I went out to a burlesque show recently. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve gone to a burlesque show that I wasn’t performing in, so I was having a great time dancing and running into people I hadn’t seen much of lately. Many of my students were there, too, so it was nice to see them outside of class, rehearsals, and performances.
The crowd was boisterous, and everyone was having a great time. Two of my students were performing so I was geared up to be a one-woman cheering section and get the crowd going. The first act went on, and the crowd loved it. A performer came on who I’d never seen perform before. She pulled out an exacto knife and started cutting her cat suit off. I was a little nervous, as I always am when blades come out on stage, but I didn’t think much of it. Then she used the blade to pull the second sleeve off of her shoulder, revealing blood on her ribs underneath her arm. My first thought was, “Oh how clever, she is using fake blood. How’d she get that to stay on underneath her clothes like that?” An instant later I realized that it was not fake blood. She had cut herself with the blade, badly. I think the whole crowd realized what had happened at the same time, and then the performer just walked off stage, dripping blood up the stairs and into the back room.
Everyone was freaked out, but it turns out that it was not an extreme injury. The performer was joking around with the producer later that evening, and performed again a few days later.
This brings up a big issue for me: PERFORMANCE SAFETY
Not using razor blades on stage sounds obvious, but I have seen it done before. If you want to “cut” your clothes off of you, you can make a small snip at the hem and then tear from there… you can create tear-away effects with snaps and velcro… there are all sorts of options that don’t include bringing razor blades near your skin! I do a number where I use scissors to cut the strings of my corset, but I work the strings out so that the corset is very loose and the strings are NOT next to my skin. I also then hold the strings away from my body and cut carefully.
Paying attention to fire safety is another big one that got a lot of attention a few years ago after several people died at a show with pyrotechnics. If you want to use fire, be sure to take some fire safety classes, buy safety equipment, and make sure you have someone there who knows what they’re doing ready to jump into action while you are performing. When I was on tour doing a show that involved small torches and flaming pastie twirling, we had a fire marshall come out and approve our act and our safety precautions. Do whatever you can to ensure your safety and the safety of those enjoying the show!
Something that I see a lot of that doesn’t get mentioned very often is using liquids and other potentially slippery substances as props in your acts. When you consider how hard it can be to properly clean up oils and the fact that many burlesque dancers wear very high heels and platforms, this can be a recipe for disaster! I always get nervous if I am following an act that is using food or liquid of any sort (whipped cream, chocolate sauce, pie filling, fake blood, you name it) unless I know that they are taking precautions to protect the stage and they’re not going crazy with it.
Another thing people don’t think about that can be dangerous is… glitter! If you use a lot of it, not only will it get on everyone’s costumes, into their hair and stuck in crevaces for weeks, but it can also be very slippery. Confetti and beads are just as dangerous. So if you’re putting together a number that requires you to throw something at the audience or on the stage, make sure you have permission and that the people running the show are prepared to spend the extra time required to clean it up in between acts.
For your own safety, you will also want to be careful where your clothes end up during your act. It would be easy to slip on a discarded glove or gown, which would not only be embarrassing but potentially injurious and damaging to your costume!
These are the most common dangers I see at burlesque shows, although I am sure there are many, many other dangers when using large or small props. So be careful! Ask advice! Don’t just assume something is okay, talk with the show producers. Be careful, and have fun!
What else have you seen at shows that scared you? Have you ever seen any major injuries? I’ve seen a couple people fall off stage and hurt themselves, but this was the first time I ever saw anything that seemed life threatening! I’m still shaking.