The other night, I went to see a burlesque show. It was being hosted by a dear friend of mine and it’s always fun, when I have the time, to go out and actually watch a show. To be on the other side of the footlights is always a great experience. However, this time it was a different matter.
I have the chance, being a compere, to see burlesque and variety of all abilities and styles. I host a quite a few ‘beginner’ and ‘newbie’ shows and I’m always keen to spot new talent and see the standard of burlesque being taught around the UK. I also give masterclasses on stage craft and styling for cabaret and burlesque. Teaching is a bit of a hot topic at the moment as there is no ‘gold standard teaching diploma’, so almost anyone can set themselves up as a teacher, you just need a website and a studio. Consequently, teaching styles and standards differ hugely from town to town, company to company. I’m not sure how the burlesque community can tackle this but it is something that should be addressed.
I should say at this point that I am not ‘newbie-bashing’, I think that through good teaching and support, those baby burlesquers can become the burlesque stars of tomorrow.
So, when my friend told me he was coming to host this show, I jumped at the chance to see him. I did a quick Google and came up with very little. The website was vague with lots of sweeping statements about ‘releasing your inner goddess’ and how to ‘keep her on the outside’. It was littered with grammatical and spelling mistakes and at no point was the teacher’s name or qualification given.
Intrigued, we went along to the show, which was in a pretty awful function room (free for funeral wakes apparently, good to know). The stage was laid out badly with dreadful lighting. However, I think that if a show is fun enough it could happen anywhere. The show began with the troupe of newbies shaking their thing, again, I’m not ‘newbie-bashing’. More power to them for getting up there, everyone has to start somewhere. Their acts were basic and competent although there were glaring staging errors which suggested the inadequacies of the teaching.
Then, the teacher came on and performed her routine and this is where I got really cross. I think if you are teaching beginners, you probably shouldn’t perform in the show. Either you are going to show them up, which is just unkind or you are going to show yourself up which is just unfortunate. This time it was the latter and an outsider would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between student and teacher.
My husband and I came away bemused and a bit cross. Once I got home and talked to my friend, Google and some burlesquer friends, it became apparent that the teacher made her burlesque debut in April. April 2013. Now she is teaching. She also offers one-on-one act development, hen parties and masterclasses should you be so inclined.
As a performer and as a mother, I don’t begrudge anyone for needing to make the dollar dollar bills, yo. However, if you are lacklustre performer missing the basics in stagecraft, presentation and tease, please, please, please don’t teach.
Hone your craft, take more classes, do more shows. Once you have made your way, gained a magnum-ful of experience and made a name for yourself, then you are in a position to teach.
There are other schools who bring in experts to teach facets of the course, if you must teach as a newbie, why not do this? Don’t shortchange your students by giving them the benefit of your questionable skills. It isn’t fair to them, it isn’t fair to you and it certainly isn’t fair to audiences. If you are reading this and you want to learn burlesque, do, it’s huge fun but do your research. Find out who the teacher is, what they have done, who they learned with and how long they have been in the industry. Don’t settle for a newbie in an Ann Summer’s basque. Your ‘inner goddess’ deserves so much more.