Sunday, July 22, 2007

What is your burlesque education?

What is your burlesque education like? Have you taken burlesque classes or workshops? Or has your burlesque education been something less formal?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I went to the School of Hard Knockers.

Anonymous said...

bwahahahahahahahah. I'm using that line.

Jack Midnight said...

For the singing part of my job, I've taken vocal lessons, and I've been singing professionally on and off for 26 years. My "on-the-job" training was singing for drinks and tips at a local piano-bar when I was 19/20.

I've studied improvisational comedy for 27 years, and have been performing professionally for 24. I've studied at Second City, ImprovOlympic and the Annoyance Theater. I think my improv training has made me the great emcee I am now. I'm quick on my feet, I can cover when I need to, I can incorporate the audience into the show. All of these skills are improv-based.

Burlesque Daily said...

I started watching what films I could and studying old pictures and reading burlesque autobiographies when I was very young, and basically faked it from there. I took dance classes and gymnastics throughout high school. I studied cartoons like Merrie Melodies and Silly Symphonies because the timing and wit in them is so beautifully choreographed with the music, and so subtly--sometimes overtly--subversive. As more material became available I learned more, and when I was working in strip joints there were still a few former burlesque performers around, often working as costume ladies, who had tales to tell. Not very much of what I learned table dancing translates into theatrical stripping, although a sort of body-awareness and micro-management of clothing removal has traveled with me, as well as the knowledge that if I screw up the best way to handle it is to keep going with a smile, not a grimace. I also learned in strip joints that black costumes don't always show up well on stage. When I started working as a feature dancer in the early 90s I taught myself how to handle fans and how to make themed acts work. When I started performing in New York I basically cut down the first two songs of my feature numbers into one-song numbers, and I studied the kind of structure and timing that these audiences were accustomed to by watching drag queens at Wigstock, fetish performers and performance artists at Mother, and other burlesque performers at the Blue Angel, Burlesque at the Beach, and the Va Va Voom Room. I've also been talking about these things with dancers who performed in the early-mid-twentieth century, many of whom have taught me moves that I teach in classes (with credit to the ladies who taught me, of course!). I've asked lots of questions and people were always generous with answers. When I teach a class I try to distill the results of dozens of hours of backstage conversations about a given subject into 60 minutes. When I have a guest teacher I think I relearn almost as much from them as the newer students learn for the first time, simply because I get to hear the same things I often hear backstage in a formal environment. I have learned A LOT from teaching, as well. I love to learn and I'm always listening for more information and looking at new methods and interpretations. I do this because this kind of work is a pleasure for me, not because I feel it's required. I really love classes, both taking and teaching. Right now I'm working with Matt Mohr to develop some of my theatrical projection skills. For me the process of learning is an end in itself. It's really the fun and the joy that motivate me. I'm thrilled that there are enough venues around these days that I get to perform frequently, and to watch frequently.

This answer is way too long, but you know, I've been around fuuuurrrrever! I just keep talking!

Burlesque Daily said...

Eeeek! Yep, that's really way too long. Sorry! I just didn't want to leave anybody out!

Zeugma said...

Nah, that was a good answer. Mine will probably be 'too long' too, but I think these stories are great to share.

I decided I wanted to do burlesque when I saw a live burlesque show while studying dance in university. I *think* it was Cecilia Bravo and the Fluffgirl Burlesque Society, but I'm not entirely sure. Anyway, it seemed to take the raw sexual energy that I was working with in my contemporary dance pieces and blend them with the glitter and glamour I'd always loved about jazz (but had mistakenly assumed I'd 'outgrown'). Later that year, I worked with a graduate student choreographer whose dance thesis dealt with representations of female sexuality, and she used a lot of great old standards and some jazz and burlesque movement in her choreography, so I picked up a bit of perspective *and* vocabulary there.

I finished university with degrees in English and Dance, and minors in Theatre and Film. THEN I moved to a wee little island in Canada where burlesque didn't exist. What did exist was a several-times-yearly fundraiser called
"An Evening of Burlesque" that amounted to a variety show with no dancing. So I started reading, and thinking, and watching, and at the next one, I performed a glove striptease to Jessica Rabbit's theme, and people lost their minds. Next show I did some Sam the Man Taylor, taking a bit more off, and completely making it up as I went. The one after that I corralled my adult jazz class and did Hey Big Spender (yeah, yeah, we scoff at numbers like that, but for an audience that's never seen ANYTHING like it, it was a great big hit, and I'm not the least bit sorry to have shared it with them). I was teaching adult Hip Hop and Jazz classes at the time, and a few of my students saw me and said "Hey, can you teach us to dance like that?" At that point, I'd watched a LOT of video and read Michelle Baldwin's book and Dita's book and Jo Boobs' handbook, so I said "Sure, I can try". I modified my jazz class sylabbus and some of my acting workshops into a six-week burlesque class designed to increase sexual confidence and physical coordination, and help students create a clear and consistent performance character through acting and physicality. I credited everyone I'd ever read or learned anything from by watching and blended my own teaching style with what I wanted the girls to learn about burlesque.

In other words, I mostly learned by teaching... by answering other people's hard questions about what is and isn't sexy, what is and isn't burlesque, and so on. That first year of teaching had quite the steep learning curve, but I've never regretted it. If I hadn't developed a culture for burlesque in the city where I lived, I'd never have learned so much so fast, and never gotten to share it with so many wonderful people.

JE