Category Archives: Articles: Ask the Bombshell

How to Burlesque Q&A: What if your character and the song don’t match?

Have a question about performing burlesque that you’d like me to answer? Just ask! Here’s a question that came in recently, and I’ll be posting more Q&A articles soon. The videos that Mae is talking about here are the lessons from my free Burlesque Challenge™ video course.

Thank you so much for turning me on to your videos! I am enjoying them so much and they are really helping me. Since I am a professional belly dancer and teacher I am finding them extremely easy to follow.

Maybe you could give me some advice, however. I am going with the whole Mae West look. If you look through my profile pics I have one of Mae and people swear we could be twins. My husband even picked out my stage name Miss Mae Oui (since I also speak French. lol)

Now, this show that I’m doing in May is going to be 90’s music. After hearing a lot of the set list, I decided to shake things up a bit and do AC/DC’s Money Talks. Since our costumes do not have to reflect the music (thank goodness!!) I am playing this off as a late 30’s early 40’s socialite with a bit of a bad girl streak. You don’t think I’m over reaching on this do you? I love how Mae could play up any audience and that’s what I am going to try to do. I’m a bit of a flirt as it is anyway. Comes with the territory I guess. As to the song choice, I just could not see myself dancing to Celine Dion or Nirvana.

Any advice you could give me would be great. I apologize if I seem to be rambling but most of the ladies I am dancing with were either still in diapers or watching Barney in the 90’s and I was graduating high school.

Jan (or Mae Oui as I’m soon to be known!)

Hi Mae! I just LOVE your stage name! Mae West is most definitely one of my idols, and you DO have strikingly similar features. How lovely!

I’m so glad that you’re finding the videos helpful! I will be posting more lessons soon, so keep your eyes out for them!

Good question! I don’t think you’re over reaching at all with this act idea! As Mae West said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” I have found that burlesque audiences the world over are usually quite willing to suspend disbelief and follow where you lead them, but you need to be very clear in what you present so that you don’t confuse them. Never expect your audience to connect the dots themselves or guess what you’re getting at!

With that in mind, the trick here will be to establish your character in such a way that the audience will understand that you are a 1930’s/1940’s socialite even though you are dancing to music that doesn’t convey that. Because you are playing a more complicated character by combining two archetypes, I think it would be best to clearly establish the basic character  (the retro socialite) to set the scene before you add the extra depth to the character by revealing additional details about her (she’s a money-hungry bad girl).

I would recommend starting out with music more appropriate to that time period for 20-30 seconds or so to establish the character, and then you can switch to the AC/DC song as something happens in your act where you reveal your socialite’s bad girl nature. It’s important that the song change happen at the same time that you reveal the change in your character.

I don’t know what you have in mind for your character to do, but here are just a few ideas off the top of my head for showing her bad girl side:
– Maybe she’s a pick pocket?
– Maybe she snubs men who don’t offer her gifts? For example: In her Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend act, Marilyn Monroe snubbed the gentlemen who offered their hearts and was only enchanted by the jewelry.

Also check out Cyd Charisse’s vixen character in Singing in the Rain. Watch how she is practically hypnotized by the jewels at the end of this clip (about 2:50).

– Alternately, your costuming pieces could either be stuffed with money or be made of / covered in money. You could wear lots of rhinestone jewelry and your character could be narcissistically distracted by her own sparkly self. You could pull plastic gold coins from your bra and toss them up in the air – just be careful that you don’t slip on them or put someone’s eye out!

To make sure that the audience really gets it, you should incorporate the Rule of Three while revealing your character’s money-hungry nature. For example, if she’s a pick pocket, maybe she gets away with it twice, and gets caught the third time. She’s unapologetic when caught, the song changes, and then she continues to reveal her obsession with money throughout the act.

If you do end up using a bit of a retro song at the beginning and then switch to the AC/DC song, I strongly recommend that you use an audio editing program to cut the intro song down and put both songs together into one track. The less you leave to chance, the better! Try to make it so that your sound tech just has to hit play and you’re set! Audacity is a good audio editor, is pretty easy to learn and start using right away, and it’s free!

I hope this helps!

PS: My dear readers, in case you missed the link, you can sign up for my free Burlesque Challenge video lessons here!

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Combining Clownery and Burlesque: How funny should Clown Burlesque be?

Here is another question about clown burlesque from Angel:

I never knew about clown burlesque, but watching your numbers interested me in it. I guess my question is how do you combine the two, clownery and burlesque- but still be funny yet sexy and still teasing at the same time. Cause Im thinking that if you did too much of one, the idea wouldn’t really come across.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some of my questions I appreciate it so much.

