How To Become A Burlesque Performer

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Burlesque, it’s beautiful, bold, funny, sparkly, daring and fabulous.

Maybe you’ve seen pictures, watched Gypsy or even been to a live show. For many your fascination with burlesque stays firmly in the audience for others, burlesque awakens secret desires to get up on that stage and shine.

But….. how does one become a burlesque performer?

Having worked with well over 5000 women since 2007, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing many of our students go on to become professional burlesque performers travelling all over the UK and internationally. 90% of Cheek of It! graduates entering UK competitions have come 1st, 2nd or 3rd since 2010, including the last three winners of Burlesque Idol 2015 (Didi Derriere), 2014(Pearl Grey) and 2013 (Luna Peach). The Cheek of It! Even won it’s own London Cabaret Award in 2012 for our contribution to the industry. Many women come to improve body confidence or add some sparkle to their lives and would never have dreamed their hobby might lead to a new career and many come with their sights firmly set on becoming a professional Burlesque Performer. Whether it’s on purpose or by happy accident, at some point I will be asked, “how do I become a burlesque dancer/performer”?

There are many ways into every profession, but this is our tried and tested route, just add, commitment, tenacity and a willingness to cultivate your talent and you’ll have everything you need to launch your burlesque persona onto the Burlesque and Cabaret scene.

Credit: Tigz Rice Studios

1. The Path to glitter and glory

For those serious about becoming a burlesque dancer/performer, I would highly recommend starting with the Beginners Showtime Course. A weekly course running for eight weeks covering all the classic moves of burlesque, creating your own burlesque character, burlesque striptease and a troupe performance at the end of your course. The Showtime also gets you learning and practicing the art of devising. Devising is the ability to create your own work and be responsible for all elements of it, the story, the asthetic, the music, the choreography, your props and costume. This is very different than just learning a choreography or script, but so rewarding because it’s all yours, it’s your creative vision coming to life. At the Showtime level you do this as a group which is a fantastic way in. The group dynamic is so important, for feedback, support and community. And guess what, most of the work you get will come from your community, so get cultivating friendships and relationships with the people that inspire you, inspiration can only lead to fabulosity with lashings of feel good wonder.

Credit: Tigz Rice Studios

2. Ready for your Spotlight?

Occasionally, if you’ve had a lot of performance experience or at least beginner level burlesque experience you can skip Showtime and go straight to Spotlight. And if you’ve just graduated from Showtime, The Spotlight Advanced Course is the next step. Why does the Spotlight course have such success? Because it’s 12 classes running over 12 weeks completely dedicated to you creating your solo act and not just a solo burlesque act but an act that reflects the uniqueness of you. Then add on a tonne of support from Master class teachers like award winning Aurora Galore and supremely talented striptease teacher Felicity Furore. Your peer group, your lead teacher and the cheekette community (find out more about them here) all leading you to your Spotlight debut at a well known Burlesque or Theatre Venue.

Credit: Tigz Rice Studios

3. Lights Camera Action

So now you’ve created an act you love, you’ve finished the course and graduated with sparkle honours. How do you go about getting your first burlesque gig. The very first things you will need is a video of your act and photos. Which is why we offer the opportunity to have your act photographed and videod by some of the best in the business at a super discounted cheekette rate on your graduation night. Meaning you are ready to go. This is one of the best ways of promoting your act, plus you’ll be guaranteed good lighting and a great audience at a Cheek of It! Show. If you didn’t graduate with us then the very first thing you need to do is arrange a photoshoot and have your act filmed. Your video needs to look as professionally filmed and edited as possible to capture your work and help you stand out. These things can all add up, but without them you won’t get much further. Alongside performance shots, you will also need promotional shots. These can be in a studio or on location but they must be professional. Check our recommendations for videographers and photographers at the bottom of this blog.

Credit: Tigz Rice Studios

4. Social Media Starlette

Now you’ve got your video and pictures, it’s time to set up your online presence, so much work and communication happens through social media you really can’t get by without it. The basics are Facebook and Twitter, set up a FB page and twitter handle for your burlesque persona. Set up a separate profile to connect with fellow performers and producers. Instagram is also wonderful capturing your creative costumes and new makeup styles. It’s important to be active daily, keep your content positive and inspiring and above all professional.

Credit: Tigz Rice Studios

5. Getting Your Experience

It’s important to manage your expectations. For those of us who trained at drama or dance school, it’s a little known secret that you will do a lot of work for free, expenses or profit share when you first start. The same applies to burlesque. The more you are known and the more gigs you do, the sooner you are likely to start commanding a fee. Here are a few places to get started. Very often Cheek of it graduates turned producers will come and watch your graduation show so you may get your first gig this way, but if not, consider entering a newcomers competition. The two most popular are Burlesque Idol and Infinitease. At the same time offer to stage kitten for other shows, Stage kitten is our name for a stage manager’s assistant. Normally you get to show off a bit of your character during your role and it’s a great way to meet producers and fellow performers. Enter Festivals, there are many across the UK, from the London Burlesque Festival every May to The North Wales Festival and one in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. Connect with Cheekettes past and present, Big Sister/Brother Project, Burlesque jobs paid and unpaid on facebook and look out for opportunities to perform and get involved in productions and events

Credit: Tigz Rice Studios

6. Cultivating Your skills and talent as a burlesque performer

As part of your on going development it’s important you develop your skills and cultivate your talent. One of the biggest areas I’ve noticed that needs work is posture, poise and movement (unless you’ve spent years in ballet class or have a dance degree) it’s must, these skills make you look polished and help you compete alonsgside performers who have trained all their lives. it’s a great idea to go to a weekly, ballet, belly dance. jazz class or burlesque class, whatever style inspires you, but make it fun and maybe go with your fellow burly classmates. Alongside this, there are always master classes in Burlesque to help you cultivate your talent. From nipple tassel twirling to fan dance to fire breathing. And above all else, go and see as many shows as you can.

