It is so exciting to be a fresh performer just getting established on the stage, or a more experienced artist ready to take the plunge and apply for festivals, events, or troupes…
Want to level up your Burlesque prowess? Experienced producers or directors have a keen eye for the fine details, so sometimes a small change to your performance style can make all the difference when going “pro”. The following 10 tips are straight from the horse’s mouth – Lady Velvet Cabaret’s founder and director, experienced producer and performer Vita Flame (Stella Hui).
1. Use Your Breath (Don’t Hold It)
It might sound simple, but audiences can tell when you’re holding your breath onstage! It makes you look nervous, and your act may become stiff and rigid.
Learn to breathe calmly through your act (yes, practise breathing in your rehearsals – it makes a difference!) and practise using your breath with your choreography to make your facial expressions more dramatic and believable.
For example, a theatrical “gasping” face is 100x more dramatic and effective if you’re ACTUALLY gasping. Try choreographing the count before to exhale so your gasp is right on cue!
2. Watch Yourself!
Got a nervous twitch? A bad posture from working a day job sitting at a desk?
A computer hunch and shoulders up to your ears is not only uncomfortable for you, but for the audience watching you. Sometimes our daily habits are hard to shake and we’re not even aware we’re doing them onstage.
Practising in front of the mirror or filming your rehearsals and reviewing afterwards is a good way to see if you are performing the act the way it appears in your mind. Here is where a few lessons in dance, specifically ballet, will help with posture, presentation, muscle memory and spatial awareness. Having a trained professional help you to improve your stage presences will boost your confidence and improve your skills – audiences and presenters alike will notice this!
3. When in Doubt, Embellish
Sometimes new performers underestimate the importance of costuming in burlesque. Costume plays a huge part in our art, and one of our biggest recommendations: don’t go onstage in plain or even under-embellished Kmart underwear. If your costume looks more like “lingerie”, no matter how sexy it is, this can (depending on context of course), detract from your perceived professionalism.
Think about your audience’s experience: They want to see the bright stage lights bouncing off your crystals and glitter, the exciting shimmy and shake of fringing or beads! Watching you perform in the same set of underwear they have in their bottom drawer may not elicit the reaction from your crowd that you desire.
4. What You Wear UNDERNEATH matters.
Burlesque performers wear very little as it is, so whatever you’re wearing underneath THAT, will need to be even smaller! Don’t forget to wear appropriate underwear for your costume. Grab yourself a small nude g-string to wear under your costume, or perhaps even check out a dancewear boutique for professional stage undergarments. The audience seeing your Bonds undies underneath your tights, costume or bodysuit will ruin your act before it’s even started!
5. The Feet Have It
There’s something a little disappointing about a performer in a gorgeous costume hitting the stage in shoes that don’t match the character, or.. no shoes at all!
Unless you’re performing behind a bar, what you put on your feet is as important as what you put on your head. Consider safety (T-strap, ankle strap, dance or chorus heels are a great way to “find your feet” so to speak!), but also consider the style of your act. Wonder how other artists seem to have the perfect shoes for every act? Some burlesque performers purchase multiple pairs of the same shoes, and redecorate accordingly – whether it’s adding stones, painting, or covering in fabric, putting effort into having a custom costume for each act will pay off in the long run.
6. Turn It Up – If You Can!
I get it: there’s something about having a whole stage to yourself that makes the prima ballerina in us want to chainé across like we’re in Swan Lake. BUT, Swan Lake didn’t have to work with carpeted stages, beer-sticky floors or 8 inch stiletto heels.
Always practise any turns onstage beforehand (in your actual performance footwear) and have a backup plan if you have to take them out. Audiences and producers alike can spot someone turning onstage without technique or confidence – and it can make an otherwise fantastic act fall flat. A powerful strut you really nail, is ten times more effective than a turn that you get stuck in or fall out of.
If you decide you are going to put the turn in (or any technical dance skill for that matter), make sure you are spotting and doing so with proper technique. Check out our blog and instagram stories for technique tips, advice on spotting, and more!
7. Look UP and Around
Depending on your stage set up, you may think you’re looking directly at the audience in front, but to the crowd up the back it looks like you’re looking at the floor! Try to always look out and above the audience for a stronger stage presence.
When you’re getting up close and personal with guests who are seated in front, make a mental note (or better yet, choreograph and rehearse) to walk to both sides of the audience for balance.
8. Bring a Spare Pair (or 5) of Stockings with you
Don’t go on stage with holes in your stockings! (Unless it’s part of your act…)
Yes, sometimes accidents happen, and things can’t be helped, especially if you find yourself getting caught on something seconds before you hit the stage, but wherever possible – give your audience 100% across the board.
That means you need to commit to excellence in choreography, technique, music, face, narrative, and costume!
9. Have a Friend Who Has Your Back
Before you hit the stage, ask a trusted friend or fellow performer to do a final check for you. Ask them to check your eyelashes aren’t falling off, let you know if there’s lipstick on your teeth, and if your costume is straight and sitting right. Your friend may even spot something that could save you big time – a knot in a ribbon, a malfunctioning fastening, or even a loose assel!
10. One Last Little Thing…
So I know this blog was meant to be about “small” changes you can make to improve your burlesque, rather than huge ways to overhaul your work. BUT… This one is too important to leave off, and it’s how you approach it that determines how “big” or “small” this change is.
I know, so much easier said than done, but remember that in most cases, nobody knows the act apart from you. This means nobody can tell if you’ve made a small mistake, and even if they can, little errors are often not as huge for the audience as they are for the performer! Relax and enjoy the process of performing onstage – audiences can often spot a nervous attitude or negative self-talk in a performer, and this will ruin an act more than a simple choreography error.
I’ve seen countless mistakes and SNAFUs in acts from some of the world’s most talented performers. Watching a confident, joyful performer shake off a mistake and continue on to absolutely smash the performance is a joy, and the victorious finish often sticks in my head more than whatever the small error was.
So that’s it – our top 10 tips for levelling up your burlesque with just a SMALL change here and there. See if you can try some of these at your next performance, or if you have your own to add, let us know!