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Custom Costuming Advice w/ Vagina Woolf

What is the first thing you notice about a burlesque performer when they appear on stage? Their costume! The glitz, the shine, the beautiful accents, the mood it evokes or the humor it presents. A well-crafted costume can take a burlesque performance from at-home bedroom dancing to a stage-worthy performance. Burlesque is an escape from reality and it is the performer’s job to transfer the audience from real life to a beautiful and lustrous world beyond.
For me, creating costumes was one of the biggest draws to burlesque. With a background in fashion design and fine art, creating something tangible, designed to move with the performer, was very appealing. I found myself creating costumes in my head before I ever had the desire to dance on stage. Although I prefer to create my own costuming, many performers do at times order custom pieces from industry sources or work alongside a local seamstress on a shared project. So, let me share a few secrets with you on how I begin the costuming process. Every person is different in their techniques, but mine draws from pure inspiration and gut intuition.
 
1. Set your tone, know your mood, create a color scheme. These three items are completely cohesive. The colors of your costume will tell the audience how you are feeling and how you expect them to feel. Dark colors such as eggplant, black, and deep blues will create a moody feel– whether it be sad, mysterious or a little sinister. Pastels seem playful and flirty, youthful and fresh. For more vibrancy and energy, choose bright colors like yellow, lime green or hot pink. Set the tone with your colors and make sure it matches your dancing and music. If I am creating a costume before I have a song picked out, I am often inspired by one particular item such as the fabric of a robe I already own, a beaded fringe I fell in love with or even the colors on a piece of china in my home.
 
2. Choose a silhouette. Once you know your mood, you want a costume silhouette that will match. Some examples of silhouettes could be a classic hourglass shape, a softer floating silhouette, or perhaps a more natural silhouette showing a lot of skin. This will help you decide what types of pieces you want. Here are a few examples: an hourglass shape may include a form fitting gown, a corset and lifted bra. A softer floating silhouette could be a sheer babydoll robe or or softer fitting lingerie. A natural silhouette may be a mesh bra, panel skirt or harness. Of course these pieces could mix and match, but you want to consider the initial shape you are presenting on stage.
 
3. Choose your embellishments. Is your character high glamour? Simple? Over-the-top? Do you need movement in your costume? Will any of your dancing be restricted by certain embellishment layers or additions? These are all things to consider when you order the abundance of shiny items you will need to take your costume from basic bra and panty to performance level.
Here are some things to remember when choosing embellishments:
a. Fringe can add movement and interest which is great for fast shaking or twirling. Beaded fringe has even more show however it is not great if you plan to be sliding across the floor a lot or if it could get caught on something like fishnets.
b. I love a fully embellished bra however using only rhinestones is expensive. Consider creative options to fill space. I love to use a variety of appliques, with sequins, beading and rhinestones. Also, different sized stones fill more space and add textural interest. Covering a bra with shiny or sparkly fabric can also fill gaps.
c. Embellishment will make items heavier! I have definitely over-embellished a panty before and had a hard time keeping it on. Especially if the piece is small or made of a thinner fabric, be careful not to get crazy with the sparkles.
d. Create a unifying pattern. To bring all of your various pieces together, you want to have one set design that unifies everything. This design can be literal or just decorative. I have created designs to look intentionally like fish scales or stars, but sometimes I just want a gorgeous and interesting layout. Take inspiration from fabrics, textures, geometry, things in nature! Anything can be transferred into a pattern. Look around you and take pictures of patterns that you like and stow them away for future use.
e. And finally, create costumes that can mix and match and transfer to other routines. I spend a lot of time on my costumes and I want to make the most of them. I always make sure that at least my base layer (bra and panty) is something classic that I could mix with other top pieces in the future. This will ensure that you get to reuse pieces in the future and provide options when you need a last minute costume. It also make it feel like your costume wardrobe is much larger than it truly is. Sometimes a costume just won’t ever match anything else, but if 70% of your items mix and match, then your options double.
 
Always be creative and feel truly inspired. I pay attention to small details and try to imagine how every piece will look from offstage. Every new costume is my new favorite and I try to make each more beautiful than the last.

