My Life in Burlesque: The Dos and Don’ts of Attending a Show


July 31, 2014

TO: All past, present and future burlesque show audience members

FROM: Your Friendly Neighborhood Glitterbomb

RE: Burlesque shows

Hi there!

First of all, I can speak for my fellow dancers, as well as our producers and our venue staff, when I say: we are glad you are here/have been here/are thinking of visiting! Seriously. Burlesque is like a bear crapping in the woods — if no one sees us, is it really burlesque? Except we smell nicer than bear crap. We photograph better too.

Some of you may be new to the burlesque-viewing world. It is really fun. Like theater, except more naked lady (and sometimes gentleman!). It’s also a bit more interactive. Yes, burlesque shows are often a case of, “Oh no, performers coming into the audience.” You may be approached, spoken to, harassed (depending on the host) or pulled out of the audience. We will do our best to make sure you are comfortable, though.

Another similarity to theater: you are watching live humans. People with flesh (which you will see!) and blood and bones and apartments and relationships and rent/mortgages. (The latter of which our paychecks and your tips help subsidize!)

With all of this in mind, I’m going to give you a quick rundown of burlesque show dos and don’ts, based on my experiences. I have seen ALL of this happen.

It’ll be painless, I swear. With no more mentions of bear crap.

DO clap, cheer and “woot!”

WE LOVE AUDIENCE REACTION. As a host once said, “This is the ONE TIME where it is OKAY to loudly express your appreciation of a woman’s body!” We’re taking our clothes off in a fun way. If you like that, feel free to applaud, whistle and otherwise lose your shit. It’s not only acceptable, it’s appreciated. Nothing worse than a silent group of people staring at you.

DON’T provide your own commentary.

I’m going to show my age here and say, this isn’t Mystery Science Theater 3000. Some shows have dialogue. Others have a host. None of them want to hear your own version of the lines, or your heckling. Or obscenities. Or suggestions of what the performers should do to each other. (About that: some of us are into men. Some are into women. Some may very well be into each other, but if we are, we’re not going to engage in hanky-panky on demand, just because you suggested it.)

DO have a drink or three!

If there’s a bar, by all means patronize it. Some bar shows give performers a cut, and who are we kidding, striptease can go down smoother with a  little lubricant, especially if it’s your first time. (Heh. Lubricant.) Just remember to tip! (Just the Tip! Okay, I’ll stop now.)

DON’T get wasted to the point of obnoxious.

There’s a fine line between happy-drunk and stupid-drunk. Know your limits. You’re a grown-up now, not a frat boy. It’s time.

DO “like” what you see.

Publicity is great, and a big part of what keeps us going. If you liked the show, tell your friends. BRING your friends the next time! Many dancers have their own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds — if you keep up, you can find out where and when they’re performing next. If you’re attending a show of a troupe or company, track them down on social media. Better yet, write a nice Yelp! review. I got mentioned by name on Yelp once (I was a girl’s “favorite”!) and it made my life.

DON’T take your own pictures or videos.

This is serious. Performers have lost their jobs over stuff popping up on Facebook. Yes, there may be pictures on a dancer’s Facebook page, or her personal account, or the company’s page. However, that’s often at the discretion of the company and the dancers. (I have privacy settings on my personal Facebook account and request that any producer/company does not tag me in photos. Also no shots of me in anything less than underwear are allowed on social media.) Let performers make the choice of what’s out there. Don’t make that choice for them.

I cannot stress enough what a violation it is to take your own pictures/video of burlesque dancers without express permission. We have lives outside our art. We may work at a school, or with young children, or in a corporate setting that may not be aware of our nightlife activities. You don’t want to be the asshole who compromises someone’s livelihood. Or custody of their children, for that matter.

DO say hi afterwards, if you wish.

Hi! We like our fans. I’ve been asked where I studied (shameless plug for Studio L’amour, what what!), where I buy my costumes (all over, baby) and what my tattoo means (you have to ask me that in person to get an answer). I’ve also gotten high fives from a group of bachelors. Party on, dudes.

DON’T be creepy about it.

Avoid touching a dancer unless you know her. Or standing too close. And just so you know: I’m sure in the history of burlesque there HAVE been performers who went home with audience members they just met. I’ve never done or witnessed that. What I’m saying is, keep in mind that we’re not the Rolling Stones circa 1970. We’re likely not leaving with you.

DO sit up close! (DON’T be shy.)

