Taking It All Off – Part 4 (Stripper’s Survival Guide)

Ok if you’ve been following my advice so far, at this stage of the game you should have a full force drama ready to take the stage.  You’ve put so much time and effort (hopefully) into creating a great routine, you don’t want it to fall flat just because of a few minor flaws or mishaps right?  So, let’s get your act together now that your act’s together.  First off, I hope it’s a given that you should be practicing your routine on a daily basis.  If you’re not doing that and especially if you’re still new to this game, you’re asking, almost begging, to have a crisis moment on stage.  I’m not saying that this will definitely happen or that you can’t pull off your striptease without practice, but realistically you need to look at your personality and see if this will really be true for you.  Are you the kind of gal who likes to wing it and can shrug it off or roll with the punches when something goes wrong?  If so, then more power to you, although I should warn you that stripping in front of people is probably not quite like anything you’ve ever done before, even if it is just for one person.  Also, even if you consider yourself outgoing or the life of the party, most people get stage fright, and trust me, that in itself can really throw you off if you’re not prepared for it.  On top of that you will be doing two things most people don’t do publically:  getting naked and displaying your sexuality.  So you should be prepared for the fact that you may freak out in your first moments on stage and know how to compose yourself so that the show can go on.  This last post is full of tips and tricks to help you survive your striptease experience, no matter what happens up there.

First let me repeat:  practice your routine every day, ideally at least 2-3 times a day.  The more you practice, the more ingrained your movements and cues will become in your muscle memory, so that when your mind goes all soupy in the moment, your body will still do what it’s supposed to do.  This is a true life saver.  The first few times I performed in burlesque, even when I wasn’t stripping, the moment just before I was set to step on stage I would realize with panic that I couldn’t remember any of my choreography, not one stitch, not even the first move.  This was more than a little terrifying!  However, the moment I got on stage and my music started, it all kicked in and once my body got going everything came back to me.  The more that you practice all of your movements to your song, the more your body associates each bump, grind, and strip with its corresponding musical notes until the two are almost inseparable.  In fact, you will probably find that after years of doing the same choreography to a particular song, it’s hard to do anything else to it! 

It can be a real pain in the ass to actually rehearse stripteases, since you spend so much time putting on your outfit just to take it off within five minutes, only to repeat the whole process over and over again.  Don’t let this deter you.  Run through your routine pretending to strip as much as you can.  The actions and timing will be the same and you can get a lot more rehearsal time in when the idea of getting dressed and then undressed repeatedly turns you off of the idea of practicing at all.  That being said, make sure you actually rehearse taking your clothes off a LOT.  Always practice removing the items exactly the same way and with the same timing you plan on using in your act.  This can be a time consuming process, but certain clothing items can take longer to undo and take off than you might expect.  If you’ve never unhooked or loosened a corset or unsnapped garters, please don’t learn how to do this on stage.  I assure you that this will send you into panic mode, and unless this is a Halloween or horror show, the resultant terror and discomfort you inspire in your audience will not be good.  Plus, you’d be amazed at just what wardrobe malfunctions can occur.  Costume pieces can get caught on other costume pieces, zippers won’t want to budge, hooks can get caught in your hair, you name it.  The more you practice, the more possible mishaps you can conjure in the safety of your own home, so that you can figure out strategies for preventing these from occurring in the first place, not to mention dealing with them on stage if they happen in real time.  All of this rehearsal advice also pertains to props, no matter how big or small they may be.  Even if you don’t have all of your props yet, rehearse as if you do and incorporate them into your practice as soon as they are available. 

Now that you have an idea of some of the things that may go wrong with your costume or props, this is the time to revisit some of the earlier posts and do things you may have neglected before.  As we’ve already discussed, make sure you tie specific striptease moments or dance movements to corresponding “plot points” in your song, so that if you get lost in your choreography, you can easily get yourself back on track.  This can happen more often than you may realize, since time speeds up on stage due to the adrenaline factor and you may skip ahead of yourself.  Also it’s not uncommon for your act’s introduction to eat into the first few bars of your song, so you need to be prepared to accommodate for this.  While practicing, if you’ve noticed that some items are harder to take off than you had anticipated, adjust your costume so it’s easier to remove by adding Velcro, zippers, bigger hooks, or whatever else does the trick.  If one item in particular seems to be extra tricky, practice just removing that once piece as much as possible outside of rehearsing your entire routine until you know it inside and out.  Also adjust your costume or movements if you find certain items “fight” with each other every time they come in contact, such as fishnets and sequins, so that they are always kept apart.  Another little trick I incorporate into most of my routines is to purposefully start off my choreography in a way where I am not directly facing the audience or where the first few moments can be cut out or shortened if necessary.  Doing this usually gives me a little buffer time in case my music starts before I’m ready, but also gives me a chance to take a deep breath on stage before I have to start performing or face my audience, and sometimes that’s all I need to center myself.  So look at your choreography and see if you have given yourself this cushion, even if it is just starting off stage and strutting out to start. 

As you’re practicing, tallying possible mishaps and strategizing recoveries along the way, you also need to brainstorm and think of all the issues that the venue and stage themselves may present, since usually you won’t be able to rehearse there ahead of time.  Some of the things you may want to think about are:

  • Stage size and ceiling height – Depending on the props and choreography you have planned, you may need to make adjustments so that you can still perform your act as desired.
  • Stage surfaces – They may be slippery or carpeted, so either you have to be more careful with your dancing so that you don’t fall when strutting in your heels, or you can’t drag the chair across the stage quite as flawlessly as you had hoped.
  • Lighting – If the lighting is too dark, you may not be able to see parts of your costume you’re used to looking at when undoing it.  If it’s too bright, you may become intimidated and self-conscious about how exposed you and your “flaws” are and let that interfere with your performance.
  • Temperature of the show date – I know this sounds weird, but it can definitely affect your act, especially stripteases.  Too hot and the items that you planned to strip off may not peel as you planned, too cold and you could be distracted with your shivering and not loosen into your body movements as much.

