How to Succeed in Burlesque: Top 10 Skills

As in most performing arts and freelance jobs, there are no guarantees in burlesque. It takes dedication and hard work to be successful in such a competitive scene, and it also requires certain skills and traits in you as a person. Over the years we have built up a wealth of experience in the burlesque and cabaret scene, so we’ve put together a list of the top 10 skills or traits we think are most useful for those venturing into a career in burlesque.

  1. Stage presence
    So this is an obvious one for anyone looking for a career onstage, and it’s essential for burlesque. You need to light up that stage when you get up there and win over your audience or you’ll go down like a lead balloon.
  2. Determination
    Burlesque is a competitive industry and you’re going to need some serious determination; first of all to gain a foothold on the scene, and then to hold your own and climb the ladder as your career progresses.
  3. Motivation
    Burlesque has its ups and downs, and both the scene in general and your own career will reflect this. As a frequently solo endeavour, you’ll often find yourself working alone and you’ll need the motivation to keep yourself going even when times are tough.
  4. A Creative Mind / Good Imagination
    Another obvious one, but without a flair for the creative, you’d be onto a non-starter in burlesque. You can draw your inspiration from an infinite number of sources but if you don’t have that magic inside you, to turn your dreams into a spectacular reality, then perhaps burlesque isn’t for you.
  5. Confidence
    This almost goes without saying but it’s such a crucial element it bears mentioning. Here at the ABC we have a saying “Fake it til you make it!” and it’s true. If you need to cover your nerves when you start out, find a way that suits you but whatever you do, don’t let them show onstage. Your confidence should carry your performance every time, even if things go wrong; the show must go on!
  6. PR and Networking Skills
    Absolutely essential if you want to get booked. Both online and in person, it’s crucial to hone your networking skills and understand the best way to approach other performers and promoters and to have a good grasp of social etiquette.
  7. The Ability to Multi-Task
    As a working burlesque performer, you’ll have to be able to juggle a number of tasks at once. For example, any given week at Academy of Burlesque & Cabaret HQ could see Gypsy and Viva doing any number (and often all) of the following: teaching, performing, working on new acts / rehearsing, choreographing, liaising with designers for new costumes and props, admin and emailing, producing events and much more.

The last three on our list perhaps aren’t as essential as the skills and traits listed above, but they could certainly come in handy.

  1. Accounting
    This one depends on the scale of your business, but in all likelihood when you’re starting out in burlesque, you’ll be registered as a sole trader and until the big money starts coming in, you might find yourself having to do your own accounts. Keep all your receipts, try to establish a simple system, like a spreadsheet to keep track of your expenses and income; it’ll make things a lot easier when it’s time to do the dreaded tax return.
  2. Costume / design skills
    Many burlesque performers create their own stage wear. Either working from scratch to create entire costumes or buying simple items to embellish and make fabulous. If you’ve a penchant for sewing, bejewelling or other such endeavours it could come in handy. If not, don’t worry, there are lots of amazingly talented costumiers out there.
  3. Web design / management skills
    This ties in with the PR and networking skills we talked about earlier. If you have even basic design skills, they could come in handy for building your own website. If you’re less than computer-savvy, there are plenty of build-your-own websites out there instead.