Sometimes at my theatre shows, I take a photo or two from the wings or other unseen persepctives in a theatre. Here are some …
It’s time to get some perspective and see clearly why coaching without niche focus is in need of close examining. With an increasing trend for getting a coach / becoming a coach, it?s hard to cut the wheat from the chaff. It?s not surprising as ?ambiguity? plays a growing role in what is increasingly a sales business (and not a coaching business).
Genuine coaches have niche skills, expertise and real experience to share. Such individuals can be a one-time boon, an ongoing asset, or even a life changer to the corresponding individuals who seek/require it. Broadly speaking, there are two ?directions? of coaching: skills and mindset (and some coaches can offer a personal blend of the two). For example, some will coach a specific skillset e.g. product photography, bookkeeping for small businesses, vocal performance, personal styling, better gym technique, weight loss, financial planning, nutrition or how to un-bugger-up your Macbook. Others will offer mindset coaching, e.g. making and managing money, communing with nature, expanding creativity, improving business motivation, focus in athletic performance, heightening self-worth in relationships, enhancing mind-body wellbeing, how to not bugger-up your Macbook in the first place. It is often a balance of guiding ‘how to do’ and ‘what to do’.
Coaches also typically focus their services to particular industries (or interest communities) like sports, business, theatre arts, publishing, wellbeing and so on. Some are very niche (I know someone who coaches on multiple orgasm and another who specifically coaches couples on ‘surviving their business and marriage’ ? and maybe these two should hold a retreat together 😛 ). Some veteran coaches will have a variety of niches they can cover – usually with a congruent message across them all and only after tremendous demonstrable experience.
Some coaches will blend their skills and mindset together and, really great coaches will take their clients on ?journeys? of personal development with measurable goals. Such coaches are definitely worthy of investing in if/when right for you – and you have a specific project in mind like getting in to sports competitions, writing that book, getting on stage, finding appropriate romance, starting or growing a business. Coaches also invest in themselves too – often collaborating with other coaches on complementary niches. This means that a good coach is always offering the best and the most they can to their clients. Self-esteem and client-esteem must be on a parity of esteem. Good coaches also invest their own money in good personal coaching – as continued professional development to improve their service (not just their sales!).
Now, crucially, these coaches are a million miles away from the sales of what I?m calling ?conceptual coaching?.
What?s the Problem?
Every day on social media I see pushy ads for a plethora of personal coaching services that look and sound curiously like carbon copies of each other. Many of them actually suggest ?become a coach to become rich/ solve all your problems?. They appear to be merging as though spaghettifying in a black hole toward a singular point of sales. Where the advert is selling the concept of coaching itself as a business or lifestyle opportunity, I call this ?conceptual coaching?.
Furthermore, some (not all of course!) of the ads are looking a lot like multi-level marketing (MLM), showing excited people posing poolside, loudly quoting massive figure incomes, working from home as their own boss, urging us all to urgently sign up for a free something-or-other to kick start our ?dream? careers. They remind me of the 1990s Herbalife promotions of a smug guy leaning on a Porsche, who apparently sold milkshakes to his neighbours (something the teenage me dabbled in for about 5 minutes and got bored).
Caveat Emptor! The Problems of ?Conceptual Coaching?
What this means is that there is an increasing trend for people to ?buy coaching to become coaches? – and thus offer a rather opaque or confused service. What are they then going to coach? Coaching! and so on…
Lack of Niche Experience: The result is that there are business coaches who sell their coaching based on their current experience of running their business coaching business (they do not have a prior history of business success). There are life coaches who sell their coaching based on their recent experience of quitting the 9-5 and becoming a life coach.
Because there is often a lack of specific skills or knowledge, there is a real danger of a coach being ?a bit of everything?. I?ve heard of life coaches giving unsound advice on serious issues that require specialist training such as mental health disorders, family law and bankruptcy. Here lies the inherent problem where coaches sell their personal experiences and opinion* or their ?brand? as adequate and sufficient grounding for being a coach. It is important to acknowledge that coaches are not therapists nor financial advisors although they may be able to discuss such matters, spot a need and recommend appropriately.
