My Life in Burlesque: The Art of the Quick Change

Quick changes: as burlesque performers, we all have them. At some point, during some show, you’re going to have to scramble out of tight elaborately-constructed garments and sparkly underthings, into other tight elaborately-constructed garments and sparkly underthings. While sweating. The trick is not avoiding the quick changes (because that’s impossible), but how you deal with them.

Quick changes are part of the reason that I haven’t posted in a while. As with every quick change, I was making sure I had my ducks in a row (as much as I could) before immediately leaping back on stage, and relying on the support of friends along the way.

First quick change: I left one of the companies I was dancing with. I’d been ready to go for a while but willing to stick it out until the end of the year. It didn’t happen that way. I had a louder, more public exit than I would have liked, though like most quick changes, this type of exit may have been inevitable. While I don’t love how things ultimately went down, I don’t regret leaving. I’d learned a ton, benefited greatly from the women around me, and made wonderful personal and professional connections. Ultimately, however, it was time.

Second quick change: Instead of working less (as I’d feared), I started working more. Not five days after I resigned from the company, I had two auditions in as many days. (Granted, I’d planned both of these auditions before I resigned, but still, it was a definite shift in energy.) The first I didn’t feel great about (popped garter, foam-y floor not conducive to high heels, chair I wasn’t used to), and while I felt better about the second audition, you never know. I booked both. Was I in the right place at the right time? Was I more driven now that I didn’t have the pillow of semi-regular shows with one company: a case of “leap and the net will appear”? I like to think a bit of both. I’ve also now danced twice with a monthly show in my neighborhood (I can walk home, score!) and stage-kittened a nerdlesque show in the suburbs. And…

Third quick change (and this one was REAL quick): one Tuesday morning, I get to my day job and open my personal email. A fellow dancer had established her own troupe several months earlier, and I’d sent a video of my They Might Be Giants act for possible inclusion in a show. In fact, I’d forgotten I sent that video, but apparently she hadn’t. Someone in the troupe had canceled last minute, and their show was in two days: was I interested in performing? No pressure, but she needed to know as soon as possible in case she needed to find another replacement. I said sure: how about my latest act, here’s the music and concept? Someone’s already doing that song. Hm, okay, how about my first-ever solo? It’s theme-appropriate. I’d gotten as far as submitting my music and tech notes when I heard that it, too, was very similar to another act. We ended up agreeing on the act I’d initially submitted (funny how I once swore I’d never perform that act again and it’s become the one I’ve performed the most). (I also got brownie points for being flexible.) Bottom line, the gig was excellent. People responded well, I was paid before the show rather than after (a burlesque rarity!), and the women in the show who weren’t already friends were very welcoming and supportive. As the stage was tiny and multi-layered, I basically had to adapt the act on the fly, but hey, that’s always a good exercise.

(Weirdly enough, I ended up doing the same act, for a show completely unrelated to that troupe but also fairly last-minute, at that exact same venue exactly two weeks later. Quick change 3a!)

Some things have remained constant. I’m still with the nerdlesque troupe I love. I still overbook myself too damn much (as I learned the hard way when I unsuccessfully tried to do two shows in far-apart neighborhoods, in the same three-hour timespan). I don’t think I’ll ever be at the top of the burlesque game and I’ve made peace with that, though I strive to make every performance my absolute best. I’ve retained some amazing relationships and forged new ones.

Like life, burlesque is ever-evolving. Nothing’s constant. For every quick change you experience, five more will pop up in its place. Sometimes (as I did two weeks ago during my first show in a new role) you’ll rush onstage with your bra on full display and your wraparound shirt untied. It’s cool to cry, to receive an offered hug. That’s part of dealing. And when you wipe your tears, you jump into your next costume, throw aside the curtain and keep dancing.

If you’re in the Chicago area and would like to see me perform, I’d love to see YOU! For times, venues and discount codes, email

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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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