A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Burlesque Choreography

By on July 5, 2015

Creating choreography can be one of the most intimidating things for brand new performers, especially if they don’t have a lot of dance training. At my burlesque school, students often have no problem working on persona and character creation, but when it’s time to start putting their first act together, they get stuck. If this sounds like you, I recommend that you plan out what you want to do first, then work on how you’ll do it.

 

Break down the song into big sections.

The main things you need to make note of here are where the song changes from one section to another and when sections repeat. For a lot of songs with lyrics, the form might be something like this:

Intro
Verse
Verse
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Bridge
Chorus
Outro/Ending

Jazz pieces can be a bit different. Many follow an AABA form, so they may look like this:

AABA AABA Bridge AABA Tag

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how you name the sections, or how you write them out (I’ve written them both vertically and horizontally here) as long as it makes sense to you and you can see how many sections you have, their order, and when they repeat.

 

Create a general plan for the act first.

Now that you have a road map of your song, so to speak, you can start planning what you want to do when. If you’re performing a burlesque striptease, your act already has a built in framework to begin with: Start with little reveals and build toward your finale!

bob-fosse-choreo-quote1You’ll also want to think about what other forms of spectacle you’ll include in your act. For instance, will you be using props? Will you incorporate humor or character reveals? If you’re just starting out, I recommend that you keep it simple and create more complicated acts after you’re more comfortable with the process.

Once you have a general idea of what you want to do, it’s time to decide which elements you will put when. Listen to the song over and over again. Chances are some parts will jump out at you. “This part sounds like glove removal.” Or, “This big horn explosion sounds like a great time for the pastie reveal, and this part would be great for tassel twirling.” This is all about your own interpretation, and there are no wrong answers at this stage! Just do what seems right to you.

Note: It can make choreographing easier and make your act look more planned and polished if you repeat some sections of choreography. For instance, you could do the same choreography during each chorus and have your striptease build from verse to verse, if that works with your song. This makes it so that you have fewer sections to choreograph, and some repetition is actually pleasing to an audience.

 

Choreograph your transitions between planned “events.”

Once you know where your main cues are for each of your big moments, whether striptease reveals or something else you’ve planned, it’s time to choreograph in between each of these events, working on one section at a time.

Many new performers who don’t have a lot of dance training feel stuck at this point, because they feel like they don’t have enough moves. If you’ve studied up on basic burlesque moves, whether by taking classes or watching videos online, then you have enough moves to get started! Personally, I think every performer should always take more classes to challenge themselves and continue learning new styles and techniques, but don’t be afraid to start where you are! You have everything you need for now, and you can always build your repertoire of movements as you go.

As a new performer, it’s important that you get up and move during the choreography process so that you can get out of your head and into your body. Don’t do it all in your head!

This video presents some really fantastic ways to think with your body. Exercises like this can really get your body moving and your creative juices flowing!

 

Questions to ask yourself to help you choreograph each section:

  • What emotion do I want to express in this section?
  • What movements do the instrumental or vocal sounds look like to me? (For instance, a drum fill often sounds like a shoulder shimmy to me.) The goal is for your movements to look how the music sounds, if that makes sense.
  • When should I move, and when should I stop? You don’t need to move the whole time! In fact, holding a pose at a dramatic moment can be very effective.


The first couple years of performance, you’re usually wanting to fill up all of your time with moves and razzle-dazzle and kablam and da-da-da. I think that’s not necessarily a mistake, but I think that it’s kind of an easy habit that I see a lot. With newer students, I’m always just like, "You don’t have to move so much. It’s cool. Slow down." When I watch my old videos, I’m shouting at myself and cracking up whoever’s with me. I’m just like, "Oh my god! Stop wiggling!"




The Shanghai Pearl

 

Create a crappy first version.

Many people get stuck because they want their act to be THE MOST AMAZING ACT EVER!!!! While of course you want your act to be as good as possible, this is a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially when you’re first learning. So give yourself permission to create a really bad first version. Then, as you’re rehearsing this crappy version, go through and replace a piece here with something better, then a piece there with something better, and before long it will have transformed into an act you’ll be proud of!

 

Practice, practice, practice!

I recommend that you pick a song and choreograph it. Then pick another. And another. This is helpful even if you never actually perform some of these pieces, because it will give you practice and help you get comfortable with the process.

You don’t necessarily need to create a new costume for each song at this stage. When you’re practicing, just choreograph as many acts as you can, and then start performing when you have one your comfortable with.

Has this been helpful? Comment below to let me know!

The founder of Tease! Bang! Boom!, Bombshell Betty began performing in 1996, toured internationally with her first burlesque troupe in 2001-2002, and founded her burlesque school in 2004 in San Francisco. She has released a burlesque training DVD and 2+ hours of free burlesque training videos, published the pinup modeling book “Plain Jane to Pinup Queen” in 2008, and has toured the US performing and teaching classes and workshops.

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One Comment

  1. Felina

    July 24, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Super, super helpful. 🙂 Thank you!

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