Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stillness, or, "The One-Rep-Max of Burlesque"

A recurring note I find myself giving not only in class to my students, but also to myself during my own rehearsal process, is to SLOW DOWN when choreographing a Boylesk number and indicating and teasing with its given garments and props. It sounds so obvious and is so easy to critique, but I think many performers struggle with finding moments of stillness in their numbers.

Of course its understandable. Myself and many others will say, "Sure, I love being naked onstage! Bring it on!"--and then perhaps proceed to make wild hip gesticulations like "the helicopter." But really, when I'm on stage in the middle of a number, the last thing I want to do is take a moment and STAND. STILL. 

First off, in my opinion, using moments of stillness or "quietude" in a number requires double the energy of a fast paced routine. To me, standing still on stage is the ultimate one-rep-max of Burlesque. It requires me to imbue a single moment with as much focus and intensity as running back and forth across the stage floor and jumping into the splits. 

And secondly, I all of a sudden become ten times more vulnerable to my audience. I'm not just batting an eye and then ripping of my shirt and running to the next voyeur; I'm purposely staying my ground and allowing everyone in the room to completely drink me in and see what I've literally got stored next up my sleeve... of course usually its what's stuffed inside my jock strap, but surely you get my point. Its this "drink me in" idea that ultimately makes stillness a huge asset to any performer's number. Not only are we technically adding another layer to our number by switching up the given tempo and rhythm of the piece, we've now caused the audience to screw their focus even more tightly around our next reveal.

And consider the audience for a moment. They're the same audience who struggles with their own previous day's distractions, spilt drinks, texting and tweeting battles, and a myriad of other problematic night club conundrums that keep them from fully taking in one's assuredly magnificently crafted striptease. Stillness then becomes not even a choice, but a demand of practically any number so that the audience may simply just understand us better. And not in a "Lifetime Original Movie Series" understanding, but in a, "Oh, I get it!" kind of way.

From teaching this current class of BOYLESK 101 students I'm especially realizing more and more just how much of a necessity stillness is to my numbers. I encourage my guys to practice breaking down a simple indication like removing a glove, a shoe, waving a hand, undoing one button into as many steps as possible. Ultimately, one won't use this technique with every item of costuming--if any at all--but I guarantee what will happen is a more strongly communicated number that's eagerly consumed by the audience.

Below is a video by one of my favorite NYC, Burly-Q ladies, Nasty Canasta. Voted second runner up at the 2010 Miss Exotic World Pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada, Nasty continually raises the bar on stripteases that are sexy AND smart. In my opinion her number featured below also demonstrates the concept of coupling stillness with incredibly detailed, economic choreography. The result is a beautifully crafted, intelligently understated final reveal most certainly worthy of a post-show smoke.


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