My Life in Burlesque: Getting Back on the (Glitter)Horse

In the moments after, I swore that I was an ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE PERFORMER and I WAS NEVER DOING THIS NUMBER AGAIN.

Let’s rewind.

My latest solo was my first new piece since Christmas. I’d had the music picked out for months, and another dancer gave it a thumbs up. I collected costume pieces, getting a shimmy dress hemmed when it turned out to be too long, making sure the color scheme was just right. (It’s times like these that I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for living in a neighborhood populated with drag queens and the stores that cater to them.) I worked on choreography until my muscles screamed for mercy and my downstairs neighbors undoubtedly started to hate me. When rehearsal (and thus, my time to preview it for the producer) was canceled due to snow, I cajoled one of my best dude friends to come over and make a video in my living room.

Despite the unexpected cameo from my cat (or maybe because of it), my producer liked what he saw. He suggested a retool of the beginning, but otherwise I was off to the getting-naked races.

Four days later, the show started out promising. I was cast in the opening group number, meaning I got to wear one of the sparkly dresses I’d coveted since before I even auditioned for the company.

Emma selfie in a low-cut sparkly black dress

The show was a little wackier than our usual fare, with a sexy Chicken Dance, Fantastic Mr. Fox, a dashboard hula girl, and an act inspired by Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. My tribute to Bob Fosse (complete with bowler hat and gloves), set to They Might Be Giants, fit right in.

And then it happened.

Three-quarters of the way through the number, I went to retrieve my hat from where I’d placed it on a chair…and it was gone.

Shit.

You see, I’d choreographed the number using one of my own chairs, which has a full back. The performance chair (kept at the theater) does not. And I was bouncing around onstage so much, I’m not surprised that hat met floor.

I had approximately .0000075 of a second to make a decision. What I ended up doing was retrieving the hat in what I hoped/prayed was a sexy way (it involved me wiggling my butt at the audience, of course) before setting it back on my head, where it would stay for the remaining 40 seconds of the number.

It’s a bit of a blur to me, but apparently my solo was well-received. I had several friends in the audience that night, one of whom reported she saw someone standing up (not to leave, but to applaud). My mentor recorded the solo for me so I’d have a video clip of myself performing, which was very kind of her.

Then I got backstage and burst into tears.

I realized I HATED the number. It was stupid and hokey and amateurish. There was no way I belonged in the burlesque big leagues with crap like that in my repertoire. Any applause or cheers were surely out of sympathy, pity even.

I couldn’t face my friends afterwards (two of whom had come from the suburbs — yes, I’m an asshole). I felt humiliated. I cried for two days straight.

Then I woke up, rolled my eyes at myself and thought, “Well, I’ve been overdramatic about a minor gaffe. I must really be a performer now!”

I realized I LIKED the act. It was fun. It has an upbeat, silly angle and an unexpected sexy twist at the end. I use tassel pasties — always a crowd pleaser! Moreover, both in the solo and the group number, I felt I held my own with the big gals (not big in terms of size, but “big” as in “way more experienced and awesome than I”). So my hat wasn’t where it was supposed to be. So what? I could retool that part easily for next time.

And I’ve decided, there will be a next time.

(Note: I’ve never seen this music video. I just couldn’t find an audio clip.)

A few days later, my mentor sent me the video link, with a set of instructions. (Proof that she knows me, and my love of lists, all too well.) I tried to do what she said — not concentrate on the ONE thing that didn’t go as planned, but all the other things that did. Realize that hoots and hollers weren’t the point of the dance (or any dance), but they did show I’d created a relationship and rapport with the audience. See what I could do differently the next time if I wanted, but not look at anything as bad or awful — the former would be helpful to me, the latter would not.

Not only did I watch the clip, I made good use of it. I sent it around to out-of-town friends who might not be able to see me perform live. Then, just for funsies, I forwarded it to a few producers around the city, for possible inclusion as a guest in one of their shows. Two of those three responded positively, and one wants me to perform it again.

I’m a perfectionist, in case that wasn’t glaringly obvious by now. Hell, I’m a damn bulldog in lingerie — I’ll persevere and persist until I get results. This has gotten me far in life, but also held me back in art. Because I’ll never be absolutely, positively flawless. And what I love about burlesque is that it’s a process: understanding your flaws, improving consistently, and celebrating your triumphs.

My other best dude friend was unable to make it to the show. He heard about my crying backstage, and was not surprised. Then I showed him the clip. “Yes, just leave your hat where it is next time,” he said. “From now on, I’m going to call this your Frosty the Snowman dance!” I’d never thought of it that way, but he was spot on: white coat, black hat and gloves, clothes “melting” off, whimsy. Just the right thing to say. And proof that in burlesque, it’s all about perspective.

SHAMELESS FUNDRAISING PLUG TIME:

The above-mentioned company is The Kiss Kiss Cabaret, and we are raising money for a brand-spanking-new, gorgeous home where I will hopefully perform many new acts and my hat will stay where it’s supposed to. If you have even $5 to spare, this is a damn good cause – helping women, empowerment, and the arts! For International Women’s Week, Indiegogo will donate $1 for every $25 raised (through Saturday). Please please please consider giving, and share this link with your friends! 

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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.

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