Look at all of the conditions you normally rehearse under and think of ways you can adjust your routine if they are different.  If you don’t have the opportunity to rehearse at the venue itself, try to check it out beforehand so you can see the space, lighting, and textures you have to deal with.  If you can’t visit the venue itself, check their website for pictures of the stage and feel free to contact the producer or bar owner for specific details.  I also like to perform a solo dress rehearsal on stage when possible, usually when they are still preparing to open, listening to my song on my phone using headphones, so I can get a feel for what I’m working with.  Generally I will just do a couple of dry run-throughs (no props, no stripping), but it helps me to know the stage and make it “home” before I actually have to perform. 

Of course there will be things that happen during your performance that never occurred to you and this just comes with the territory, so add them to your list of things to consider when preparing for your next show.  When things happen that you didn’t anticipate and prepare for (and at some point they will if you’re doing this burlesque thing for any real length of time), you will need to fall back on that wonderfully underrated and terrifying skill: improvisation.  Recently I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with the lovely Jezebel Express, an instructor with the New York School of Burlesque, and she proposed a perspective on performance problems that hadn’t occurred to me before.  Namely, when something goes wrong, you have the opportunity to save your story and make yourself the heroine of the day.  Going back to our movie theater analogy from last week’s post, some unexpected real life obstacle or conflict has entered your story, and the audience wants more than anything for you to rescue yourself and overcome any bad situation that has come up.  They are on your side!  Besides, the mishaps and how you handle them often end up being the most memorable parts of your act, so you just need to know some tricks for fixing the problems. 

First of all, determine ahead of time what your style will be when something goes awry so that you don’t get flustered in the moment.  You can do one of two things:  pretend like nothing’s wrong or has happened or acknowledge the mishap in some (at least slightly) dramatic but appropriate way.  If you are going to pretend nothing’s wrong, and this tactic can be used whenever something has occurred that you don’t think the audience will notice, such as a misstep, forgetting part of your choreography, taking an item off in the wrong order, then you will need to master your poker face, or in this case your pinup smile.  When you are practicing at home, rehearse at least some of the time in front of the mirror, or better yet videotape yourself, and become very aware of your facial expressions and body whenever something goes wrong.  Things that may seem like small tensions or expressions to you can be obvious to the audience and make them feel uncomfortable, so practice keeping them from surfacing no matter what you may be thinking or feeling.  You can also hide the problem and divert the audience’s attention until it can be fixed.  For instance, if you are facing your audience and something you are undoing in the front is stuck, nonchalantly pause what you’re doing, give the audience a Cheshire cat smile so you seem to be a tease, and turn your back to the audience to finish undoing it.  At this point, the audience doesn’t know that this isn’t all part of your evil plan to seduce them, so to keep up the charade, make sure to keep looking back coyly at them from time to time so they’re assured that everything is going exactly as planned.  Plus, if you’re wrestling with something on your top half, distract them by moving your bottom half.  Trust me, if you’re giving them some big booty grinds to the back and flirtatiously looking back over your shoulder from time to time, they won’t care if this isn’t what you originally had in mind, they’ll just want you to keep doing what you’re doing.    

In some cases, it will be obvious to your audience that your act has veered of course, so this is when your pinup faces and poses, as well as all of the tricks you learned in the last post, will come in handy.  If you are going to acknowledge the mishap, such as your chair fell over, put on your “whoopsie” or frustrated face so the audience is engaged and finds it funny.  This can even be a chance for you to personify the chair by purposefully picking it up, setting it straight, and then giving it a “shame on you” finger shaking while you have an exaggerated disappointed look on your face.  The audience knows this wasn’t what was originally in the script, but you managed to make it entertaining and that’s all that matters to them.  In some cases you will have to do more than just acknowledge that something went wrong; you will have to actually change your act and incorporate the mishap into your story.  Let your persona determine how this will be done by thinking “What Would (insert your character name here) Do?”  If you have been practicing the suggestions from the last post during rehearsal, using sensual movement, exaggerated facial expressions, and doing some character development, something will probably occur to you in the moment if you’re open to it, so just go with whatever it is.  For instance, let’s say one of your pasties falls off at an inopportune time.  If your character is spunky, you can look down at your naked breast with surprise and dismay and then rip the other one off and throw it to the audience with a big cheeky smile on your face so you have a matching set : )  If your character is a sultry femme fatale, you may choose to caress your breast and cover it with your hand, then pick up a discarded silk slip and use that to keep it covered for the rest of the act, all the while giving your audience a knowing look.  Once you have accepted the faux pas and incorporated it into your act, you need to get yourself back on track, so again, make sure you have “plot points” planned out ahead of time and get back to the next one as soon as possible.  Most important of all, once you’re on stage, try to get into the mindset that the audience wants to see you up there, wants you to come out on top, and most of all wants to see you naked, so surrender yourself to those five minutes and think of it as playtime.  And remember, even if you don’t quite manage to save the day this time, you can always be Wonder Woman the next time.   

Well we’ve reached the end of our striptease saga for now and you should be fully prepared to expose the world to a you they’ve never experienced before.  Thanks for joining me in this journey and I hope to be seeing much more of you very soon ; )