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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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