Burlesque Audience Etiquette

Hi there, friends and fans! I’m Phyllis Thriller, the resident emcee for the Rocket Doll Revue. Over the past several years, I have been part of many fantastic shows with my troupe, and I’ve noticed that one factor can make or break the night for me: the audience! Our fans are amazing and we love having you at our shows, so we want you to have an amazing experience every time you attend a Rocket Doll production. With that in mind, here are my helpful hints to be the best possible burlesque audience member! Feel free to share them with your friends, and I look forward to seeing your stellar skills in action at the next Rocket Doll production!
1. Listen to the Emcee
The Emcee is the thread that holds the entire show together. She is there to guide you, maintain continuity, and keep everything running smoothly. As such, please listen to her. I love having an active, engaged audience; my stand-up comedy background means that your laughter will always be my favorite sound. When I say that we want to hear your cheers and encouragement from the stage, I truly mean it. Don’t be shy with your enthusiasm! However, nothing aggravates me more onstage than having to shout over table-talk; when I enter the stage, my brain is stuffed with the next performer’s name, act, and tagline, along with any other incidental information that I need to share. A chatty audience member (especially one who is sitting close enough to the stage for me to hear them) is a major distraction, not only for the performer, but also for the audience members around you.
2. Heed the Rules
Every piece of incidental information that we share with you from the stage is important to the troupe. If the Emcee asks you not to take photos or videos of the performers, please listen to her. It is quite disheartening to find a video of yourself on YouTube to which you did not consent. There is definitely an appropriate outlet for this, though: say hello after the show and take photos with us then! Your applause during the show is the best sound in the world, but we have forged lasting friendships with audience members who introduced themselves and told us in person that they enjoyed the show. Also, if a performer or employee of the venue asks you to reel in your friend who has had one drink too many, please do so. Trust me, we do not gain pleasure from calling people out; we would much rather continue the show with the positive energy that we are getting from the rest of the audience.
3. Appreciate Each Act
Burlesque is interactive, and the performers onstage want to know that the audience is having a great time. I love entering the dressing room after an intro on a particularly good night and hearing the Dolls whisper “This is such a great crowd!” based on the reactions to the opening number. Do not be shy with your enthusiasm; if we wanted a silent audience, we’d all be at home stripping for our cats! This is particularly true for new performers and guest acts. That being said, some ways of showing appreciation are more appropriate than others. Applause, whistling, and joyous laughter make my heart sing; hearing a drunk audience member aggressively shout “show me your tits” at my friends does not sit well with me. As a good rule of thumb, consider this: Is my action enhancing the performance experience or becoming a distraction for my fellow audience members? If it’s the latter, tone it down.
4. Support the Venue
The Rocket Dolls are so fortunate to have the White Rabbit Cabaret as our home venue. We love everything about this space, from the stage to the dressing room to the amazing people who work there. If you enjoyed our burlesque show, we suggest checking out the venue’s calendar; you might find another fun opportunity for a night out before our next show! While you are there, support the bar staff; they work hard, especially when we have a packed house, and they deserve to be compensated accordingly.
5. Support the Performers
The Rocket Doll Revue is a self-sustaining entity. Yes, we do receive some compensation for our performances, but the majority of those funds will go straight into our next show. Tipping is always appreciated; even if we are not doing a formal tip collection, we will always accept cash at the merch booth. Additionally, buying our merch supports us in multiple ways: it sends additional funds our way and provides publicity for us when you wear/use items with our logo. However, spending money is not the only way to help support your favorite troupe: you can simply talk us up! The best publicity for any performing arts organization is positive word of mouth. The Rocket Dolls’ website and social media only reaches so far, and we always love meeting new fans who came to our show because a friend told them about it.
6. Remember That You Are A Star, Too!
As Lula Lawless said it best, “I could not make them look at it if they weren’t there!” Simply put, without our audiences, we would have no shows. Over the past five years, the Rocket Doll Revue has grown and developed so much, and it is largely due to the amazing dedication that we have seen from you. You push is to do a little more at every show that we produce as we set our standards higher and higher. A lot of people have hobbies that they are passionate about; we are beyond lucky to have one that has resulted in our developing a fan base. We want you to share in our joy during shows and leave feeling confident and inspired. The greatest complement that I have ever received after a show was from an audience member who told me that she felt empowered as a woman after watching our performance. Moments like that make the long rehearsals, the sore feet, and the late nights of costuming completely worth it. We love you, wholeheartedly, and we are so grateful for your support.

One Stripper’s Life Lesson

by Gurl Haggard

I became a stripper late in life, according to club standards. I was about to turn 30 and had been doing burlesque fairly regularly for a couple years when I decided it was finally time to strap on a pair of clear heels and do some lap dances. I did my research, bought a few skimpy outfits and nervously drove to the carefully chosen club, where I thought I would be the best fit, during audition hours.

                The process was fairly simple. I filled out an application, picked a stage name, and showed all my id’s to prove I was over 18. After all the paperwork,  I was told to go change into my outfit and take the stage, but when I emerged from the dressing room I was met with a confused scowl from the door manager and quickly shuffled into the club manager’s office.

                He looked me up and down and sighed.

                “I am sure you are a nice girl with a good head on her shoulders…”

                (I like to think so and yes.)

                “But you are too heavily tattooed to work here. The owner likes to keep the girls more ‘traditional’ looking. He would be concerned you would draw in a biker crowd.”

                (I was only about half as tattooed as I am currently and hilariously enough, I am now a biker crowd favorite – he was on to something.)

