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Burlesque Mythbusters: Part 3

Posted 5th April, 2017 by

You’re still here? YAY! Please enjoy the final episode of my ranting and pathological over-thinking below. And as ever, I’d love to know your thoughts.


You don’t need Swarovskis.





I don’t need to see a receipt to judge if I like your act. I don’t care how much money you spent. It does not make you a good performer. Or a professional one.
Sometimes it’s great to create an outrageous aesthetic to fulfill and match a concept.

But swarovskis won’t win you an audience or a competition if every other aspect of your performance does not equally sparkle.

If you’re going to invest, consider investing in other facets of your performance too.

Never feel less because you don’t destroy your eyesight and your spinal curvature while inhaling E6000.
Audiences can’t tell and don’t give a shit if you use swarovskis, preciosa, arabesque, or plastic.

The flipside of course is that you are performing to a paying audience. You are a product. An uncomfortable reality of burlesque is that certain echelons of the industry will be tied to a classist aesthetic benchmark. That is inescapable. At some point “clothes from home” won’t cut it. And you’ll need to look money to make money. But that is an entirely commercial corner of the industry and has no bearing on the majority of the activities you may choose to engage in as a performer.

Regardless, it is no reflection on your quality or worth as a performer, just your access to certain corners of the market. It’s not a reality I’m necessarily comfortable with, but it is a reality that isn’t likely to change.

Despite a reputation for being a bling addict, some of my costumes don’t have a single crystal! Photo by John Leonard
Despite a reputation for being a bling addict, some of my costumes don’t have a single crystal! Photo by John Leonard


Onstage, yes. Offstage, not so much.
Be yourself backstage.

Be yourself on social media.

Be yourself at opening and closing parties.

Be yourself, always.

People can tell if you’re not.




I’ve seen stripping that’s classy as hell.

I’ve seen burlesque that is particularly crass and classless.

And I’ve loved both.

If you have personal boundaries and tastes, that’s fine. Dont attach shame to opinions that differ from yours.



Yes, and no.

Burlesque can be an amazing vehicle for your own empowerment and self-expression. But don’t forget, if you’re getting paid (which, of course you are right?) you are part of an industry. You have a responsibility to remember that you have an audience. Laziness and self-indulgence is one of the most boring things to watch on stage. Even if you’re delivering a personal message in your act, be bloody entertaining! Subvert people’s expectations and deliver that damn message without them even realising they are being educated!

Some acts, have a personal meaning that most of the audience won’t detect. But making sure the act is entertaining or engaging for ALL your audience is key” Photo by Rebecca Stone
Some acts, have a personal meaning that most of the audience won’t detect. But making sure the act is entertaining or engaging for ALL your audience is key” Photo by Rebecca Stone



Despite what your mum says, this is sometimes not true. Learning our personal limitations can be one of the hardest things to accept but developing a degree of self-awareness can be an incredibly protective factor for self development and your mental health.

Some people are not meant to be on stage. Some people are not meant to be teachers. Some people are not meant to be dancers, aerialists or comedians. And that is okay. That doesn’t invalidate your enjoyment or the fulfillment you can get from doing any of these things. But it might preclude you from doing them professionally.

No matter how hard I work, I will never be a ballerina, a hula-hooper or a physical clown (and many other things). I wish I could, but I’m not and I never will be. Sometimes that disappointment can feel overwhelming and there isn’t really anything you can do apart from acknowledge the regret, and move on. I may never be even a pale shadow of the people I idolise, but that’s life. I could quit my day job and try to become a circus performer, but you can’t walk through every door. Some won’t ever open for you. It’s hard to put a positive spin on that so I won’t bother being facile.

BUT. For the doors you do have open to you, you can steam roll right through them and keep getting better and better. The key component to that? Criticism.

Seek it out, digest it, give it serious weight and apply it. Criticise yourself, all the time. Keep it subjective, and emotionless. Acknowledge your achievements as well as your areas of improvement. Be happy, but never be satisfied.

Cast that critical eye on everyone! Even the people you love and admire. Every act you watch is an opportunity to think critically and learn from. BUT DON’T VOLUNTEER IT.
Nobody likes that guy. NEVER offer criticism if it isn’t specifically asked for. And even if it is, DON’T give it to someone just after they step off stage. Give them a high five and suggest a coffee sometime.

Similarly, if you’re asking for feedback, take it with grace and an open mind. It’s hard to be the person giving it and 99% of the time, this person doesn’t want to hurt you so suppress that automatic retaliatory response or hurt feelings. We all want to get better. Most of the time that is not going to be a painless process.



Maybe. But with that attitude?

This is a tricky one because, who decides who deserves what? Sometimes inequity is genuine. Favouritism happens. Some genres trend and some acts are more topical over time.

Assuming there is no shadiness involved with undercutting and whatnot, before you complain about someone gigging more than you, ask yourself, have I fought for this?

The vast majority of the time, producers do not have the time or inclination to be benevolent. Why should they? If you want something, get out there. Battle those demons of self-sabotage and anxiety and ASK FOR IT, but never expect it. The flipside? You might not get it. And that can sting.
It doesn’t matter if you just did a competition, or you just came back from a festival. Hint: few people will care. Be present if you want a presence.

Unfortunately a lot of burlesque is transactional and quid pro quo, rather than purely being based on talent, or time in the industry. It really is a game sometimes, don’t hate the other players if they play it better than you.

Find your tribe. Photo by @FiFiFontaine instagram
Find your tribe. Photo by @FiFiFontaine instagram


My most hated part of the game (sometimes)…. The social scene. So many pitfalls to navigate, and so many people way, WAY more invested in winning the game than me. Burlesque is a reflective microcosm of wider society, with maybe a few more artistic “personalities” and a hugely skewed gender distribution.

There will be people you don’t like, and people that don’t like you. People that throw around literal cash as social cache, or quantify inclusion by a metric of booze, drugs or instagram likes. Arguably our industry has a higher proportion of trauma, instability, and mental health concerns, that add some extra texture and colour to the burlesque tapestry.

Personally, I tend to go full turtle until I’m comfortable enough to poke my head out and usually by sheer luck meet a kindred spirit. Tell the people you admire what they mean to you, but don’t try to saddle them and ride their backs to fame or popularity.
Finally finding a community of likeminded weirdos can be incredibly powerful. Almost seductive. Sometimes destructive. And occasionally dangerous.

But you don’t have to ride this rollercoaster. You don’t have to share drinks, g-strings, or lovers to be a burlesque performer. Being socially selective will make some things harder. But it might make other things easier. And remember you don’t have to be burly besties with everyone. You can not be close to someone on a personal level and still have an entirely functional working relationship.

Thank you for your patience lovers, I’d love to know what you think are some common burlesque myths and misunderstandings held by people both in and out of the community!

John Leonard photography
John Leonard photography
Site by Clever Starfish