One time, my friend Slightly Spitfire was playing Luke Skywalker in The Empire Brings Sexy Back. She entered riding an inflatable Taun-Taun, and galloped over to me so I could pet it. All because I sat in the front row, I PETTED A TAUN TAUN. You too could have this magical experience, or something even sexier. However…

DON’T invade the performers’ space.

True, this can be a little challenging when you’re in a performance space without a designated stage (e.g. some bars). That said, do your best to maintain at least a little distance, unless the dancer bridges the gap herself. Especially at bar shows, it’s fun to interact with the audience on a more personal level, but please give the performer that option rather than forcing it. It’s really for your own safety too, so you don’t get hit in the face with a glove. Gloves can hurt with enough momentum behind them, and I for one have been known to throw/kick/whip my clothes long distances.

If there is a stage, however, do NOT put your feet on it. I’ve seen this done at a Broadway theater, for a non-burlesque play. Rude. Just rude. And unsafe for the performers, who could trip and fall. We’re thinking about keeping our pasties properly glued to our nipples — we don’t need to worry about breaking our noses because your foot is in the way.

DO tip (if the show has a tip get).

Remember what I said about burlesque performers being human beings with rent/mortgages? Yeah. Also we have to eat – the more strength we have, the more we can tease with aplomb. If there IS a tip get (usually a form of pass the hat), and you have the means, please be generous. I’ve done gigs where we were paid in tips. I have another job, but not everyone does. Plus, we need postshow drinks as much as the next person who works weekend nights and deals with drunk people.

DON’T forget that you are at a burlesque show, not a strip club.

You’re not going to put the tip in a dancer’s underthings. Don’t even try. I mean it. DON’T. It’s not going to happen, buddy. And you’re just going to look like a fool, and we will laugh at you backstage.

DO make eye contact with the performers.

We only bite on Tuesdays. (Joke.) It’s cool to look at our faces. We’re proud of our bodies, not embarrassed, and you shouldn’t be either. Nudity is a beautiful thing!

DON’T give us stink-eye.

I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I will scream if I see another audience member glare at me. I’m not talking about the phenomenon of resting bitch-face. I’m talking full-on murderous stare. Please rest assured that I’m not bumping and grinding so I can steal your boyfriend/husband/date. He’s not my type (and by “not my type” I mean, he’s a stranger watching me perform in a show with someone who’s clearly a girlfriend/wife/partner/date at his side).

I really hate to be sexist here — and to be clear, I’ve seen many, many gay and straight couples attend shows and have an amazing time — but I’ve experienced this most often with women. And it disappoints me, because I’m a woman too. I just like dancing around in my underpants, okay? Ain’t no shame in my game.

DO clap, cheer and “woot” to your heart’s content!

This bears repeating. (See also: tipping.)


Yes, I have seen this happen. Last Friday night, there were two couples in the front row who violated many of Ms. Glitterbomb’s no-no rules. They were drunk. They did not stop talking. They had their feet on the stage and kept them there even after I WILDLY gesticulated at them in a mini-interpretive dance entitled, “Get your feet the fuck off the stage.” During the tip get, the Alpha Asshole tried to put a bill in a dancer’s panties. TWICE. But the pièce de résistance of asshattery occurred about three-quarters of the way through the show. A very lovely woman began performing a delightfully raunchy solo. (This was not me. It really was someone else, but she is a burlesque sister and a fellow performer, so I am pissed on her behalf.) Instead of clapping, cheering, woot-ing and generally enjoying her awesomeness, the Alpha Asshole decided it would be funny to start hoochie-koochieing himself, wiggling around in his seat and poorly shaking his shoulders in a clear attempt to make fun of the dancer. His wife loudly admonished him — with a smile on her face. Needless to say, the only reason management wasn’t asked to kick out the whole Party of Dickheads was because the show was nearly over. (This was a call made by the dancer after she got backstage.)

Almost a week later, I still can’t articulate how horrible this is and why do I even have to make this a “don’t.” Don’t be the Alpha Asshole. Or any asshole, for that matter.

DO have fun!

We are burlesque dancers. We are all about the fun. ALL ABOUT IT. I mean, we run around in little to no clothing. We sweat glitter for the fun of it. We dance our asses off, make bad puns and get in your face (if we sense you’re okay with that, of course). As long as you are respectful, we like you! HAVE FUN!

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.

Leave a Reply