My Life in Burlesque: On Brains and Breakthroughs

Public nudity doesn’t scare me. Many other things do.

Like photo shoots. Like choreography. Like other dancers.

I think a lot. I’m a writer in my day life, so it goes with the territory. And it comes into play in burlesque — there’s a lot of strategy in planning routines. That said, there have been many times these past several months when my brain has gotten in the way of my burlesque.

We’ll start with photo shoots. I’ve never liked having my picture taken. I generally don’t photograph well, and I have a host of body image issues. I had the option to participate in a nerdlesque calendar shoot, which I took — in part because I’d be in baggy costumes and wigs (to protect my day job/privacy). I got to dress like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Super Mario, which was pretty awesome, but didn’t really help with my fear of photos.

Image of a woman dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Photo: moi

Then I got the call to do a shoot for the cabaret troupe. We all get one. I have to admit, I was eager to work one-on-one with the photographer, who took this at a show and captured exactly how I feel onstage. (I’m not telling you which one is me.)

An image of burlesque dancers.
Photo: Greg Inda

I trusted the hell out of the photographer. I didn’t trust myself at all.

Turns out, it wasn’t so bad. I stopped thinking so hard and had some fun. Another dancer (who’d previously intimidated the hell out of me with her stunning solos) stayed after her shoot was done, helping me with poses and loaning me her big feather fan for some shots, even hiding behind me to help me hold it up.

At the very end of the shoot, the photographer asked me, “Can we try something?” By then I was in a corset and fishnets and had been rolling around on the floor on a Saturday afternoon, so yeah. Why not?

Here’s the result:

A woman in sillouhette.
Photo: Greg Inda

This is quite possibly my favorite photo of myself EVER. I even broke my own personal code and posted it on my civilian Facebook page. I want to have this blown up and framed and put in my apartment.

Other things continued to challenge me, like group choreography. When I joined the cabaret troupe, I was LEAST worried about group numbers. I’d done them several times with a studio, and with nerdlesque. I’d taken dance classes for almost three decades, for God’s sake. Then, the first group number I ever learned totally kicked my ass. I never ended up performing it. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the steps — I did. I practiced them incessantly, getting to every rehearsal early. But something never clicked. Even after we moved on to a new Halloween-themed opening, this frustrated the hell out of me. What was wrong? Why did I never GET it?

It was then that the troupe’s dance captain (tiny, talented and tough) offered extra help on the Halloween numbers, one weeknight between rehearsals. We ended up having a semi-private session, and though I was grateful for the opportunity for more private feedback, I cringed at the thought of her discerning eye on what was surely my mangling of the steps.

I ran through both numbers while she watched, holding my breath as much as one can through two and a half minutes of hopping around (opening) and a six-minute bump and grind endurance test (closing).

“These are excellent!” she said. “You really know them. But can you go through them again, and try something this time?”

Like not suck? I thought, but said “Of course.”

“Dance like you don’t give a shit,” she said. “Like you’ve done these steps a million times before — which I know you have — but you’re just so bored and you don’t care.” I must have looked hesitant, because she repeated, “Just try it once.”

Two and a half minutes later, I popped up from the final pose (lying down like a corpse).

“How’d that feel?” the dance captain asked.

It felt fucking fantastic is how it felt. She was right: I knew the steps. I was doing them right. But this time around, the tension was completely gone. I was — gasp! — enjoying myself, rather than worrying about how I looked to the other dancers, whom I perceived as way more awesome than I will ever be.

Still sitting on the floor, I said, “I think I just had a breakthrough.”

“I KNEW it!” she crowed. “I watch you in rehearsal, and you look terrified! Even though you know the dances, and it’s clear you practice. I can see you thinking. Stop thinking so much!”

And on it went through the rehearsal. At certain points she’d call, “Emma! Stop thinking!” And later, I remembered: the night I auditioned for nerdlesque, I’d worked a full day. I’d had to leave my writing workshop early and take a taxi in the rain. The Boston Marathon bombings had happened earlier that day, and I’d just about had enough of everything. Moments before I went in, I thought, “So what if I’m not right for this? Who gives a shit? I’m gonna go in there and dance.” I got cast.

The night I auditioned for the cabaret troupe, I had the last slot of the night — because I was coming straight from a nerdlesque rehearsal. I’d been dancing. I was warmed up, and tired. I had no energy left to be nervous — rather, I was just happy to show the director and producer my work-in-progress routine that ended up becoming my first solo. Two hours after my audition, I got the call to be an apprentice.

The next Monday, we showed each Halloween number, in small groups. Stop thinking, I told myself. Just dance. 

I did. It was decided I’d be part of the opening number that Friday. My photo shoot buddy hugged me: “I knew you could do it!” Another friend high-fived me: “You nailed those!” And on the way out, the dance captain yelled my name and gave me a thumbs-up. On the walk home, my sore feet barely touched the ground.

I ran to my best friend’s apartment with the news. “I’ve been telling you to get out of your head for YEARS!” he yelled, throwing up his hands. “But hey, maybe someone else had to for it to register. I’m proud of you.”

This picture may not seem like much, and you can’t see my face. (I’m on the far right.) But it represents a whole hell of a lot: nailing tough choreography, being up there with dancers I admire, and finally, finally getting out of my head.

glitterbomb 3
Photo: Robert Erving Potter III

Upcoming Chicago appearances (email e.glitterbomb@gmail.com for ticket discounts and more info. I’d love to see you there!):

October 25: Wiggle Room Chicago (Everleigh Social Club, 939 W. Randolph)

November 1 & 8: Temple of BoobsGorilla Tango Burlesque  (1919 N. Milwaukee)

November 7: The Drop (1909 N. Lincoln Ave.) with The Kiss Kiss Cabaret 

November 15 & 22: The Kiss Kiss Cabaret (Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.)

December 6: The Kiss Kiss Cabaret (solo!)

December 13 & 20: Temple of Boobs, Gorilla Tango Burlesque

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Emma Glitterbomb

Emma Glitterbomb is a burlesque dancer in Chicago. Writer by day and vixen by night, she's a proud company member of Gorilla Tango Burlesque and a founding member of Madame Hatter's Moonlight Marauders. Emma has danced with Beast Women, the Better Boobie Bureau, Festival of Flesh, the Kiss Kiss Cabaret, the comedy show Menage a Hah! and the blues band Miss Jackie and the Sass. Say bonjour at eglitterbomb(at)gmail(dot)com.

One thought on “My Life in Burlesque: On Brains and Breakthroughs”

  1. First of all: looks like you have NOTHING to worry about but we all have our body part shaped crosses so ignore this sentence.

    Second of all: amazing picture. Like kick ass make it a wall sticker picture. AWSUM.

    Thirdly: I wish I could see you. Burlesque is slowly becoming more of a thing here and I even did a mini workshop two weeks ago, but still in small spots and hush hush so you never know where to look for them.

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