Angel B.
Wethersfield, CT

Great question! If you’re gonna be a clown, you have to really go for it!  I read an article about Tina Fey in a magazine recently where she talked about some advice she got from Steve Martin. He said that if you are at all funny, you have to kill every time. So don’t hold back! Take risks! There is nothing entertaining about a clown without a punchline!

Clown humor is often self-effacing, so you need to be able to be silly without feeling embarrassed. The clown clothes and makeup are a great way to seperate your clown character from your normal self, freeing you from your inhibitions. As a clown, you can really do anything and get away with it. People will just look at you and go, “Of course. She’s a clown.” You can use this as a way to explore subjects and expression that may be too awkward or embarrassing when not in clown face and costume.

When encorporating comedy into your act, the original definition of burlesque comes into play.

bur·lesque (bər-lěsk’)
n.

  • A literary or dramatic work that ridicules a subject either by presenting a solemn subject in an undignified style or an inconsequential subject in a dignified style. See Synonyms at caricature.
  • A ludicrous or mocking imitation; a travesty: The antics of the defense attorneys turned the trial into a burlesque of justice.
  • A variety show characterized by broad ribald comedy, dancing, and striptease.
  • v.   bur·lesqued, bur·lesqu·ing, bur·lesques

    v.   tr.
    To imitate mockingly or humorously: “always bringing junk . . . home, as if he were burlesquing his role as provider” (John Updike).
    v.   intr.
    To use the methods or techniques of burlesque.

    [From French, comical, from Italian burlesco, from burla, joke, probably from Spanish, from Vulgar Latin *burrula, diminutive of Late Latin burrae, nonsense, from burra, wool.]
    bur·lesque’ adj., bur·lesque’ly adv., bur·lesqu’er n.

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
    Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

    It’s important to be concious of that fact that in Clown Burlesque you are presenting the clown archetype at the same time as the showgirl archetype. For a really effective performance, I always consider my clown showgirl character to be a clown first, showgirl second. A clown uses exaggeration and humor to present and comment on ideas and experiences that are universal. As a clown showgirl, you would use exaggeration and irony to explore ideas or experiences relative to the showgirl character. I think of it as “burlesquing the striptease.”

    For example, you could play up the showgirl’s natural interest in appearing sexy in at least a couple of different ways:

    1. Come out dressed as a totally ridiculous-looking clown, but never break character as a showgirl. Keep all the movements and face expressions sexy and “classic showgirl” even while removing crazy clown garb and props. For example, you could play up the classic clown gag of the never-ending scarf from the pocket by removing a glove that just keeps getting longer and longer, removing boas tied together from oversized pants, etc. You could also remove whoopie cushions, balloon animals, etc. from hiding places within your costuming, all the while keeping a “straight face” and maintaining your showgirl presentation.
    2. Play a clown character that is overly concerned with her appearance. Use exaggerated, clowny face expressions to express concern and make it obvious that the clown character is aware that she is not really cutting it as a “classic showgirl.” Perhaps have her pull out a mirror to check her face and hair, maybe fussing with a hat that doesn’t stay in place or something along those lines. You would want to use exaggeration and repetition on the same theme to make it clear to the audience exactly what you are playing on and that you are doing it intentionally!

    These are just two examples of different ways to play on one aspect of the showgirl archetype, which I pulled from your question. There are so many other facets and ideas that you can play on, so have fun and get creative.

    I think playing on the showgirl archetype is a natural starting point for clown burlesque, but of course you can explore any themes that appeal to you. You can always play on experiences that are universal to your audience, women, or humanity in general, not just to the showgirl archetype. You could also choose to be a character clown, layering another archetype or stereotype on top of the clown/showgirl combination, which creates whole new ideas to explore. For example, you could be a clown/police officer/showgirl or a clown/housewife/showgirl. The options are limitless!

    The main thing to remember when putting together your number is to have fun! Pick an idea that makes you giggle. Entertain yourself! The more fun you have while creating and performing the act, the more fun the audience will have watching you. Your enthusiasm is what will enthrall your audience, so have fun, explore, and play!

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    Clown Burlesque!

