It’s very common for a lot of pinup girls to also be burlesque dancers; one style lends itself to the other and you learn a lot about presentation and stage presence from doing one or the other. I often go to Burlesque shows throughout the year as a lot of my friends are performers so it’s amazing to see them evolve and expand on stage and tell their narrative through creative means. I had done a few burlesque classes with Sugar Blue before but I seemed to learn more towards cabaret, old-school showgirl acts and Charleston dancing; never solo burlesque. A few years ago I used to go weekly to their ‘bump and grind’ classes which I adored until they stopped doing them. I have done a few classes since (and if anyone is interested I’m happy to write about that soon), but doing solo burlesque? I toyed and played with the idea and ended up signing up for a class with Sugar Blue Burlesque; oh boy what a journey.
Looking back, I kind of wish I had held off and waited because there was so much going on in my personal life that I never really got my head in the game and the lessons and preparation had felt like a chore. Before I signed up, I always had ideas of what my routines and costumes would look like but when push came to shove I wasn’t very ready at all. I loved the classes themselves as they gave me time and space to create my own story, all lessons were really informative but for some reason, I feel like I never reached my full potential.
My concept was simple: I was the Pink Panther. I wanted to start as the detective and slowly strip down into a bodysuit and display that my legs and torso were covered in paw prints. I didn’t have to buy anything for my costume except for some sparkly purple fabric to cut out the paw prints. I started with a bowler hat, tan trench coat, a white collared shirt, and brown slacks. Underneath I had a sparkly purple bra, a pink bodysuit covered in paw prints, a pair of pink ears under my hat and my stockings also had paw prints. The only prop I had to make was a magnifying glass which I constructed out of some cardboard, glitter and some clear plastic.
On the day, I felt confident and almost excited to get out onto the stage but right before I got on, my self-doubt kicked in. Why was I doing this? I had dreamed of going up on stage and dancing but when I finally did it, I had produced something mediocre. My teacher was absolutely amazing, full of love and encouragement but I feel like I let her down even though she said she was proud of me. I started to question why I hadn’t fully embraced my opportunity and had almost wasted it. There was also a week or two when I even asked about postponing my debut but I knew that if I did, I would never actually get around to doing it again. It was now or never.
At the last minute I ended up changing the shoes I was going to go on stage with which was a huge mistake. My shoes were covered in glitter which kept catching on the material of my pants meaning that they did not come off smoothly and I ended up struggling to get out of them. Thank goodness for tech runs! However, my amazing teacher let me borrow her old black shoes and although they were way too big, they worked just fine. I actually ended up kicking them off as I just felt more free dancing barefoot and I’m really glad I did that. I had often rehearsed barefoot and I often am at home barefoot so this just felt more comfortable to me rather than constantly being worried I would trip or my shoes would be kicked off accidentally.
I sometimes think that it’s the fear of failure that stops and holds us back the most. Instead of being my true self on stage, I was a cookie-cutter version of what I thought a burlesque dancer was. I wasn’t original or inspiring. I think I was also fearful of letting down my family if I were to take off more layers. Being brought up quite strict and religious, I think I had a fear that my mother would be disappointed in me had she seen me. Was I a stripper now? Did I devalue myself? Even though to me, burlesque is so empowering for women, why couldn’t I let go of my upbringing and free myself? I really value my families opinion but I know that I’m always going to be a different person to who my mother thinks I am. Although my performance wasn’t the greatest choreography masterpiece, I did feel beautiful, in control of my body and I did have fun telling my story on my own terms, but letting go of who my family sees me as was too difficult and I never let go in the end.
One of the best things about burlesque is that you only have to take it as far as you want. I wasn’t comfortable getting down to pasties and panties despite all the other girls doing the same. I remember whilst performing suddenly realizing that the audience didn’t know I wasn’t stripping down all the way; when my music stopped and I struck my final pose, I knew the audience had a “wait…what about the rest” kind of vibe. Through the clapping, you could see people being confused that I stopped halfway through my outfit and had no further to go with it. I didn’t feel like I let them down but I also knew that being freshly out of the hospital with Endo issues meant that I didn’t want to display my Endo belly or my scars. I still had control over how my body was presented and I wasn’t ready to give that up.
During the performance itself, I couldn’t let go. I was so in my head about it all that I didn’t actually relax enough to enjoy it. I felt that my routine was basic, my concept wasn’t original and that I was just boring to watch. I wanted to be amazing but I think I was just mediocre. Now I know this sounds very wishy-washy, but when you’re a perfectionist and your not happy with the final product, it’s always going to be a fail. I did what was required but I didn’t do anything memorable. The one thing that bothers me the most was that I wasn’t myself on stage.
I love being on stage, sure I’m not a public speaker but I like making people laugh, entertaining and having fun. Why didn’t I do any of that? Once again, I don’t think I was in the right mindset but I’m slightly disappointed in myself that I didn’t overcome my issue and just fizzled out. It’s been several months since I got out on stage and made my burlesque debut; would I do it again? Yes, I really want to.
I personally feel that I didn’t embrace the opportunity as much as I should have and let it slip by. Sometimes when you do these kinds of thing you look up to such amazing figures who have been doing it for years and years and you get annoyed at yourself because you didn’t come anywhere close to their level. But you’re right at the beginning! Even Dita wasn’t today’s Dita when she did her first performance and that’s ok because she kept growing and developing into the Dita we all idolize today. And one day I will too.
Will I be a burlesque dancer anytime soon? Probably not.
Did I do my best the first time around? Unfortunately no, but I’m willing to try it again.
Did it teach me something? It sure scared the pants right off me (no pun intended) and that sometimes is all you need. To get over the fear of not being perfect and being vulnerable in front of people. Next time, I want to be my true self on stage, not someone I didn’t even recognize. If you’ve gone through something similar; you tried something for the first time and it didn’t end well. Give it another go. It’s ok to get in your head and barely reach the finish line, as long as you did the best you could at that time, that’s still pretty amazing.
I’m hoping to try again before the year is out, or at least do a different dance course with Sugar Blue but until then, please take this as the encouragement boost you need and DO IT!
Photos thanks to John Leonard.