                I thanked the manager and asked what club would be a good match for me. He gave me his recommendation and when I arrived there that evening I was hired on the spot and have become a successful stripper who loves her job. The job provides me with enough money to live more than comfortably, gives me valuable stage time, and has taught me a metric shit ton of life lessons – the most important being “it’s not about you.”

                “It’s not about me” – I am met with rejection every day in the club, including my first failed audition. A general appearance rule was not a personal attack against me, it was simply a club’s preference to curate an environment filled with non-tattooed dancers.  The rejection just meant I would not be a good fit to the overall aesthetic.  Same goes for every shift I work – I am not a performer for everyone, but that never means I am not good enough. It just means I am not what they are looking for at the moment.

                This (hard) reality has actually become something that has freed me to be more myself in my burlesque performances. “It’s not about me” has allowed me to let go of comparing myself to other performers and to instead LEARN from them and give myself some artistic breathing room. If I do not get accepted into a show or festival or for a private gig it does not indicate I am somehow less than – I am continually trying to improve, but maybe I am not yet performing at the skill level the producer is looking for, and that is their right as a producer. And just for sake of clarity I am only referring to professional rejection. Body shaming/discrimination/racism is never anyone’s right and should never be tolerated. But, honestly, every event is not looking for a heavily tattooed, bald showgirl who dances to “Stranglehold.” So work harder and keep trying. It is not about you, people are creating a vision and you may not be a good representation of that vision. But, you may be something they are looking for in the future. Or maybe you won’t be.  It is not about you.

                In a more abstract way “it’s not about me” has made me a better burlesque performer in helping me direct my intention.  An audience does not pay good money to see a performer work through their personal problems or put some self-congratulatory, circle jerk on stage. They come to get transported away from their day jobs, early mornings, and business casual attire. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from the show “Carnivale.” A fortune teller is explaining the mystique of the circus to a new recruit – “You know, the people in these towns, they’re asleep. All day, at work, at home. They’re sleepwalkers. We wake them up.” Audiences deserve a magical experience. They deserve to see a fantasy not a therapy session or a half assed pageant. They deserve to “wake up” in a beautiful dream. It is not about you. It is about them and how much you respect their attention and time, while creating a lovely spectacle for them.  When you are in front of them, your bad day/broken nail/4 hours of sleep do not matter. It is not about you. It is about the experience you create in their honor that is bigger than you.

                All this said, I never want a performer to misinterpret this lesson on self as a mantra of unimportance. All my hours in a loud, musty club have taught me quite the opposite. What any performer does is important. But in these dark cabarets and VIP rooms people are not seeking me out for my sense of self, accomplishments, or titles – it is not about me. They come to me because of how I make them feel. Or sometimes reject me for the same reason. People want to share an atmosphere or an emotion and sometimes I am not what they need. Producers want an artist to help create a feeling or experience and sometimes I am the conduit they need. But knowing that my success or confidence does not lie just in their opinions is the true essence of “it’s not about me.” Knowing that I can work hard and honor my art and audience the best way I know how and have the freedom to realize I cannot control other people’s opinions of me is the most honest lesson I relearn through daily rejections. Because it is not about me.

Doll Parts: Performance Rituals

With all types of performance, there is a certain amount of preparation to do before you go out on stage. Everyone has a routine or a ritual they go through before they walk out on stage, here are a few of ours.

Desiree De Carlo: I always twerk, bounce, & writhe in front of the mirror, often lip synching, to the songs leading up to mine. Gets me super amped. I also have to stand around naked for at least 10 minutes before costuming. Air bath!

Phyllis Thriller: I wear my grandma’s rhinestone jewelry in every show. She was also a performer in her youth, so I feel like I am bonding with her when I am onstage with her accessories.

Frenchy LaRouge: I have to show up super early or I feel off all night. I just like to get everything set up and have a moment to stretch or chat with the owners/bar staff. If I’m singing I go over the lyrics in my head several times in the back outside of the dressing room, by myself.

Lula Lawless: Before every show (that I’m able to) my beauty routine is as follows: candle lit bath with atomic lounge music. Then I curl and pin my hair and perform my makeup ritual to either doom metal or booty bounce music (usually depends on what character I need to become for my routine). Bad bitch night? or Eat you alive cunt? I also try to stretch and have 1-2 cocktails to loosen up.

Trini Bikinii: I just need a congratulations on how big my hair is from my man.

Gurl Haggard:  I always sneak to the back and set my intention for my performance before I walk out. I say how I want the audience to feel out loud either in gibberish adjectives or an actual sentence.

Patsy Blue Ribbon: I always make sure we coochie crunch. It’s an all-hands-in tradition that I did pre-show in New Orleans and happens all around the country. It’s the official pep talk of the show and sets the tone for everyone to go out there and kill it on stage and give their all.

Vagina Woolf: I like to take a long shower with candles lit and lounge music playing. I spend at least an hour preshow stretching and meditating. I always put a drop of lavender oil on my wrist and take yogic breaths before going on stage. I really like when another doll touches my tummy before going on stage to ground me.

