can’t do a high energy dance for that long and people get bored. Be grateful if we offer you an eight minute set!
7. It Means ’50s’
Burlesque does not mean a ‘1950s’ re-imagining. Firstly, let me preface this by saying that there is nothing wrong with burlesque dancers who do 50s bump ‘n’ grind or classic striptease with a 50s aesthetic. But not all of us look like a 50s film star and if we do not then it does not mean that we are not ‘real’ burlesque performers. Burlesque comes in many themes and styles and all are perfectly valid. If a performer is amazing on stage then that is all that matters.
8. It is Like the Movie
Whilst it is nice that somebody took an interest in our artform, burlesque is not like the movie Burlesque. The movie has slight elements hinting to striptease with big showgirl numbers, however, based on budget alone, our performances do not look like that. Sadly, the movie did not cover all facets of burlesque (refer to point number 7) which was a bit of an annoyance for someone such as myself and did not showcase burlesque in its true glory. If you would like to know what burlesque is like, please go to a show!
9. You Have a ‘Real’ Job to Subsidise Your Income
I am sorry to break it to you, people I went to school with, but being a burlesque dancer is a REAL job! Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to make a (modest) living from being a burlesque dancer, others can make a beautiful living and others have side jobs or a day job to support themselves. But that in no way means that being a burlesque dancer is our hobby. We do this as a job and we work extremely hard at it. Phrases like ‘while I was at work all day’ and ‘some of us actually have to go to work’ really wind us up, because we are working. Let’s trade shoes and see how they fit!
10. It is Acceptable to Behave Like a Diva
Contrary to popular belief, it is not OK to act act like you own the s**t. A lot of our work depends on how you behave around others and if you act like you are better than others, then people won’t want to be around you. There are performers who have a ‘Diva, Fierce Bitch, I Own Everything’ persona on stage, but it would never spill out onto the backstage area. That style of performance is amazing – I love it – but we do not behave like that in reality because then we wouldn’t have much work!
Being a performer is the reason I breathe and I wouldn’t do any other job in the world, but we have a lot to fight for. 2014, #TheYearofTheWeirdo is still going strong and I hope that more people will understand the wide range of amazing talent that we have in our community.
Aurora Galore <3 xx
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.