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You Gotta Have a Gimmick

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

Some of us have heard this song:

She can uh, she can uh She can uh, uh, uh They’ll never make her rich. Me - I uh, and I uh And I uh, uh, uh But I do it with a switch!

I’m electrifying And I ain’t even trying I never had to sweat to get paid. ‘Cause if you got a gimmick Gypsy girl, you’ve got it made!* 

True words, in my opinion. Burlesque is a saturated market, and there’s never been a shortage of creative people who want to dance for money. I myself will twirl on skates, as evidenced in my post below. I’m always trying to think of new gimmicks!

As a performer, I respect all my stripper colleagues and admire all the hard work that goes into every detail of every act! But I remember my years of just watching as a fan. Back in those days, my favorite performers were the ones who *entertained* me - the ones who used their stage time to show me something different, fun, unique, fresh, or thought-provoking. I loved the performers who actually communicated with me from the stage, in their own way.

Now that I’ve gotten (almost) 2 years of performing under my belt, I understand that the ability to entertain is not in everyone. And that’s okay -  we are all different! But I think with careful thought, we can all push ourselves to think outside the box about what we’re trying to communicate with our acts. And gimmicks can help us do that. The word “gimmick” has a bit of a negative connotation, but I argue that gimmicks are a great thing in burlesque! To me, a gimmick isn’t always a skill that took years to perfect; however, a carefully practiced skill can still be a gimmick. We may get tired of the “same old gimmicks” as performers, but these are brand new experiences to our audience members.

So, in my opinion, there are good gimmicks and bad gimmicks. The difference is not in what the gimmick is, but how it’s done. Bad gimmicks don’t come from a real place in the performer’s heart - they are performed indifferently or carelessly, and the act is usually not memorable.

And then there are good gimmicks. When done right, they bring an element of surprise and awe to the audience! To me, a good gimmick rests in the performer’s happiness doing the gimmick, and their skill level and passion in executing the gimmick. When someone cares about something, works hard at it, and is thoughtful about what they put onstage, it shows!! So all gimmicks can be good gimmicks, in my opinion - as long as it done thoughtfully and with the audience’s reaction in mind.

I don’t think any one performer has a monopoly on any one gimmick, but it’s always nice to let someone know if you’re doing the same type of act they do, especially if you’re in the same area!! No one likes a copycat or a thief. 

With that being said, here are just four types of burlesque “gimmicks”, with examples of some of my favorite modern acts displaying it. It would be cool to trace the origins of these! 

Balloons: My fave example is Julie Atlas Muz - who actually just used one big ass balloon.

Rollerskates: My fave example (besides myself bc duh) is Heidi Hollywood!

Animal/Creature Play: I have way too many faves. Perle Noire as a sexy mf cat, Femme LeFreak as a werewolf, and Raquel Reed as a Vegas gorilla showgirl. Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish, and Lou Lou la Duchess de Riere with spider tributes.

Cowgirls/Cowboys: My fave examples are Calamity Chang’s Latex Cowgirl, Sweetpea, Lou Lou D’Vil, and Sydni Deveraux! This is another fave gimmick of mine because I’m from Texas! YEEHAW.

There are so many other popular gimmicks out there that take a range of skill level - martini glasses, bathtubs, aerial rings, hooping, fire, nuns and priests, dolls, evil queens and Disney princesses, nerds, secretaries, fetish play, cosplay, etc. etc. So much diversity in how people perceive strippers! Haha :-p. I may be in the minority here, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing gimmicks onstage! I guess even though I’m a performer, I’m still a big fan as well.

*Lyrics from burlesque hymn “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from the movie Gypsy.

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