Doll Parts: Who Inspires You?

In burlesque you can draw inspiration from just about anywhere! In this edition of Doll Parts, we list pop culture people and characters that have influenced our personas and performances over the years.

Lula Lawless: Roseanne, Lucille Ball, the other Rocket Dolls.

Kelzey QuickLee: Iggy Pop, Buster Keaton, John Waters.

Phyllis Thriller: Rita Rudner, Bette Midler, and Buddy Cole.

Frenchy LaRouge: Bad Sandy, Ann Margret, Ginger Rogers.

Desiree DeCarlo: Jessica Rabbit, Dita Von Teese, Cristal Connors.

Gurl Haggard: Waylon Jennings, Tura Satana, Ramona Rickettes.

Trini Bikinii: Anna Nicole, Barbie, and Garth Algar.

Patsy Blue Ribbon: Patsy Cline, Beyonce, Bugs Bunny when he dresses as a girl bunny.

Vagina Woolf: Dolly Parton, Gwen Stefani, Miss Fisher (of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries).

How to Keep the Glitz, and Add the Weird!

By Kelzey QuickLee

Burlesque is about a lot of things, but somewhere at the core is sexuality. So, it stands to say that becoming a burlesque performer involves becoming acquainted with one’s own sexuality. One must also come face-to-face with one’s self-view. Are you a diva? A queen? Are you submissive? Subversive? Commandeering? Coy? Deviant? Furthermore, what is your character going to be like? Is he/she a glamorous stage presence? A goofy clown? A cheesecake pin-up? As you build your character you must figure out what of your personality and sexuality you can comfortably fit into that mold.

My stage name for the very first Rocket Doll show was Sin Dee Licious. It didn’t suit. I am not that overtly sexual. I am not a fuckin bowl of ice cream. I discovered that what i really wanted to do was avert the attention from sexiness. I aim to make people nearly forget about my toplessness – or even to be disturbed by it. This aesthetic is in direct confrontation with the presentation of classic burlesque, which, as we Dolls like to say backstage, is all about making people LOOK AT IT. Classic burlesque is about detail, glamour, sheer confidence, epic costumes, small, beautiful dance movements, long pauses, slow peels. So, how does one combine that with the weird, character-driven, often “ugly” aesthetic of Neo Burlesque? It took me a long time to figure out how to get the raw feeling i wanted without scrapping all of the glitz from the stage (because there should still be some glitz). Below is some of the best stage advice I’ve stumbled into after 5 years of being RDR’s resident oddball.

1) WHAT WOULD YOUR CHARACTER DO?

This is the first question of neo-burlesque. With neo, one is 8/10 times creating a character and a storyline. You will refer back to this question often. Just keep it close and use it often.

2) GLITTER

Let’s talk glitter. I hate the shit. Boyfriends hate it. Girlfriends hate it. Roomates find it in their goddamned lettuce. Let me fill you in on something wonderful: you DO NOT have to wear glitter. Refer to step one. The question is: would your character wear glitter?

3) RHINESTONES

Another burlesque staple that you do not HAVE to use. However, open your mind up a bit on this one. Would your character use rhinestones? No? Okay, what about the stage version of your character? Better yet, would rhinestones add shock value or visual appeal to your act? Let me give an example: One of my trademark acts features a corporate pig. He has no use for rhinestones on his suit (he is not Vegas Pig, he is Corporate Pig) but, his belly calls for attention. Lots and lots of attention. Hence, rhinestones.

4) MAKEUP

The makeup tips for a neo act differ greatly from the makeup tips for classic, beautiful stage face. But, i would venture to say that makeup in a neo act is one of the most important touches. Refer to Step 1. Now, RESEARCH. Go all out. Do not be afraid to look messy or over the top. You probably do not – you probably look like a character deserving of a stage. Invest in spirit gum and liquid latex.

5) HAIR

Sometimes I feel a little weird when the other gals have their hair all curled and did and mine is… Not. DO NOT GET IN THE HABIT OF NEVER DOING YOUR HAIR. Your hair is still important, no matter the act. That does not mean that you have to do all the classic pinup styles. It DOES mean that your hair should suit the routine. Put a wig, mask, or hat over it. Tease it, twist it, braid it. Just do something to it.

6) FABRIC

If you decide that your act does not call for so much sparkle, try to add some interest with texture. Use various fabrics to create interesting focal points.

7) STORY

If your body and your presence are not to be the purpose of the entire experience, then your story and your character must be. Ask yourself if the story you are trying to convey is relatable. Create a beginning, a middle, and an end. Maintain the character throughout OR develop a change in character. This also translates to the striptease. In a situation where you are not simply a beautiful glamazon there to take them on a magical journey of the flesh, the audience must understand WHY your character is taking off their clothes. Don’t just get onstage dressed as a giant donut and take off your clothes. Use music choice, dance, and narrative to make the strip make sense. Examples: Trini Bikini has a signature act as a gigantic cheeseburger. She uses the song “Any Way You Want It” to create narrative. I have an act as a cyborg. I become human and use dramatic music and dance to create the feeling of breaking free.

