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A First-Timer's Tips on Burlesque Competitions + Festivals

Last year, at the urging of local D.C. fave Ginger Jameson, I signed up for my first burlesque competition. In addition to producing for the DC Gurly Show, Ginger helps plan events for Burlypicks, an annual burlesque competition that holds regional contests all over the world. 

I had no plans on actually entering Burlypicks. When Ginger began recruiting local performers to apply and asked me to join the fun, I didn’t take it seriously. With less than a year under my belt at the time, I scoffed at the idea that I should be competing for anything on a burlesque stage! I could barely keep my gotdamn pasties on or remove my dress without tripping over my feet.  However, when she reminded me again, I decided to enter mainly to support her as a producer. I had no clue Burlypicks would spark a love for burlesque competitions.

Full disclaimer: I’m an Aries. Aries are known for loving competitions, and to be quite honest, I fit this stereotype. I like to go to sports games so I can shout at the top of my lungs. I’ve been a cheerleader since I could walk (seriously). I started competing in pageants as a child (I think my first one was when I was 10?), and let me tell you – there ain’t nothin’ more competitive than a bunch of teenage girls going at it in a Texas pageant in the 90s. Lord have mercy!

So even though I just *knew* I wouldn’t place or win anything at all in my first burlesque contest, I instinctively went into competition mode.

“I don’t care about this at all,” I would whisper to myself during those pre-Burlypicks late nights, rhinestoning for hours until my fingers went numb.

“This is just some dumb stripping contest. No big deal,” I chuckled as I hunched over my hand-made gown, sewing on the 250th tiny strip of baby pink tulle.

I assured myself I didn’t care at all, even as sweat dripped down my body in rivets after I practiced my routine for the 10th, 20th, ??th time in a row.

So yeah… as you can see, no matter what I “tell” myself, I am and always have been in love with the fire of competing. And honestly, it’s *really* not about winning. Yeah yeah yeah, if I didn’t place I would be a bit sad. Who wouldn’t?! We all put in a ton of hard work and practice! But I’ve lost so many competitions in my life that I have learned a huge lesson over the years:

The beauty and the art is in the process of preparation.

This really goes for anything, not just burlesque. In my opinion, it’s everything that happens BEFORE the competition that shapes us into who we are. The practices, the rituals, the praying, the hard work… all of that makes us better performers, in my opinion. And it shows in how we execute… we can want something so, so, SO bad, but if just “want it real bad” and don’t put in any hard work or grit, that shit is gonna look lame onstage! So regardless of how much fun winning can be, it’s everything that happens beforehand that shapes who we really are as performers and people. Judges will pick who they want, but that real “winning” feeling never happens for me unless I actually work my ass off for a long time beforehand.

And in this case, it actually did pay off. I won my first burlesque competition (and felt all the residual anxiety afterwards), and got to move on to the world championships. 

I had months to prepare, and that was where the fun started again! Seriously – the prep is my favorite part. I learned a few more key personal lessons after actually traveling away from home to compete though - namely:

1. Buy a steamer! Being wrinkled made me feel sad. :-(

2. Try not to test out a new costume on a competition stage. Shoulda went without saying, but I made this rookie mistake trying to be extra cute with last minute costume additions and it felt awkward! I needed more stage time in the costume before the actual competition.

3. ALWAYS do tech rehearsal. I lost both shoes during the competition bc the stage was made of gd rubber. Lol!

Not sure if I will ever get the honor of competing again, but I know that I will always apply! Some believe competitions have no place in burlesque, but for some of us it helps push us to be better. I totally get not agreeing with them though - I mean, after all, who is some judge to tell us whether our art is worthy or comparable or whatever?!

That’s why, for me, the focus is always internal and never external. It’s never about external validation, but always about challenging myself and pushing myself to go places and accomplish things I didn’t even think I could do.

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