welcome to the stage
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
On November 16, 2018, I took the stage for the first time as a burlesque performer. It was on a small stage upstairs at a downtown bar for a show called, Streetlight Cabaret. And it was fucking terrifying.
Photo By : Dave Wood Photography
But also exhilarating and unlike anything I’d experienced before. The months of work leading up to this night had finally paid off. And taming this creative brain inside me long enough to get a finished piece was pretty cool too.
Before the big debut, I took two, 8-week courses in burlesque, taught by the award-winning burlesque performer, Mercury Stardust. The first included a lot of history and information in regards to costuming, makeup and simple peels. It was a great introductory course for someone who knew nothing of what burlesque was or where it came from. I think in anything new one chooses to do — first and foremost, learn the history of what you are doing. Respecting the history of an art form, trend, or sport is so important and is the most fundamental part of learning. It also goes a long way in being professional.
The second course was dedicated to creating one new burlesque act. So, 8 weeks to come up with an idea, fully costume and choreograph and then present to the rest of the class for feedback. It took me damn near 5 weeks to pick a song. That’s half the course to pick a song. I found myself creating numbers to slow, country songs; cute, bouncy, pop songs; there was even a bdsm concept for a Gaga song. If you’re anything like me, you gravitate to all things shiny. Literally, if I heard a song with an inkling of potential I thought it was the one. I had small ideas, big ideas, dreams of super mutant props that were so unrealistic. Looking back just makes me grin now, because I am like this ALL the time. Silver lining (hmm, also shiny) is when I found the right song — everything clicked.
That’s not to say that it went smoothly, but suddenly there was like a slow motion movie playing in my head. I could see the costume. I saw the types of movement that I wanted to incorporate. And those super mutant props? Well, they got whittled down to a chair. I think the creative mind takes potential to extremes. It sees all things possible, which can make an idea seem like the BEST IDEA EVER. And that’s not to say that they are bad ideas. I probably could have worked through those first few songs and created a piece that was good. But when I heard, “Read Me My Rights”, I watched the crazy subside and the concept became clear and concise. That’s how I knew. Now the choreography, let’s just say that wasn’t quite so focused.
I had done dance choreography before. I had done pole choreography before. But choreography that integrated peels was a different kind of beast. Trying to think outside-the-box and simultaneously use peels that actually worked — and worked on a consistent basis — was a real struggle. I bought THREE belts before I found one that actually worked. By the end of the 8 weeks I had choreographed half of my number. The day we were all set to perform for the class, I was out in the hallway trying to figure out how to end my act. I didn’t figure it out. I ended up free styling the last minute thirty. You might be thinking, if she couldn’t finish her number in 8 weeks, how did she ever get it stage ready?
Well, the first thing I did was watch the video that was taken on the last day of class. There were some really good moments, but a solid act? It was not. I ended up scraping half of what was already done and started fresh. I took out the moves that didn’t come naturally to me, changed my shirt peel, added a bra and then the pants. Never ever did I think figuring out how to take off a pair of pants was going to be a challenge. I was wrong. I found myself rolling around the floor, standing awkwardly, trying to “dance” out of them. Until I asked myself a question. “If I can do this on the floor, can I do it in a chair?” And there was the lightbulb. It took a ton a practice. The right pair of jeans. I’m talking fit, style, texture of the denim. No detail was too small and then repeating the same movements over and over again until it was flawless. The last thing I wanted to happen was to get stuck on stage, sitting on my chair, with legs up and ass out : Especially on my debut night.
And that night I was so nervous. Like, visibly shaking nervous. Pacing back and forth backstage, listening to my music on loop, running and re-running my choreo in my head and REALLY focused on my breathing. My heart is pumping now just thinking about it again. And then, after working myself through all of the stage fright and a rather lengthy intro, I heard, “Welcome to the Stage … Belle Folle!”
I’m not gonna lie, I may have actually blacked out at that point because my memory of that performance doesn’t start at the very beginning. There’s a moment where I’m standing on my chair looking out into the crowd and it was so calming, as strange as that may sound. After that moment muscle memory took over and I just performed. The music, the lights, the crowd cheering — I was hooked. As a rather private person for most of my life, I have often described burlesque as being equivalent to finally allowing others to see me. When you lock eyes with someone in the audience, there’s a moment where real connection happens. You see them in their nervous shifting while allowing them to see you. Really see you. And that right there, is still my favorite part of performing. I love small, intimate spaces that allow for this kind of connection to happen.
After such an amazing debut experience, I wish I could say that I still use the chair I had on stage that night. Sadly though, that chair met it’s timely demise later that same evening. I lent it to Mercury to use during their act and all I heard from behind the curtain was the loud bang as it bent beneath her when she jumped on it. And as we held our laughter in backstage, I learned two more things that night about performing : 1. Be careful lending your chair out to someone else, especially if it’s being used before your performance (I got lucky that night) and 2. Folding chairs are made in different levels of durability.
It’s hard to believe that night was less than two years ago. It feels like a different lifetime. But it changed the course of everything for me. And I am so thankful for everything I have been able to experience since then. And I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life as a burlesque performer.
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