8) DANCE/CHOREOGRAPHY

Dance is an important aspect to all of burlesque. There are many different levels and types of dance represented in burlesque. But, no matter what level you dance at or what type of routine you are creating, it is important to choreograph the main bits. Know when you will take things off/put things on. Know when you will look at the crowd and when you will look away. These little nuances can pull together all of the story.

9) PROPS

Props can be fun and even important. DO NOT USE TOO MANY. Until you have had quite a bit of experience – and sometimes even then – props have a way of making an act look messy. Limit yourself to 5 – and even that might be pushing it. Do not be afraid to mime! Miming can be magical.

10) COMMIT

Be your character. Know your character. Know your story. For the 2-5minutes you are onstage, DO NOT stop being that character.

11) HAVE A GOOD TIME

… Dammit!

Doll Parts: Stage Names

How did you choose your stage name? For some people, it’s an obvious choice. Maybe they’ve always had a nickname they want to use that they will easily and automatically respond to, or maybe it takes them 5 seconds to come up with something because they’re naturally clever. For others, it can take months of brainstorming and indecisiveness before they select a name they love. Here’s how the Rocket Dolls each came up with their own alter ego’s nomenclature:

Frenchy LaRouge: My real life last name is (the word) French, practically everyone on that side of my family is nicknamed Frenchy including myself, so it was a natural choice for me. La (or le) Rouge is a fairly common burlesque last name, with rouge meaning red in French, and since I’m a redhead it seemed easy and appropriate.

Desiree De Carlo: Desiree means desired in French, and was also the potential name my dad had chosen for me before I was born (he lost). De Carlo is a reference to the gorgeous Yvonne De Carlo, who was a glamorous Old Hollywood starlet (and fantastic dancer) that went on to play Lily Munster in the 60’s. That combo of glittering sex appeal & mid century camp was greatly inspiring.

Lula Lawless: Lula is from one of my favorite movies of all time, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. Lawless for the opposite of my muggle life as a paralegal.

Trini Bikini: My sister actually came up with mine!

Kelzey QuickLee: I would answer that, but then I would give away all of my deep mystery.

Gurl Haggard: My name was just a serendipitous shout out! I had once thought, years prior, that Gurl Haggard was a great play on Merle Haggard’s name. When I was randomly asked to fill in and help kitten for the Rocket Dolls, it was the first thing I blurted out when I was asked how I wanted to be introduced. I have never regretted the split second decision because “girl” was a childhood nickname (I come from a family of mostly boys) and I have always loved outlaw country. This all being said I am even happy that my stage name has spun into its own nickname that I get called more than my muggle name – Hags.

Phyllis Thriller: When I joined the Rocket Doll Revue as the resident emcee, I had been performing regularly as a stand-up comic for two years. Many of the earliest female stand-up comics had roots within burlesque and were considered revolutionary for demanding that the audience listen to them speak rather than just watching them. I come from a legacy of strong, powerful, witty women, and I knew that I wanted to pay tribute to one of my comedy foremothers. The first time I performed with the Rocket Dolls at a trivia night as a yet-unnamed performer, I dedicated my set to the great (and, at that time, recently deceased) Phyllis Diller, “who paved the way for female comedians everywhere and is probably going to roll over in her grave at my act.” Two months later, when I officially joined the troupe, Phyllis Thriller was born. (Fun fact: I originally planned to name myself after my grandmother, who was called Kitty.) I also highly enjoyed the fact that my stage name is clever rather than glamorous. My muggle name is also very distinct, and I like to joke that I am the only burlesque performer to choose a stage name less sexy than her real name.

Patsy Blue Ribbon: I wanted something that was cheeky and had a Chicago connection. I also like beer!

Vagina Woolf: I struggled with appropriate name choices for a very long time. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to represent. I went between androgynous names and names that sparkled and glittered. I had been talking with my sister about my struggle, when she suggested “Vagina Woolf.” I loved that it was a play on Virginia Woolf (whom I enjoy as an author). This name had an appropriate amount of raunch associated with it. Not only that, but it represents my strong feminist directive and provides an amusing amount of discomfort (you know, because “vagina” is a dirty word). I have never looked back.

Showgirl Secrets: Looking Your Best On Stage!

