Regardless of what you have seen on social media, it’s not all feathers, sparkles and bubbly wine. The reality of being a full-time burlesque performer is a far cry from the scene painted on Dita Von Moneybags’ Instagram page. Here are fifteen very real struggles that only a burlesque performer will understand.
Nicknamed “cabaret herpes” because it has a habit of getting everywhere, this is the big one. Anyone who has come within a five mile radius of a burlesque performer at any point in their lives will be aware of this.
Regretfully, I have now come to accept that it will just be part of me forever. It is on make-up brushes, hair, every bag I own, not to mention somehow appearing on my flatmate’s clothes, my pet’s litter tray, other people’s toilets (we’ve all wiped and encountered it) and on more than one occasion, the boyfriend’s penis.
This is just something you’re going to have to learn to live with if you want the perks of dating someone in cabaret and I have long since resigned myself to the fact I will one day be diagnosed with the infamous “glitter lung“.
Only a small fraction of a burlesquer’s career is actually spent being fabulous on stage. The remainder is spent dragging large luggage around their city of work as we navigate tube escalators, stairs and swarms of tourists.
Transporting all the paraphernalia necessary for each gig is not for the faint-hearted. Unfortunately, often this means that “suitcase handle hands” and bruised shins and hips become permanent physical features, as do the annoying questions we face en route to and from venues. Soon enough, being asked “are you moving house?” and “been anywhere nice?” makes one want to cover people’s mouths shut with one’s double-sided tit tape.
Every Day Nakedness Becomes Way Too Commonplace.
It gets to a point where being naked is so routine that you think nothing about whipping off your bra with the curtain still open in Topshop or parading around your flat in all your glory. Please note: this may not be the norm for everyone so apologies to any shoppers or neighbours reading this.
Being Asked “What Does Your Boyfriend Think?”
I don’t know. How about what he’s going to have for dinner? Or what the latest football score is? The last time I checked my body was my own and I’m pretty sure every performer’s boyfriend I know thinks it’s bloody awesome.
This may just be me, but I’m fairly certain I’ve never left a gig with the underwear I arrived with. I now have an abundance of sparkly, glittery and crystal-adorned thongs but that comfortable little VS number? It might as well be in Narnia for all I know. The dressing room underwear monster is real, people.
Being Asked “Are They Real?”
A question I am fairly certain is widely considered overly intrusive in ordinary social surroundings but, in a burlesque setting, somehow seems to turn perfectly lovely strangers into mad, boob-groping deviants. (Yes they are, no you may not touch.)
I’m pretty sure breast-feeding will be a breeze after what my poor, war-torn nipples have endured. All the Bepanthem in the world won’t soothe the red-raw pain from the last week before Christmas.
Being Asked “How Do The Pasties Stay On?!”
This is usually accompanied by an completely unexpected and totally unwanted boob grope. Just to be clear: nobody wants an unexpected public boob grope.
This is similar to “glitter lung” but way more vomit-inducing. The hairspray lung comes from continuously having hairspray squirted inches from your face in dressing rooms about the size of a broom cupboard. In fact, in one venue I perform at, it actually is a broom cupboard.
Much like Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, beautifully fading due to consumption, I am sure that one day I will fall victim to this terrible silent killer. Although, rather than falling angelically from an aerial hoop, I imagine my demise will be much more of a sudden face-plant in the red room of Cafe de Paris. Then again, I could think of worse ways to go…
Being Asked “Where Did You Get Your Lipstick From?!”
I have genuinely considered getting “It’s just red glitter!” printed on t-shirts and distributing them amongst the cabaret community. It would save us all a lot of time. Unfortunately, printed t-shirts are way too fugly to be worn by any of my fellow divas.
Undressing At Home Loses Its Novelty
Similarly, you almost feel a bit deflated when you undress at the end of the day and there are no whoops, cheers or applauds. Geez, wasn’t my unmatched, slightly faded La Senza set good enough?
This feels made many times worse when undressing in front of a partner and watching their look of disappointment as you rather ungracefully remove your skinny jeans.
Unfortunately Timed Toilet Breaks
You felt absolutely fine just five minutes ago and absolutely fine when you were sticking on your merkin with careful precision, but now that it is on? Well, now you have never needed to pee more in your entire life. Peeling it off isn’t an option, it’s bad enough doing that once, so you’ll just hop around a bit and hope your cross-legged choreography comes across more like a sexy strut and less like sheer desperation.
It’s a wonderful season which most people enjoy spending basking in the sun. For burlesquers? It’s the season where you will melt with sweat backstage, your eyelash will fall off due to perspiration and it’s not a matter of if the pasties will fall off but when. In my case, I just tilt my body back and try and balance it there until the end.
Whatever costume malfunctions you suffered in the stifling sweat box of a month that was August are now long forgotten. Whilst standing in a changing room that is approximately minus 16 degrees dressed in nothing but a Swarovski-encrusted thong, you would trade a thousand nip-slips to feel your toes, or indeed, nipples again.
I have on more than one occasion walked through the Stables market in Camden in 4 inch snow with nothing but a feather fan to cover my modesty. Do not tell us we don’t suffer for our art!
Being Asked “Can You Just Do Exactly What You Do But Not Take Any Of Your Clothes Off?”
As said by every events organiser in the world at some point. Well, no I can’t. The whole point of this act is a striptease. It is a beautiful, sexy, often funny, always glamorous art form and hours and hours of careful planning, searching for just the right music, searching again because someone already uses that track, blood stains from needle pricks suffered from costume-making, hard-earned money and love have gone into it. So, no, I can’t “just” not do anything. If a semi-naked woman offends, I advise you to reassess your life choices because, quite frankly, my boobs rock.
No matter how niche and ridiculous the problem being a burlesque performer is still, arguably, the greatest job ever. When I think of every time that somebody tells you you’ve helped them overcome their body confidence issues, every single time that you hear that applause and watch the smiles on the audience faces, every time that you watch with pride as one of your best mates, who you’re lucky enough to share the bill with, storms that stage with a new act, well, there’s not a tit-taped related injury in the world that would make me trade all that in.
So next time you see a woman struggling with her case, hair probably in a head scarf, red lipstick firmly in place with probably the faint sparkle of glitter somewhere on her being, give her a hand and maybe buy her a gin.
Image: Kitty Devine