*(I?d also hate to see a world where no one had any friends anymore and instead we paid strangers to talk to us and share their stories, life experience and opinions.)
Life Coaching is definitely on the rise and in particular, leaves me with questions. It?s proponents state that Life Coaching ?is not therapy because, therapists deal with past trauma or experiences and by contrast, Life Coaching deals with the present – in identifying and clearing obstacles for future goals?. But this description is essentially what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy does. CBT identifies and breaks cycles and bad habits in the present and encourages good ones to facilitate future goals. It is also the most commonly prescribed therapy on the NHS. Furthermore, from what I?ve read (quite a lot), the basic starting point of a Life Coaching session is to discuss the ?origins of beliefs about the self? looking back in our pasts as early as infancy.
So… anyway… The service itself (coaching content, method and material) is ambiguous and often seems confused, increasingly so with each iteration down the line. Furthermore, if it is also MLM, then instead of physically selling diet shakes, essential oils or a wrinkle cream, it?s almost completely intangible. Because it is ?conceptual? it is increasingly easy for anyone to get on board without the need to buy and hold stock, provide clear services nor, appear to have/ need any credentials or experience in any particular field.
The encouragement for ?personal branding? also adds to the confusion because each may look ?unique? – and I?m sure the coaches believe it is too (after all everyone?s life story is unique) – but the iterative re-branding is possibly part of the sales process. A bit like buying bottled water, putting a new label on it then selling it on for the next person not to drink (because the bottle is actually empty, it?s ?conceptual water?) but to put another new label on it and sell it on. Ironically, no one is really drinking any water and any ?solution? will be diluted each time. Similarly, no-one is really gaining any personal coaching and is instead selling on a sales technique.
I have also noticed that Life Coaching and the newly emerging alternative, ‘Success Coaching’ is often presented like a watered-down version of (or mash up of) other disciplines such as the aforementioned Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
Because I like metaphors, here is another: Many coaching businesses are like a row of quirky shops that turn out to be multiple doors to one big wall. Here is where the depth of the problem becomes very clear ? that it?s also a two-way financial ?funnel? and is an increasing problem for those who have their backs to the wall, thinking their shopfront is special.
Vulnerable People are Targeted: Whilst the shopfronts of my previous metaphor are trying to engage new buyers (Business to Customer, ‘B2C’), there is another level of sales also going on behind these quirky doors (Business to Business, ‘B2B’). Real people are being persuaded to part with real money and real hope, in becoming coaches. Here, target audiences are those who are vulnerable from personal crisis such as redundancy, single parenting, mid-life ennui, heartbreak, illness, injury and other forms of loss. This is ground zero of the sales/recruitment. Ironically, hardship stories are often used as ?rags to riches? sales tactics suggesting overnight success is just a download away. Caveat Emptor.
Those who have earnestly invested in their shopfront (their ?unique coaching business?) are increasingly paying for more bricks to hide the real business behind it all. When their businesses don?t attract the 5+ figure incomes nor queues of rich exciting clients (many are at a loss without hope of any return on investment) and so they are persuaded to invest in? you guessed it! More Coaching! If your own coaching business isn?t ?attracting? paying clients, you need to be coached on ?how to attract paying clients?? and so on. Sales of B2C and BTB simultaneously.
In this case, the real money is being made from selling business coaching as a business; and life coaching as a lifestyle. There is some deep irony here. Once you have invested several thousands to ?become a coach?, you are more likely to keep spending than cut your losses. This is the classic cognitive bias for ?loss aversion? that marketers have used since wo/man could shop. This is why coupons and ?limited time offers? work so well ? you get FOMO. This ambiguity of promised potential gains hides the reality of actual loss and encourages this aversive behaviour. This is also why there is always an urgency to signing up for a free seminar or download.
Why is this trend emerging?
I think that people are genuinely seeking revenue and/or meaningful work through enhanced personal identity. In an increasingly impersonal world of ?celebrity salespeople? (social media influencers, reality stars – those who are generally famous for being paid to endorse big brands), it is easy to be become seduced by social media as a platform for personal income, psychological and emotional validation. Unlike investment eras of the past, online personal coaching disbands with the need for an office, social permission, academic credibility, experience or stock.