By Desiree De Carlo

Anyone who has attended a Rocket Doll Revue production, or has seen our girls in public appearances, instantly KNOWS how much effort and attention to detail we put into our respective looks. My lifelong obsession with over-the-top glamour, combined with my real life career in the world of beauty (I’ve been in the business since 2009, and have spent the last two years as a makeup artist for Yves Saint Laurent) has resulted in a backstage prep routine that could rival any professional Vegas showgirl. Over the past 5 years, the Dolls have cultivated a troupe culture that encourages self expression and a unique presentation, but absolutely sets the bar for all performers to look their personal best on stage. We have been asked so many times, “HOW do you do it?”, and aside from great lighting, confidence, and good personal habits, it’s mostly ILLUSION. This is not a costuming post, or a hair and makeup tutorial post, but a list of some of our troupe’s most valuable tips and tricks for looking great for your audience. I certainly believe these “secrets” should be accessible to anyone who wishes to create an impactful presentation in the broad spectrum of burlesque performance. This has nothing to do with weight, body type, gender or natural beauty. When you are choosing to become a burlesque performer, you are taking on a great responsibility— to wow a paying crowd. Even if you have amazing dance skills, a killer act concept, or a magnetic stage presence— this is a visual art form, and we must prepare ourselves to DAZZLE! People are here for a show, so your stage time is your opportunity to seize their attention, and give them something much larger than everyday life. Not only will incorporating these techniques help you to appear polished for shows and photos, but they will help you to feel even more confident in your self-created image. This is not the time to skimp on effort— embrace artifice, opulence, sex appeal, and become the fantasy!

Makeup: Wear It. This even goes for the boys! There are so many different ways to paint your face, and burlesque gives us an outlet to try all of the colors, techniques, and special extras! It seems obvious, but it is important to remember that you can (and should) wear way more makeup on stage than you would in your typical “day” face. Everything should be exaggerated. The internet is bursting with information on how to do any type of makeup that your heart desires. But there are a few staple steps that I find to be very impactful, and generally universal when it comes to a stage face.

  1. Lipliner! Use it to define and even change your lip shape. Not only does a good lipliner create a base for lipstick and other products to stick to and wear longer, it gives a polished edge to any lip look. I always recommend lightly filling in your entire top and bottom lip with the liner of your choice, making sure color is distributed evenly (it’s getting covered up, so it doesn’t have to be perfect) and then carefully make your outline. Drawing just on the outside edge of your natural lip, taking care to give extra definition to your cupid’s bow, is a great way to give your pout a plump shape. Then top with your favorite lipstick, gloss, even glitter! Use nude and pale lips sparingly, unless they really add to your overall presentation. Be sure to gently exfoliate your lips with a warm washcloth before a show, and let a bit of balm soak in for a couple hours before you start your makeup. My favorites lip pencils are waterproof versions by Make Up For Ever and Urban Decay.
  1. Complexion Perfection! My head spins at the foundation options available in today’s market. You really need something with more coverage for stage and photography, especially if you are prone to redness, blemishes, or hyper pigmentation. The goal is a flawless canvas on which to build your face. No matter what you choose, make sure it is something with some staying power, and set it with a light dusting of loose translucent powder. Loose powders do not have the filler and binders required to make pressed powder, so they are less likely to settle in and look cakey halfway through the show. I always do my eye makeup FIRST, then use my complexion products to create a clean, smooth canvas. Nothing like getting your foundation perfect and then getting fallout from your smokey eye all over your cheeks. Scotch tape will also help to grab stray product, such as shadow dust and glitter. Learn to artfully utilize basic contouring (cheekbones and underneath the chin/jaw can be incredibly slimming) and highlighting, and always do a pop of blush on the apples. You want to be sure to have plenty of color and definition in those bright lights!
  1. Lashes! I think false eyelashes might be every Rocket Doll’s favorite part of the makeup process. Although you can certainly wear false lashes in your regular life, the use of a flattering pair of lashes is essential for any stage look. There are maybe 2 performers I know that have nice enough real lashes to get away with just mascara for stage. Even if you use primer, or a growth serum, even if you live for those gimmicky “fiber lash” mascaras— it’s simply not enough. Performer 101 is learning how to fit and apply your own false lashes. Most seasoned performers know certain brands and specific styles that suit their tastes and flatter their eye shape the best. You can always trim the band on lashes that don’t fit, or buy demi length if you don’t want to wear them corner to corner. If you are doing a more involved shadow look, you don’t want to choose lashes that are so long or thick that they cover up your hard work. Get a quality glue and just toss the crap that sometimes comes in your lash package (Duo is the gold standard, and although it isn’t as cheap as some, it lasts forever). It’s a good idea to have a spare pair on hand in your kit. If there was a snafu, you would not want to be left lashless. Experiment with layering multiple pairs at once— have fun and give em an eyeful!
  1. Serving BODY (makeup that is). Did you know that most of the Rocket Dolls use body makeup in some form? Whether it’s a little concealer on the bikini line, a tinted moisturizer on the legs, or full on coverage, it is important to give the skin on your body the same attention you give your face. Razor burn, bruising, zits, stretch marks, and cellulite can all be camouflaged! If you are going to be covering a considerable area, or if what you are wearing is light colored, expensive, or will come in contact with extra friction/sweat, I highly recommend choosing long wearing, water resistant products that are actually formulated for use on the body. Regular concealer or foundation can work in a pinch, as can mixing a heavier foundation with moisturizer to help blend it out. Exfoliating and moisturizing pre-show will add to the effect. We always recommend using shimmer and glitter lotions and potions for your body. You’re showing some major skin— why not sparkle in the light?