    From my Clown on Rollerskates act at the Uptown in Oakland, 2008

    Im really interested in burlesque dancing someday so I try to talk to as many people and get as much info as possible. I was interested in routines that use physical comedy. I came across the term “clown burlesque” but couldn’t find much about it- but when I entered the term in youtube some of your vids came up. I really liked them! I wanted to know if you could give me more information about clown burlesque- anything you know really- and if you can, lead me to more resources. I’d really appreaciate it. Thanks 🙂

    Angel B.
    Wethersfield, CT
    Hi Angel,

    I don’t know of any specific resources for clown burlesque, but I found some great links with background info on both peformance styles. Put them together, and there you are! Burlesque has always used elements of comedy and bawdyness, as you will see from reading, so many modern burlesque acts also combine sexuality with humor, whether in clown face or dressed as a traditional showgirl.

    For me, burlesque is a great platform to juxtapose the traditionally beautiful/sexy with the ridiculous, bizarre, grotesque, and absurd. Dressing as a clown is one way to do this, but I also incorporate the same humor and physical comedy when portraying a more glamorous “showgirl” character.

    My clown burlesque troupe, Twist My Balloons, at the DNA Lounge, 2006

    There is a regional trend toward clown burlesque in New York and in San Francsico. From what I have seen and read, places like Seattle, Denver, LA, Florida, and many other cities, tend more toward the “classic glamour” style of burlesque. Of course, there are always exceptions to this trend in every region, and I am only making a rough generality here.

    Burlesque history:
    http://www.musicals101.com/burlesque.htm
    http://www.musicals101.com/burlesque2.htm

    Clowning:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clown
    http://sunniebunniezz.com/clowning/clowns.htm
    http://www.clownschool.net/

    I am sure you can find many more resources by searching online. Good luck with your search, and I hope this helps!
    Betty
    PS: Here are a few more of my clown burlesque photos:

    From the Chair Race act at the DNA Lounge, 2006

    More Chair Race with Sweet Cheeks...

    And more Chair Race...

    Fruit Cocktail, featuring Miss Banana Peel and the AMAZING Coconuts! 2006

    More from the Clown on Rollerskates act at the Uptown in Oakland, 2008

    My "showgirl clownface" after my Pastie Tricks act at the Pin It Up, Babycakes show at 111 Minna, 2009

    Clown Chickens act with Sweet Cheeks at the Hubba Hubba Revue, 2006

    Final reveal for Clown Chickens act... Sexy!

    My clowny Big Bad Wolf character at the Too Many F&*$#! Bunnies show at the Uptown in Oakland, 2008

    Another shot of the Clown on Rollerskates act...

    And another...

    And here's the clown looking serious...

     

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    Ask the Bombshell: How to do what you do?

    I regularly receive emails from people around the world wanting to know my advice on how to get started in burlesque or the next steps they should take. In order to share these answers with everyone interested, I have added a new article category to this blog, Ask the Bombshell. Read on for the first Q&A in this series:

    Bombshell Betty,

    Hello, I am a fellow Burlesque enthusiast. I have a dream to own a burlesque theater/studio in my home town of [Anytown], TX. A little background, I have danced and been in musicals for most of my life. I was a dance major in college and while I was there I spent a lot of time studying Burlesque on an academic level. I loved the subject so much, but after college I gave birth to my son and put dancing/performing/burlesque on the back burner.

    I recently came across it again and thought about how much I’d love to be a part of this world but it doesn’t really exist so much in [my area]. I thought about how much fun it would be have a theater for the community to discover this art. How much fun it would be to teach people how to move and love and celebrate their bodies. I feel like it might be some kind of calling for me and I want to do everything I can to make my dream reality.

    Since I have decided I wanted to do this, I have been trying to figure out what I need to learn to become something of an expert. I have read books, practiced making and designing costumes, tried to understand the culture, watched videos, and DVD’s, I attended the New York Burlesque Festival and actually saw some burlesque shows, attended a workshop in [Texas], I taught a burlesque dance class for my cousin’s bachlorette party, and I’m trying to learn what I can about web design.

    I just want to know from you what all I need to learn and how to go about gaining the knowledge that would prepare me to take on something very similar to the operation you have going. How many people do have working with you to make all this possible? Are the costs of running and operating terribly high? I imagine that you would have to be very careful about how you spent money to run things. I would truly appreciate any direction you could give me.

    Thank you for your time,
    Miss D.D.
    Texas

    Dear Miss D.D.,

    It is great to hear your story and I love your enthusiasm about the art of burlesque! You don’t mention whether you actually perform burlesque or not. Do you perform? If not, I would recommend that you start performing burlesque right away. If you want to teach burlesque, you will need to learn through hands-on performance as well as academic study and watching others. Being an active performer will also give you credibility as a teacher and give potential students an idea of the skills you can teach them.