About 10 years ago I noticed the rising trend for everyone to have a personal trainer or ?PT? and be showing off their results and lifestyle changes online (including the need to post photos of angled or mood-related salad portraits) and I predicted that the next thing would be for that same proverbial ?everyone? to want a business/life coach so that they felt they were investing in their own psychology and wellbeing beyond tighter butt-cheeks. Furthermore, that a large proportion of this ?everyone? would come to see themselves as being ?qualified? to be those very coaches. Why not? With the increasing flexibility for working at home, on the go, in the car/caf?/gym, via ready-made platforms of social media and without the need to carry any product or stock and without the hours of academic training or hard physical graft of becoming a PT in a gym (which had probably crossed their mind at one point), it?s easy to see why ?becoming a coach? is very appealing. There is no personal investment needed – just all your available money.
Outlaw of Attraction – My Own Experience
Forever the professional ‘maverick’ or so I’m told, I celebrate the diversity and atypical of body and mind. From burlesque bodies to paranormal minds, my specialism is probably best summed up in the field of transpersonal psychology (where we holistically explore human experience and development through mind-body connections and consciousness work). I work mostly with people who find themselves to be ‘atypical’ in some way.
As someone who has been involved with psychology, the arts and wellbeing for 20 years it has been interesting although frustrating to watch this sales trend emerge. In the past year or so, I have also been approached by a few life coaches (one still in ?training?). They asked me to explain:
- ?how? I come up with my material,
- ?how? I get my experiences
- and ?how? I attract clients.
Truth is… that there is no ?how?, I just ?do?.
I?m curious by nature and I take positive risks in life, then reflect and take insight from the experiences. I then have the compulsion to share. Some people love the atypical (and even potentially trend-setting) work that I have done (including being a leader of the burlesque movement, creating a kind of ?cat yoga?, presenting snakes in schools as social learning guides, investigating alleged paranormal activity and developing techniques for increased sensory perception? and so on), and as a result, want me to be involved personally with their own creative development. They pay me for my time and insight and thus I am a ?coach?.
However, I didn’t became a coach by design nor even desire. Instead I began coaching 10 years ago because someone requested that I be their mentor in burlesque. The thought of being a coach at that time was very daunting to me as I never felt ‘qualified’ – until it became apparent that I was wanted because I had a lot to share.
I still experience self-doubt like everyone else but I am eternally grateful to that first coachee for having faith in me, as I found my ‘calling’. I am someone who creates and delivers new unorthodox materials to support personal development. To also work one to one with others is so special, sacred even.
I also didn?t choose or ‘find a niche’, I have sort of defined my own niche: ‘creative personal development’ and this has been achieved through subverting the mind-body norms of our culture over the course of my life. I believe that new work needs to be created by each individual in order for transpersonal progress to occur.
On a one to one coaching level, I therefore help others express themselves authentically from a holistic conscious perspective. We explore and present their ideas and identities in new ways. From stage performers, coaches, speakers and content creators to people transitioning in their private life e.g. gender, spirituality or career. I help my clients ?find their light?. (This reference to ‘light’ is key as it brings us back to the idea of trans-cendence and trans-personal work.)
For me, the success of this concept is highlighted in nurturing self-expression of personal ideas, values and identity. This has occurred gradually over years, through experimenting on myself, being radically honest in reflection and the act of creating of the aforementioned materials, that people want and are willing to buy. I still deliver my ?branded? material myself and have taught others to deliver it in their studios, schools etc too. I intend to make these courses available online soon too.
>>Pitch Alert!<< Perhaps you have something to say but can?t find the words, or it?s your time to shine but feel stuck in the dark, or maybe? you too want to be a coach and lead others in your unique way but can?t find your direction. I call this Creative Personal Development and it?s a process of self-discovery, creative output and self-determination.
There is no template or formula for this that can bought and sold – because it is genuinely individual. You can read more here about one to one personal coaching with me.
My Totally Free Coaching Advice! LOL
Finding a coach: Look at old school coaches and think… would I pay for my child to have a football coach who hasn?t played football? Would I see a therapeutic coach who downloaded their (very interesting I?m sure) course but has zero hours of supervised practice? Would I take business advice from someone who spends their time touting for business?
