Tag Archives: Mae West

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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Filed under Articles: Ask the Bombshell, Burlesque

Pinup articles, body love/hate, and pornography

Two national magazines have published articles about my Pinup Workshops and Photoshoots so far in 2008! Curve Magazine published an article chronicling the adventures of three staffers as they participate in a private workshop for their Jan/Feb issue.

A few days ago, a friend in an online social website sent me a message telling me that he’d read about me in the April issue of Skin&Ink Magazine. This was a little surprising to me, because I had originally expected the article to run in the March 2007 issue – a full year ago! You can read the article here (sorry, I don’t know how to make it into one PDF document): Page 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is a great article, I think. For some reason though, whether due to misquotes or changed ideas in the year and a half since I interviewed for this article, a couple of my quotes don’t really express my perspective on a couple of touchy subjects, so I’d like to expand and clarify what I think about two subjects mentioned: very thin fashion models and pornography.

First of all, I don’t think fashion models are personally responsible for the eating disorder epidemic that is taking place in the United States, accompanied by misogyny and body hating from both men and women. Fashion models have as little control over their genes and overall body type as the rest of us do, and they are under considerable pressure from their industry to maintain extremely low body weights in order to get work.

And THAT is where the problem comes from. The industry pressure. To be fair, the fashion industry has recently started making efforts to change this. In the last few years, some countries have banned models that they deem unhealthily underweight (read about it here), and Jean Paul Gaultier recently featured a plus size model, Velvet D’Amour on the runway in Paris. You can read a couple of opinions about Gaultier’s gesture here and here.

I’m not sure what Gaultier’s intention was or whether there will be any real changes in the fashion industry standards, and to be honest, I think that in recent years more of this body scrutiny and criticism has come from Hollywood and the tabloids than from Paris or Milan. Tabloid magazine headlines are constantly screaming about celebrity weight fluctuations – whether real or imagined – as if they are really national news. Actresses are constantly attacked and pressured, which makes them lose more and more weight to keep up with expectations, and then the women who read these magazines and hear these reports compare themselves with the supposedly “fat” actresses, and translate the criticism into self-hate. Enough already!

This is what I love about the modern burlesque resurgence, and one of the things I love most about the pinup movement as well. These communities are creating a space for women (and men!) to come together in all of their shapes, sizes, ages and races and be seen as sexy, powerful and beautiful! Pinup artists like Coop and Big Al celebrate voluptuous women. Women of all body types and ages come to my burlesque classes and pinup workshops, and start to feel good about their bodies. Not in a few months when they lose 15 pounds. Now. Just as they are. I have heard other burlesque performers talk about how participating in the burlesque scene has given them this confidence, too.

In a recent article, Margaret Cho discussed how burlesque has changed her views of her body:

Along with her identity as an Asian-America, Cho has struggled with her identity as a woman, particularly her personal struggles with eating disorders. As a young woman growing up in her family, Cho was susceptible to sexist messages that told her she had to be “small, petite, and skinny” to be beautiful. As a result, Cho developed a devastating eating disorder, and went through dramatic periods of anorexia and bulimia. After being told to lose weight while working on her television show All-American Girl, Cho starved herself for several weeks, eventually becoming hospitalized for kidney failure.

A breakthrough for Cho came when she saw burlesque being performed for the first time. “I was so amazed when I saw the performance. There were women with all different body types, ages, races, and you could tell they were so happy and comfortable with their bodies,” she said. “I was crying when I saw it, it really cured me.” For Cho, who performed burlesque on her tour “The Sensuous Woman,” burlesque was not about sexualizing herself as much as it was about emancipating her from the idea that her body is a prison. “We are so conditioned to a certain look that models have, and people think that’s the only kind of body that can be beautiful and sexual, and that’s not true, everybody has that ability.” Cho believed that performing burlesque allowed her to see that ability.

* * *

Another issue from the Skin and Ink article that I’d like to address is pornography and the degradation of women. I do not believe that all porn is degrading to women. Some is, some is great, and some I probably just don’t get, so I don’t like to make blanket statements about it. As Mae West said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”

I’ll wind this up with my favorite quote of all time regarding pornography:

“I don’t know what the definition of pornography is and nobody else does either. Pornography is somebody else’s erotica that you don’t like. People are interested in their own sexuality and they’ve always reflected it in their art. End of story.” – Erica Jong

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Filed under Body Image, Burlesque, In Print, Personal, Pin-Up