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Anatomy of A Burlesque Act

As I approach my 2-year burlesque anniversary, I have been thinking long and hard about what type of performer I am and my burlesque brand.

My first year of performing was all about conquering my stage fright. I just had to get out there and prove to myself that I could stand alone onstage for 5 minutes or so without running away or laughing awkwardly. That morphed into proving to myself that I could choreograph an act and hit my marks on time, and then it morphed into proving to myself that I could do (gasp!) more than one show a month without freaking out.

I have proven to myself that I am a good performer, and I know I'm comfortable with the audience. In fact, audience interaction is one of my favorite parts of performing now! But sometimes, I have this unease about performing. I have finally figured out why: I still have yet to sit down and really work hard on ONE ACT AT A TIME.

Another local performer told me that he sometimes works on one act for months. He thinks about every little detail, maps out his costuming, hunts for the perfect song, and from what I can gather, he makes his own costumes (hey, Danny Cavalier!). This blew my mind, because I sometimes debut three new acts in one weekend after maybe a full week of practice (if that). Not even kidding!

Since I've been glitter crashing since mid-January and having all kinds of icky sociopolitical feels about burlesque, now seems like the perfect time to slow things down and work on my signature acts: A Side is "Pink Pussycat" (overused I know, but that's my JAM!) and the B Side is "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston. Technically this is two acts, so I plan on working on one act at a time. With Jeezy's Juke Joint in Chicago happening in 3 short weeks, I figured I can walk you all into my act development and refining process for the "I Have Nothing" act, which is what I'll be performing.

I developed this act last year, and am in the process of refining and revamping for the big JJJ festival:

PHASE ONE: I started with the song first. In this case, it's my childhood favorite "I Have Nothing" from Whitney Houston. Even though I knew all the words, I didn't know "the little things" about the beat -- it's hard to translate into words, but basically it's the rhythm that gives the song its heart, in my opinion, so I try to match that rhythm not only with my movements, but with my emotion. If that makes sense. So I listen to the song over and over and over and over, until I can hear it all - lyrics, instruments, ad libs, etc. - in my head no matter what, even if it's not playing. I become one with the song.

PHASE TWO: I visualize a perfect performance to the song. I don't visualize myself or any other performer doing the moves. I literally close my eyes, play the song, and place myself in the audience watching some nameless, perfect performer give me the show of my life. I pay attention to how I want to feel, and how I want the performer to make me feel at different points of the song. I pay attention to my heart -- I know I should feel seduced when my heart starts racing to the music, for instance. I do this over and over and over, almost as many times as I've listened to the song, until I know what a "perfect performance" looks like in my head.

PHASE THREE: I choreograph in my head, careful to do this both sitting down and standing up (weird, I know). This is mainly because of time: I only have time to go into a studio or practice at home maybe once or twice a week, at most. So most of the time, I end up choreographing acts in my head while walking to the train station and riding the rail. I use my phone to take notes of the choreography, often going lyric by lyric and second by second. I start thinking about costuming here too.

PHASE FOUR: After choreographing in my head, I finally practice the routine sans costume. I work out any kinks in the phone choreo notes, and then I transfer it all to an online document that is INCREDIBLY detailed. Seriously... I hyperlink to show examples of moves, I write down how I should be feeling, what faces I should be making, etc. See my Choreo notes below:

PHASE FIVE: I get heavy into costuming! I reach out to designers or start sewing and rhinestoning. Not much to say here, except nose to the rhinestone. I have lots of inspiration for costumes, so I rarely have trouble finding something to wear. I do want to up my costuming game, but at this point I don't even sketch anything out -- I just think about what costume would fit the song (fabrics included) and try to work within my budget. PHASE SIX: At this point, I start going to the studio with the costume to practice. I run the routine over and over, often cursing at myself and yelling (lol). I scream at myself because it is fun. Idk, I'm an Aries. After yelling myself into sexy submission, I start videotaping.

PHASE SEVEN: I usually give it a day before watching the video so I can look at it with fresh eyes. Once I view it, I make changes. And I am BRUTAL with myself, y'all. I look for lines, angles, pointed toes, facials, hairography, bumps and grinds, wow factor, and so much more. If I am not entertaining myself, I probably won't entertain y'all! So I just red-line everything that doesn't give me that "wow" factor.


PHASE TEN: Go back to Phase Three and start all over again. Yay!

Crazy that I was doing all that for multiple acts all at once. This year, I want to follow through with these steps for just the acts I want to take to festivals and see how they transform! I'm kinda tired of doing one-offs.

Until next time,


Bebe Bardot

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