Body Image / Feminism / Fetish / Gender / media

Burlesquery 101

It’s #TBT and time for a classic piece. This one originally went up in February of 2013. You can read a lot more about burlesque, including the events calendar for the Philly Burlesque Community at

So you think you can burlesque?

I evidently think I can verb burlesque. Anyway.

Perhaps you’ve already listened to the interviews with awesome burlesque performers that have been on Sex with Timaree. Maybe you’ve been contemplating entering the scene. If you’re thinking of trying your hand (or other parts) at burlesque (or are wondering about how to even get started), this is the primer for which you’ve been waiting.

  1.  Go to shows. Lots of em.

Go to a variety of shows at different venues, by many troupes aiming for an array of audiences. Try to check out every nook and cranny of your local performance art scene. See what is out there already. This will not only inform your understanding of the art of burlesque and its nearly unlimited manifestations, and inspire ideas for your own acts but it will also show you what you want to avoid.

Make your presence known to the performers, by talking to them afterwards interacting on social media. This is not, however, time to offer critiques. Take your constructive thoughts and apply it to your own acts.

      2. Yay! Homework!

josephineDaring to enter the burlesque scene as a performer without knowledge of its origins and the performers who paved the way is an incredible act of hubris. You may be a natural performer or trained dancer with stunning gams, but if your punkass doesn’t know anything about Josephine Baker, Lili St. Cyr, Blaze Starr, or even the Pontani sisters, then you’re just (to paraphrase comedian Luke Cunningham) taking off your clothes to the Munsters theme.

   3. Invest in Your (Hot) Ass

Get some decent costumes. You don’t need a ton at first, but have a few quality pieces.

The difference between an artistic performance and standing on the bar at PJ Wheelihans and taking off your shirt during “Living on a Prayer” is, in many ways, a matter of planning. Skip the cheap fishnets (unless that’s part of your style), buy well-constructed costume pieces that will survive multiple wears.

Go big on accessories. Burlesque is all about details, often in the form of: glitter, diamonds, fringe, tassels, feathers and obviously, pasties. Its purpose is parody, caricaturing the finery of the aristocracy and the very idea of feminine presentation. So your aesthetic may be different, but it should still be wildly exaggerated.

Most burlesquers develop sewing and crafting skills so they can make and repair their own costumes. Many performers are also adept at constructing accessories, set pieces and props.

Depending on the particular branch of the scene you plan to inhabit, you’ll want to invest in appropriate heels, hosiery and other pieces. If you’re going classical, acquire some quality character shoes and flesh-toned fishnets and lots and lots of rhinestones. Put forward the money for high quality corsets and cinchers, which look infinitely better than cheaper versions. And *ahem* learn how to put it on.

    4. Prepare the War Paintmakeup

Burlesque makeup is not just lots of street makeup. Watch some online tutorials, take a class or make friends with a drag queen. False lashes are even less negotiable than pasties. Brow pencils, thick eyeliner and a foundation that won’t melt are your friends. Many hair styles are appropriate to burlesque, depending on your scene. Victory rolls, Rockabilly up-dos and finger curls are great, but require practice. Yay! More homework!

      5. Make Friends, Get Known

Getting booked is a matter of making people want to have you on their show. Be likable and friendly and you’ll find your way on to plenty of local showcases. Make friends with the performers you meet. Be aware of auditions being held and really bring it when you try out for a troupe. Be on time and enthusiastic, ready to perform like it’s Opening Night. Demonstrate your ability to promote and bring out audiences if you want to be hired back. Be professional: avoid drama, show up on time for call, and send in your music and promo head shots when asked. Don’t talk shit about other performers, no matter how great you think you are.

Oh yeah, and those promo shots: using social media, you can find a photographer who works with performers to hire for a shoot or trade your modeling time for their editing time, if they’re willing. If a producer gets photos of you performing that you can use elsewhere, that’s a great payment perk. Be sure to tag them and their shows when you use the pics.

  6. Develop Your Identity

lagerfeld's muse 2What, for you, is the point of performing burlesque? What are you trying to communicate about yourself? Cultivate a persona that is based on the real you… but amplified exponentially. Look into the most artistic, exhibitionist, most sensual part of your identity and exaggerate it. Come up with a stage name that is on brand: memorable and representative of this identity.

Cultivate acts that communicate what you are about. Performances are opportunities to make jokes, illustrate concepts, disseminate messages. Create social media accounts for this persona so you can be contacted, tagged and messaged without  too much cross over into your real life.

       7. Practice

I don’t just mean prep before a show…. although yeah, memorize your music so that you can time your act and know exactly when and how you’re going to doff your pieces and show off your tricks. Get on lots of shows and earn your stripes as a real performer. Experiment, take risks with numbers that may fail, perform at venues that are foreign to you and learn as much as possible from backstage.

For more info:

Questions? Comments? Violent reactions? Email or tweet @timaree_leigh See more at and

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