We are lucky enough to have multiple professional hair stylists in The Rocket Doll Revue. However, it doesn’t take a ton of skill or complicated work to achieve beautiful stage hair. Unless an act specifically calls for it, it is absolutely unacceptable to appear in a show or special event in STREET HAIR. I have seen lifeless styles, limp ponytails, messy buns, even greasy or rumpled hair on performers. There are plenty of ways to achieve show-worthy hair with or without a large time or monetary investment.

  1. The easiest and most time-saving tool I have utilized is a set of hot rollers combined with a thermal setting spray. You can also do heat set classic pin curls on most hair lengths with a curling iron and some clips. Both of these techniques can set while you do your makeup and get dressed. Learning to use a teasing comb is also essential, even if “big hair” isn’t your thing. Dry shampoo is useful for volume, grip, texture and saving too-dirty hair in a pinch. For most of us, the most exciting option for stage hair is the use of wigs, falls, extensions, ponytails and bangs! You can always have human hair pieces dyed to match your real hair, which many of us do. Use a wig cap when necessary, and PLEASE do not slap on raggedy, ungroomed or ill-fitting cheap Halloween wigs (unless the act calls for it of course). Once you learn a few elevated hairstyles and begin building your fake hair wardrobe, your life will be forever changed.

Everyone wants to know how to look good nearly-naked. I can proudly say that through burlesque, our Dolls have developed a real love & respect for the bodies of ourselves and others, beyond what we already possessed. Sexy comes in many different forms, and what you feel inside can easily be reflected in the way your carry yourself on stage. Your personal shape and size is your own damn business— but since you are presenting your body in various stages of undress for an audience, it is good to know some tips for not only looking but feeling your best when baring it all.

  1. Wear your air heels! This applies is scenarios where performing barefoot is appropriate for an act, you break a heel mid-act (I’ve done it!) or more likely in the event you do not want to replace your shoes after a stocking peel. Aside from the fact that they look pretty and make us feel sexy, a big reason why performers need to wear heels is to create a more elongated, flattering silhouette. Wearing heels makes your legs look longer and more toned, your butt perkier, your stomach flatter, and your stride sexier. When we ditch the shoes, we need to remember to put on our air heels! This term means walking gracefully on the balls of your feet, with the heels elevated. Think of a Barbie foot. Practice to make it look and feel natural to you. As a side note, flats are not generally recommended for stage, unless they are act specific, in which case they should be embellished to look like costume shoes, not something you just grabbed out of the closet.
  1. Showcase your booty! Another fab way to add some oomph to your derriere is by wearing elastic leg garters or thigh highs (non gartered) high up on the leg so that they rest under your butt cheeks, giving them a boost. This is a tried and true old school stripper trick, and we are still doing it for a reason! The thigh high technique will also eliminate a potentially unflattering roll at the top of the stocking when wearing a tighter stay-up style. Use of hosiery that is not removed during an act also eliminates the need to use body makeup on the legs.
  1. Bump your bust! For those of us who have experienced sagging or excess skin in the breast area, or those who just wish they were perkier, there is a WONDERFUL trick that I myself utilize in every show and shoot. This technique requires the use of moisture resistant carpet tape. It does not work for very small pasties, as they need to be large enough to cover your tape base. To do the magic carpet tape breast lift, you will want to cut long strips of tape and stick them on the edge of a counter or table. In one hand you will manipulate and center your breast in the general position you desire, and place carpet tape in the area underneath the nipple, pulling upward and securing. You can use several strips of tape until you feel secure and get a balanced shape. Carefully fold in the outer excess so it can be hidden. Then apply tape to the inside of your pasties, being sure to pull the skin slightly upward when securing to the breast. Once you get the hang of it, you will not believe how amazing the effect is. Easier and cheaper than plastic surgery!
  1. Posture makes perfect! Having good posture is not only important for stage, but there are many mental and physical health benefits. Research shows that adjusting to good posture instantly increases self-confidence. Posture is crucial to your stage image, the energy you exude, and for dance technique. Researching ways to improve posture can make a MASSIVE difference in how your body photographs and how the audience perceives you as a performer. Make it a point to check your posture throughout the day, when sitting, standing, walking, and dancing, and adjust when necessary.
  1. The mirror is your friend. When we are rehearsing choreography for an act, we use a mirror. Do not forget that it is SO important to practice a variety of stage faces in the mirror as well! Be in the moment during a live show, but also be reasonably in control and aware of what your face is doing. Everyone has occasional funny or odd face moments, but there is almost nothing more painful than watching someone who cannot get a hold on their facial expression. Obviously a lot of this depends on your burlesque persona and what type of number you are doing, but no matter the mood it is important to engage the audience and perform with your face as much as you do with your body. Vacant stripper face is the worst, as is a performer trying to make overly sexy or cheesecake pinup faces when it does not come across as genuine or believable. Other essential mirror time: look at yourself naked or in lingerie every chance you get. Spend more time naked! I’m not necessarily talking sex or exhibitionism. You have chosen to participate in an art form where striptease and eroticism is the name of the game. The more natural spending time nude feels and the more comfortable you become with seeing your body exposed, the more enjoyable watching you disrobe will be for the audience. Thinking you are body confident and being able to demonstrate it believably are 2 different things.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading what I feel are some of the most important tricks and tools for putting your most glamorous and confident self on stage! I always encourage new and experienced performers to constantly seek out new and better ways to look their best. Never stop learning! Develop your beauty arsenal, and use it to its greatest potential.

