I received an email over the weekend from a reader asking about shows. My troupe, Music City Burlesque, gets quite a few similar emails from girls looking to do burlesque, so I thought I’d share with everyone. She writes:
I’m a burlesque dancer looking for work and I’d love some advice on getting gigs. Thanks girl!” -Katie
First off, getting gigs is great, but it won’t really count as “work.” Although most shows pay, they only pay enough to maybe cover your costume materials expenses, not counting the hours of choreographing, practicing, and the time to actually craft your costume. There are a precious few dancers who make a living off burlesque, and most of those also either teach classes, in the case of Michelle L’Amour and Indigo Blue or brand themselves through books and makeup, like Dita Von Teese. The rest of us do burlesque for various reasons, but money isn’t one of them. Just an aside, since I get a lot of questions about how much we make dancing.
I’m assuming you’re a new dancer and don’t have any contacts in the business. If you’re a new dancer, it’s kind of hard to get out there because troupes and venues want to know what you’ve done. A great way to get your first show is to take classes and perform in a student showcase. That’s how I got my start in burlesque, and I learned a lot from the other girls in my class as well as my teachers. Of course, you may not be in an area where that’s available. If that’s the case, you need to make an audition video, with your full makeup and finished routine, and finished costume. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your living room and the lighting quality sucks, this is to show prospective people that you’re serious and have put in the time to finish a routine. Photos are always a plus even if it’s just a myspace of facebook page.
Are you in an area with lots of burlesque or not so much? Do a little research to see what kind of burlesque or sideshow is happening in your area. If you’re lucky enough to be in a mecca of burlesque, start going to lots of shows. Dress up and talk to performers afterward if they’re open to it. Don’t pitch yourself, just mention that you liked their performance and see if they have a website or facebook. If you can network and meet people beforehand, you’ll stand out when you send them your pitch.
If you live in an area with no burlesque, don’t despair! Burlesque is constantly growing and becoming more mainstream. Keep looking, and start a meetup group for those interested in burlesque. If you can find a venue, there are plenty of touring acts that you could help bring to town. If you live within driving distance of a burlesque troupe, make the trip to see one of their shows, and see if they’d be interested in coming to do a show near you.
Once you’ve made contact with a troupe, it’s time to send them your pitch. Mention you’ve seen their show and talked to performer X. Ask if they ever host guest performers and list all your finished routines and the accompanying music. Include links to your photos and the aforementioned video. Be courteous and willing to do anything. They may ask you to work the merchandise booth at a show or to stage kitten (picking up discarded performer clothing onstage) before asking you to perform.
Booking non-burlesque shows, like opening for a band, are a little trickier. You could contact a specific venue directly or a specific band directly giving the same information you would give to a troupe. Do your research and make sure you’re pitching appropriately. In other words don’t pitch a classic fan dance to a pop-punk band.
Keep in mind that certain states have laws about nudity in bars. In Nashville, if we perform anywhere that serves alcohol, we must wear a quarter bra (covering under boob and side boob) and full panties. If you violate that law and someone reports it, the venue, not you, gets fined. If a venue has been burned by performers not obeying the law, they may never let burlesque be performed there again, so don’t take it to heart if a venue flat out refuses you because you do burlesque.
Be persistent. Keep watching shows and even online videos of performances to better yourself and be more knowledgeable about the burlesque scene and how it’s evolving. Get involved however you can and always be nice to everyone. This is a really small world and if you’re rude or a diva, it’ll be hard to get more gigs.
Hope that helps my would be ecdysiasts!