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  • bellefolleburlesque

i'm just here for the experience

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

When I start learning something new, I run hard and fast with it. Burlesque was no exception.


I was all in and that meant learning anything and everything from whoever was willing to teach me. So, because I’m a little crazy, but like in a fun way, I decided that I was going to apply to my first burlesque competition. Now, keep in mind, I was less than 6 months into performing when I applied and still a couple weeks shy of that when I took the stage for the 2019 Wisconsin Regional Burlypicks Competition. And you guys, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t even have competitions on my radar. But I was so in love with being on stage that when it was brought to my attention, I thought, “Sure, WHY NOT?” So I went home, looked it up and left it at that. After scanning through the website, I found myself inundated with more questions that needed answering before I signed up. The biggest question was : What do I even sign up for?

There was clearly an overall winner. But there were also subcategories or games as they called them. Categories like, Master of Amazement or Lip Sync. And with quite a few to choose from, for some reason, my brain couldn’t compute how these worked at all. I talked to other performers in the community to try and figure it out — still couldn’t. So at the last minute, I applied without picking any of them. On the day of the event, it finally became clear. If I had selected a category to compete in, I would have had a chance to win in that category and also place overall. But since I didn’t, it was Best Overall or Bust. I literally had to win the whole competition or nothing at all. No pressure. *insert sideways glance here*

The lesson: If you find yourself applying for a competition and there are different categories to compete in — pick one. Hell, pick more than one. Whichever ones fit your act the best. It doesn’t guarantee a win, but I think it takes some of the pressure off of winning it all. And if you’re just starting out, that’s an okay thing.

Because let’s be honest, if you’re signing up for a competition, there’s always a part of you that wants to win. It’s where the drive to do a good job comes from. And saying that does not mean that you’re not there for the experience too. Because submerging yourself in the experience is how you are going to the bulk of your learning.

So, on the day of the big event, I show up to tech pretty early. Tech is basically your 5-10 minutes of rehearsal time on stage before the show. And since this was a number I’d done a few times already, I just threw on the shoes I was going to perform in and then I ran my number. One time. That was it. Wearing an oversized Stitch onesie and a pair of knee high combat boots, I ran it once. There are times when I use all the time I’m given up there. And others where I use a fraction of it. It all depends on how I’m feeling that day. And on this particular day, the first run felt good enough. I was sick, I had snot running down my face and all I wanted to do was get back to the hotel so I could relax and listen to my music. Now, after I got back to my room, I panicked. You know, because I should have actually tested my costume. Especially the zipper peel as they have an annoying habit of getting stuck. I could have marked it out on stage a couple of times. The list goes on. Needless to say, I did not relax. I ran my number over and over again in that tiny ass hotel room until it was time to leave.

When I got back to the venue for the actual show, I saw a table with a bunch of posters laid out with signatures on them — didn’t realize the performers were supposed to sign them. I actually have one of those posters now and it’s still not signed by me. See … more learning. I found my way backstage, and settled into a little spot in front of a shared mirror and started to paint my face.

That night I didn’t want to watch anyone on stage before I performed. It seemed to amplify the nerves I already had by like, 1000. No thanks! But at this particular event, they had a tv set up backstage so we could see everything happening. I saw so many giant props and glittery costumes it made me feel small. And as I was about to go on stage, all I could think was : Okay, here we go. Just Me and this little ole costume. Neat.

I walked on to the dark stage and took my position. Lights on, music starts and then the snot began flowing freely from my nose. All I could think for those first few beats was, I hope the judges can’t see this. They were sitting front row, just left of center stage and as my choreography led me over to them I brought my thumb up to my face with an awkward sweeping motion as I attempted to remove my nasal drainage with what I hoped looked like some sort of attitude and swagger.

But here’s the thing; even with my brain fully engaged in snot detection, I didn’t miss a beat. I hear it all the time : Don’t stop moving. The thing is you are the only one who knows when something goes wrong on stage. You have to be flexible when you’re up there and willing to adjust. I say willing because it’s not about being able. We’ve all got the ability to make changes when necessary, but we’re not always willing. The control freak in me that needlessly clings to the choreography wasn’t always so easy going. But in that moment I was pleasantly surprised by myself. And it was a giant leap for my confidence as a performer.

Well, that — and also hearing my name called for Best Overall later that night. And as I walked out to the car with friends, smiling and laughing about everything that had happened that day, I learned one more thing.

I had to do it again. No, really, in October of that same year I’d be competing in the Burlypicks World Championships. Somehow I missed the part where if you win, you go on to compete against all the other regional winners.

But more about that later — I think we’ve had enough lessons for today :)


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