    My next piece of advice would be to start small. No one ever wants to hear that, but it’s really great advice, I promise! Starting too big is why such a large percentage of new businesses fail every year! Keep teaching private burlesque parties to get some more experience and confidence, then build from there to start offering group classes at dance studios where you rent by the hour (that’s how I started out).

    Running a dedicated studio of my own was a dream of mine for a long time. I taught classes for 3 years before I found a partner and dove into running the studio. Two of us work full time to keep all the aspects of this business running smoothly, and I am in the process of hiring more teachers right now in order to double the number of classes offered at the studio in early 2009.

    I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions. I’m always happy to help out other burlesque enthusiasts!

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    Shaking it in a new town: If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em!

    I got an email recently from one of my students who moved back to the Midwest to be close to her family:

    Hello from the Middle Coast! I need your advice: the burlesque groups in town, as it turns out, are a wee bit pretentious and won’t let me in their clubs. I want to keep dancing (the ideas are piling up) but just don’t know what to do at this point. I have a very good friend who said that I can dance with his band or do guerrilla performances at his shows but how do I get started?? What to do with that fear factor?! I miss you guys!!!!!! And the giggles!! And the pasties! And all of the skin that one normally doesn’t see in most hobbies and professions!!

    This is not the first time I have had students who moved away ask me how to handle getting started all over again in a less-than-welcoming environment after leaving our cozy San Francisco scene. My advice is to swallow your nervousness and just jump out there and start performing on your own. “If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em!” or something like that. Don’t let anyone else keep you from doing what you love to do. Call your friends and get yourself some gigs! Some non-burlesque-show gig ideas include: opening for bands, performing at art openings, or grab your boom box and take it to the streets for some street performance (G-rated acts only, of course). Use your imagination and don’t let a performance opportunity pass you by! Every event is better with burlesque – at least in my humble opinion.

    If you are afraid of going it on your own, don’t be. I would be very surprised if you are the first person who has approached these troupes and been snubbed, so you may be surprised by the number of people who come up to you at your performances and ask you how to get started. Make friends! Start working with those ladies and you’re well on your way to creating a movement! Soon you’ll have all the giggles and pasties and skin that you can handle. You can be a mover and shaker (hehe) in your new town and start your own little scene.

    For more advice on dealing with the fear factor, read my previous post on stage fright. Going it alone can be scary, and performing at events that are not specifically burlesque shows can be a totally different vibe, but like I said, I don’t think you’ll be doing it alone for long. So if you can get through the first few shows, the momentum will take you from there.

    Since you will no longer be relying on the name and reputation of your troupe to get you gigs and bring people in to see your performances, it is very important that you work on building up your name as a solo act. Here are some basics you will need to think of, and I will go into more detail about developing your name and promoting yourself in future posts, so keep your eyes peeled…

    Big things to do when you’re building a name for yourself:

    • Get a website up! Myspace is great for meeting people and promoting yourself, but people will be much more likely to find you and you will look much more professional if you have a real website.
    • Design and have business cards printed. Give your cards to everyone you meet (when appropriate, of course). If you don’t know where to go for cards, ask me and I’ll refer you to my printer.
    • When performing at your friends’ events, have them list your name on the flyer and distribute these liberally. If no one else is making a flyer for an event, make your own and distribute them!
    • Create a mailing list. Pass out a clip board with your sign up sheet at every event, or set it out somewhere conspicuous and make sure people know about it.
    • Be friendly to everyone, even the people who snubbed you. You never know, they might loosen up once they see that you are serious and are making things happen for yourself.

    If you’re still feeling nervous, put on your favorite version of “My Way”, whether it’s Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious, get dolled up and sparklized, and then practice that new number you’ve been working on that you can’t wait to perform. All dressed up and nowhere to go? That will get you motivated to get out there and shake it for a crowd, no matter what it takes! So call your friends and make it happen!

    I will leave you with the lyrics for “My Way” 

    ( by: P. Anka, J. Revaux, G. Thibault, C. Frankois):

    And now, the end is here
    And so I face the final curtain
    My friend, I’ll say it clear
    I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
    I’ve lived a life that’s full
    I traveled each and ev’ry highway
    And more, much more than this, I did it my way

    Regrets, I’ve had a few
    But then again, too few to mention
    I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
    I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
    And more, much more than this, I did it my way

    Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
    When I bit off more than I could chew
    But through it all, when there was doubt
    I ate it up and spit it out
    I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

    I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
    I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
    And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
    To think I did all that
    And may I say, not in a shy way,
    “Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way”

    For what is a man, what has he got?
    If not himself, then he has naught
    To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
    The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

    [instrumental]

    Yes, it was my way

     

     

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