XOXO,

Desiree

New Podcast w/ Brother Brother Beer Cast

Frenchy and Phyllis went on Indy’s Brother Brother Beer Cast last week and had a wonderful chat with Johnny & Brendan about our upcoming ’70s show, Shag! Plus, life as a Rocket Doll, all the people that help us with shows, singing in shows, and Brendan’s crush on PBR, among other things. Click the link below to listen online.

RDR on Brother Brother Beer Cast

How to Get Into Burlesque (by Frenchy LaRouge)

How do I get into burlesque? It’s a question we get a lot from fans and friends. It’s a question most established dancers get on a regular basis from other ladies (and sometimes gentleman), and we’re not the first, nor the last I’m sure, to finally just post a set of guidelines on the internet for those who are curious. So here it is, folks, Frenchy’s advice on how to get started in the world of burlesque:

1. RESEARCH. Go to shows, read about the history of burlesque, watch videos of experienced performers online, talk to performers in your area about what the community is like. Get as much info as you can! We may make it look easy on stage but trust me when I say, we did not wake up like this. If you’re doing it right, burlesque takes a lot of time, effort, and (usually) money. I personally have to book an act 3-5 times to recoup my costume expenses, for some people it’s more or less than that. Figure out what you can put into it as a hobby, what you’d like to get out of it (are you an entertainer at heart or do you just want to experience the thrill of the strip a few times?), and what you might be able to offer the community as a whole.

2. Take a class, or find a mentor. Would you pick up an instrument without finding out how to play it first? Burlesque is no different than joining a band, or trying out for a play. You should know what you’re doing before you get on that stage! If you can find a class in your community, take it! If you can’t find a class in your area, see if you can find someone who is willing to mentor you, someone who has been in the game for several years and can give you solid, honest advice on how to put together a performance and get booked in a show. Find someone who can tell you WHY they’re qualified to teach you the art of the tease, and can back that up with facts and experience. Having a mentor can save you time and often money on costuming as well. Learn everything you can! Never stop learning.

3. Pick a name! Picking a stage name is important, and fun. Do yourself a favor and steer clear of overused, typical “burlesque” names. They might sound fancy and exotic to a new performer, but once you get further into the community you’ll wish you didn’t have the same last name as 15 other girls, trust me. If I could go back and tell noob Frenchy one thing it would be to pick something other than LaRouge. Choose something that tells the audience who you are, and make sure it’s something they can pronounce and chant. Also, once you decide on something, GOOGLE IT. It’s no fun getting a message from someone who’s been using the name you picked for 10 years already.

4. Network. Introduce yourself to performers and/or producers at shows, get their email address or business card if they have one, and send them a quick, professional message that you’d love to help in any way you can. Volunteering to work the merch table or stage kitten a show is a great a way to get behind the scenes and develop relationships with people you want to perform for or work with. They can’t book you if they don’t know you!

5. Develop an act. Come up with a solid, unique routine that you can shop around to individual producers or troupes. I always suggest starting with something that isn’t specific to a certain theme, that way it’s easily repeated and can potentially fit in anywhere. Some troupes have auditions, and in that case you will want to be able to show them a fully realized act. If you can, get video of it to send to producers, even if it’s just on your phone in your living room, that way they know what they’re booking. A lot of cities, Indianapolis included, have at least 1 regular showcase for new and independent performers that are a good place to get some experience under your belt.

6. Be professional, honest, and open. It’s ABSOLUTELY ok not to know everything, and to ask questions, and to need help. A good attitude and willingness to listen will take you far in this community!

I hope this is helpful for anyone passionate about getting into striptease. It can be an extremely rewarding hobby/career and something that has definitely changed my own life in so many ways I can’t even begin to explain.

Thanks for reading!

xoxo,

Frenchy LaRouge