My Life in Burlesque: The Care and Feeding of a Stage Kitten

Gather ’round, while I explain the art of being a stage kitten.

Basically, I pick up panties.

And garters, and corsets, and various gloves, canes, whips, barrettes. But mostly panties.

Not every burlesque dancer starts out as a stage kitten. And some shows (like in the nerdlesque troupe with whom I frequently appear) don’t have stage kittens at all, instead working clothing clearance into the story. (For example, in Temple of Boobs: An Indiana Jones Burlesque, I pick up discarded clothing in a sex-induced haze after another woman slaps her tits together and yells at me.) (You can’t make this shit up.)

However, many troupes have a hierarchy. A new dancer is ideally given opportunities to strut her stuff, but is also expected to put in the time as a stage kitten. In the cabaret troupe of which I am part, this role is called “Cigarette Girl.” And while picking up panties, I get to wear this little number.

A picture of a Glitterbomb Cigarette Girl.
It’s surprisingly comfortable! Photo by Greg Inda.

Think stage kittening is easy? NO. Oh hell no.

How do you pick clothing up off your messy apartment floor, when you are only home to sleep? (Wait, you have spare time? What’s that?) Bending over with an “oof”? I did that once, rehearsing for my very first number when I’d been taking classes for a few months. My teacher, Michelle L’amour of “Butthoven” fame, shook her head at me. “Don’t ever do that again,” she warned. I didn’t.

Three years and a million scanties later, I opt for the “dip” (a graceful squat-type deal made famous by Playboy Bunnies of old) or a variation, where I roll back up facing away from the audience (the better for you to see my glorious butt, my dear).

There’s also the delicate balance of interaction and blending. As a stage kitten, you’re on (and off) a lot. (That’s another balance: shoes that are comfortable, yet sexy. I like my strappy dance shoes best. Drink your water and eat your Wheaties, ’cause you’re gonna move.) You’re a part of everything, yet you’re not the main focus. You can wink and smile and sometimes grab the host’s butt (as I did my first time out), but as Michelle told me once, “Don’t do the splits onstage, okay? I’ve seen girls do that before.” In other words, know your place. You’re essential to the whole operation, but you are not the star. And that’s okay.

A huge part of stage kittening? Communication. Depending on the show and venue, you might not get much rehearsal time. The great thing about being in a group is that I have a relationship with the dancers I’m supporting. I can ask them how to make things easier, where they want the table or giant prop, if there’s anything I should expect. Or they approach me first. “I’m sorry, I know I’m neurotic,” one soloist told me a few weeks ago. “Please,” I replied. “I’d rather you tell me everything than not tell me anything!”

There are missteps. There will always be mistakes: quick changes that take too long, a misplaced cane, a glove that’s disappeared into audience oblivion. (Oh, and audience? Don’t steal stuff!) But what I’ve always loved about live theater is the rush. Once the show’s started, it’s go time — no more room to over-think, to worry. And when it’s over, it’s done. Unless you’re in the closing number, and then before it’s over, you have to rush into your shimmy dress and silver heels and shake your thing with the soloists. It’s like a pre-reward before the after party!

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

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

November 22: The Kiss Kiss Cabaret (holiday solo debut!)

December 6: The Kiss Kiss Cabaret (holiday solo reprise!)

December 13: Temple of Boobs, Gorilla Tango Burlesque (Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee)

December 19: Gorilla Tango Burlesque Holiday Cabaret (holiday solo, once again!)

December 20: Temple of Boobs, Gorilla Tango Burlesque

And opening January 19: You Have Died of Sexy: An Oregon Tail Burlesque at Gorilla Tango Theatre

By 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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