Burlesque Burnout: How to Cope When Performing Isn’t Lighting Your Fire

By on September 6, 2016

For many performers, there are times when performing stops feeling excitingly electric and starts to feel more like drudgery. Sometimes life outside of burlesque gets crazy, and there’s no energy left for burlesque. Sometimes it can feel like you’re stuck in a rut, and you don’t know how to get out. Sometimes it can feel like you never will.

If you’ve ever felt like this you are not alone, not by a long shot. So let’s talk about it! Here are a couple questions asked by members of the Tease! Bang! Boom! Burlesque Mentoring Program and our mentors’ responses…

Q: I’ve been feeling bored and burned out lately. I’m tired of my repertoire of routines, and have been so busy and broke I haven’t been able to do anything new in a while…

I wanted to focus on doing a few of my better routines more often in order to try to develop into a stronger performer. But there aren’t enough gigs to book in this city, so I rarely have more than 3 shows a month. And so I’ve found that instead of improving my abilities as a showgirl, the sparsely scheduled repetition of these numbers has yielded no real benefit in terms of quality. Instead I just find myself bored and unenthusiastic about every single gig I book.

Has anyone encountered this? Does anyone have suggestions? Advice is much appreciated.

Bombshell Betty at the Elbo Room in SF. Photo by Thad Gann.

Bombshell Betty at the Elbo Room in SF. Photo by Thad Gann.

Bombshell Betty: If you’re feeling bored and unmotivated, it might be good to take a bit of a break. I’ve done this occasionally, and it’s been helpful. I always know it’s time to start performing again when I go to a show and I find it painful to just watch and not participate.

That said, it is very possible to improve as a performer while only performing a few times a month or even less. If you take a few of your favorite acts and work on revamping them and improving them every time you perform, you’ll make progress. I’ve only recently started performing new acts again after a few years of only focusing on a few of my strongest acts and working on improving them every time.

If you feel that you’ve reached a plateau as a performer, taking some classes in a new direction and applying them to your performances can help you break out of the rut. Adding a new skill like singing, acrobatics, or a different dance style often adds new excitement and energy, in my experience.

If performing more often is what you really want, have you considered looking outside of burlesque shows for gigs? Maybe performing between bands or with the band at a musical event? I’ve really enjoyed gigs like those! I’ve also performed at art openings and other non-burlesque events that aren’t obvious places to perform burlesque and had good experiences with it.

You’re welcome to post videos of your acts if you’d like feedback. It’s good to get fresh eyes on your work, and all the mentors here are very experienced and supportive. [Note: Tease! Bang! Boom! Mentoring Program members can post videos for constructive feedback. Learn more here!]

Sydni Deveraux with Wasabassco at City Winery NYC. Photos by Mo Pitz!

Sydni Deveraux with Wasabassco at City Winery NYC. Photos by Mo Pitz!

Sydni Deveraux: In repetition you have the opportunity to become a master. Look at it as a game of competing with yourself ONLY.

I rarely get bored performing, because no matter if I've done a signature acts 200 times, the perameters are always a little different. I can try to do eye contact differently, I can focus more on my arms, I can play with rhythms. No, I don't get bored performing.

I do acts dozens of times in a row, because I think it's fun. I usually don't change it unless I think my audience has seen it too much or I need to work on other things.

Q: That's good to hear. I have been trying to do that. I think I just need to learn and try more variety of movement. I think my block might be coming from not being comfortable moving yet.

Sydni Deveraux: That simply takes time. We are all so eager to be there NOW and instead it's better to be patient. I'm nowhere near being complete or perfect or as good as I can be.

Q: I think I'm gonna spend the few weeks I have free this month reworking my routines. Time to try something new.

Sydni Deveraux: Focus on the one that seems like the most fun to work on. Take tiny bites.

Freya West: Girl, I've been there! First of all, it's okay to not be an inspired butterfly of anticipation all the time. Polishing the acts you already have to a fine finish is something I wish more performers (myself included!) would focus on more than jumping on next idea after next idea. I agree with Betty that a break can be a beautiful thing, but also, yes book yourself in surrounding cities. You'll find a font of inspiration just watching how people do things differently than what you're used to, and you get to show your polished pieces off to a whole new audience who might react totally differently than you're used to. For me, traveling and performing energizes me like nothing else.

"For me, traveling and performing energizes me like nothing else." ~ Freya West, Nashville

"For me, traveling and performing energizes me like nothing else." ~ Freya West, Nashville

Q: Do you have any motivational tools that you use when you are feeling burned out, or your drive to practice is super low?

Freya West: In total vulnerability, you are speaking to my life right now, because I’ve been struggling with this for the last month! If it’s open to you, an actual break from burlesque for a few weeks can be miraculous to re-ignite those flames. If that’s not an option (as a full-time performer and teacher, it’s not for me!), then find ways to make your self care exemplary. Notice exactly what is making you feel exhausted (booking emails? costuming? new act creation?) and see if maybe you can step away from that particular process for a moment.

For rehearsing in particular, I find that non-traditional exercises help me “unslump” (yeah I just made that word up). I have a few go-to favorites. One is to lie on the floor and engage just one body part, like your quad, then slowly engage the entire body, muscle by muscle, seeing what’s connected and how they flow. Another one I love is picking a body part and creating about 20-30 second of choreography based on that – the weirder the body part the better, elbows are better than boobs in this case. The goal with these is to remove the weight of “I’m rehearsing because I have work to do” and get back to a place of exploration and fun with your body.

I will say that in my slump I’ve been working through, epsom salt baths with luxurious bath bombs, getting high (optional but it helps me!), and listening to music that I like but don’t feel compelled to dance to, feeds my soul. Simple but really effective.

Red Velvet fighting off a migraine and definitely not feeling like working on burlesque.

Red Velvet fighting off a migraine and definitely not feeling like working on burlesque.

Red Velvet: Sometimes different things help. Dancing usually makes me feel better. Talking with friends can help. Figure out what other stresses are going on that may be creating the slump. Sometimes I have a lot of fear, and that gets in the way. I try to talk myself out of great ideas because they are scary. Those, I just push myself to get past it and do it, because otherwise I just give up. And sometimes your brain and/or body need a break. One time I was teaching a class. and I hated it. I was miserable. I was wondering – why am I doing this? I was getting sick. As soon as I was better, teaching felt great again. Sometimes your brain is reacting because your body isn’t happy.

Sydni Deveraux: Chop your work into chunks. Little ones. Like a half an hour organizing promo materials, the next day you dance for a half an hour working on a specific skill, or set work dates with a peer to break up the monotony.

You are also allowed to take breaks. There are no rules to how you spend your time doing this thing called burlesque.

Do you ever go through phases of burn out or just not feel motivated to work on burlesque? What do you do to get through it? Feel free to share in the comments!


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