Credit: Tigz Rice Studios

7. Creating your burlesque brand

Once you’ve got a few gigs under your garter it’s a good idea to start thinking about your brand or what sets you apart. I see this very much as a process, rarely does a performer get this right straight away, finding out what you’re good at, what inspires you and what works for you is part of the adventure, don’t put pressure on yourself to be the complete package because over time it will become clear. Keep note of what you like and don’t like, what lights you up and what doesn’t float your boat. Sooner or later your unique style, look and acts will make themselves known to you and the wider community.

8. Your Second Act

Most promoters will expect you to have two acts so you can appear twice in one show. This is why we created the Siren Course, The Siren runs for 6 weeks across the summer with a showcase aboard the famous Battersea Barge on the Thames. The point of this course is to give you the space, support and deadline to create your second act. Many students use this course to create their third or fourth act too. You can find out more about the Siren course here.
If you’re done with courses, there is nothing to stop you creating an act on your own and remember you still have the support of all the women you trained with to help you create something wonderful.

9. Don’t Make It About The Money

So when can you start getting paid? And what do you even charge? My general rule of thumb and what I was told, is start by making sure your fee covers your expenses, £50 for your travel, and any consumables. After that £75-£150 is a pretty normal fee. Judge the style of the event you are asked to perform at. How much are the ticket prices, is it in a theatre or just above a pub. Often promoters and producers put on their own shows for the love of it and there just isn’t a lot of money to be made. Some shows however make a lot of money and you’re totally within your rights to be paid correctly. At a certain point like after a year you may decide you are no longer willing to work for free. This is a great decision to make but only if you’ve done all the above. Often after making such a decision you will start attracting better gigs and better money which is very satisfying. And if you can get some corporate or international gigs you can be charging anything for £150 to £500.

10. Behind the Glamour

At the Cheek of It! We create a warm and wonderful environment for you to experience burlesque and blossom into gorgeous performers. There are many events, nights, organisations, promoters, producers who will help and nurture you along your journey. The Burlesque and Cabaret community is on the whole filled with amazing people dedicated to making great stuff happen and even greater friends along the way. However it would be naive to assume everybody has your best interests at heart. You must follow your gut, if you are asked to do something you are not comfortable with don’t do it, if you feel unsafe tell someone or leave, pay attention to your health and safety and check in with yourself whether a promoter/producer/venue feels trustworthy and like somewhere you want to perform with. And…..don’t give up your day job, burlesque is an art form and just like theatre or dance or singing or painting, very few actually make a full paying career out of it. Costumes, makeup, lessons etc all cost money, so for many burlesque starts and continues as a glamorous, hobby or part time job which pretty much pays for itself and for a few it can turn into a wonderful full time career but even those performers will take on costume making or teaching to help pay for the glitter.

11. That said…It’s totally worth it

It’s so worth it, I’ve seen this wonderful scene change so many women’s lives. Finding a creative outlet and bringing your dreams to life is priceless. Plus you will make a gazillion friends and have so much fun!! From confidence building to career changing, you will get so much out of your burlesque adventure.

An overview of how to become a burlesque performer
Ok, let’s sum up, take a class or as many as you need to create your first act. Get it photographed and filmed, add on some promotional shots. Set up your social media presence, enter a competition or three, offer to stage kitten or help out at shows. Chat, Chat, Chat with those who inspire you. When you can, create your second act, work on your brand and before you know it you’ll be gigging like a pro.

Myself and The Cheekette Girls wish you so much glitter and good times, we are proud of you and delighted for you for being brave enough to step up to your Spotlight, and regardless of whether you trained with us or not we are always at the end of the phone or email, happy to answer all your questions or point you towards the sparkle.

12. Recommended Links

For courses we recommend
Beginners Showtime
Advanced Spotlight
Super Advanced Sirens

For photographers we recommend
Tigz Rice tigzrice.com
Sin Bozkurt sinbozkurt.com
V’s Anchor Studio vastudio.co.uk
Grace Gelder gracegelder.co.uk
Cherry Bomb Rock cherrybombrock.com
Doll House Photography dollhousephotography.co.uk

For Video we recommend
Triple A Films tripleafilms.co.uk

Competitions
Burlesque Idol houseofburlesque.co.uk/burlesque-idol
Infinitease behindburlesque.co.uk

Festivals
London Burlesque Festival londonburlesquefest.com
Hebden Bridge Festival hebdenbridgeburlesquefestival.co.uk
North Wales Burlesque Festival northwalesburlesque.com

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