Don?t fall for it – look for credibility not the long emotional sales pitch about overcoming hardship to Ferraris and dream homes, perfect lifestyles and ?abundance?. Beware of anyone who calls them self a legend or guru – these are terms other people apply to their mentors. They are by definition earned over time and not an egoic # for sales effect.
Becoming a coach: It may seem like a lucrative opportunity but ultimately, the conceptual coaching bubble will burst. It will burst because quite simply those involved in this iterative coaching sales business, are creating their own competitors, with nowhere to climb. Furthermore, because the sales are based on outlandish claims of wealth, status and success that very few actually enjoy, a sense of ennui and failure will take over and lead the backlash just as it has done many times over for MLM.
Remember whilst there are huge amounts of money being made through the selling of coaching, this is where the trap is. It is easy to be seduced thinking you can be one of the makers. The reality is that you are very likely the buyer. You only make money if you make something that people want to buy. No one buys a theatre ticket and expects a role in the show or a cut of the box office. No casino has ever gone bankrupt because the gamblers were too good at gambling.
OK… now moving on to the exciting bit.
Doing it for real is so rewarding. I know loads of people who would make exceptional coaches in their niche areas of expertise and interest. So if the idea of sharing and helping others excites you then I think that coaching probably is a realistic option for you too. I’d be excited to hear all about it.
So let?s have a think? here are some things to ponder and ask for help on.
Do you have a niche? Do you have direction? Can you communicate your expertise and personal story? Can you create and develop your OWN content? Are you willing to share your true and honest self with others?
If you are thinking of becoming a coach, first of all you need to know why and what it is you are coaching specifically. Otherwise it?s a bit like when a youngling states that they want to grow up to be a celebrity. A celebrity what? Sadly, there is a cross over here too where some become online coaches that simply sell their ?brand? – a personal brand with nothing tangible behind it. It?s another way to validate wanting to be an ?influencer? without having anything to offer other than sales influence.
Content is key and if you don?t have it, you need to create it ? not buy, borrow, or rebrand what you bought from the last guy in the chain. Share good material from others of course, but with appropriate credit given. When you honour the minds of others you honour your own, and those of your audience.
If you can?t (yet!) create any content off your own experience, then train in some niche area of interest and work on yourself from there first. If you need help establishing this, get a bona fide coach to guide you. The primary question anyone should be asking themselves is ?how can I genuinely help others?? rather than ?how can I sell my brand??. Any genuine brand will sell itself, and you have to build it first. Additionally, it is so important to learn how to coach not just what topics and there are endless techniques, theories and methods to explore. It’s a matter of exploring across as many areas of interest as you can and see what you enjoy using and what you find effective. It doesn’t matter what someone else advocates, it is a matter of personal niche, personal service and personality.
I?d further suggest that those interested in coaching examine and enhance their individual creativity so that they might ?come up with? their own adventures then take it from there. The ?secret? to my experiences and material and clients? It?s simple – follow your own nose in life, not a carrot dangled in front of it. If there is one being dangled, notice it and look to see who is dangling it – then avoid those people and return to your own path. Certainly don?t then let them sell you carrots and sticks to dangle in front of others.
Be curious, take risks and try new things beyond your comfort zone. Reflect. Share. Share for free. Share because you can. When someone asks you to share with them, you become a coach or a friend.
Beauty norms are an illusion. Every cell that makes up every body is a unique expression of the universe, creating – and seeing – itself.
Regardless of height, weight and other measurable things, immeasurable beauty lives in the whole-ness and joy of every living being. Love your body and know that it is astonishingly exquisite – as this is exactly how it has been made.
Every body, Every mind… beautiful.
Last Winter I was invited to speak as part of a panel discussion on the topic of transgender, hosted by Rev. Michael Hampson of the Church of England, at St. Margaret’s Church in Hornby. My contributions were drawn from my long experience in both burlesque theatre and in advocating psychological wellbeing.
My ‘angle’ overall was on the positive lineage of gender satire in theatre and my aim was to advocate the burlesque world being an ally to those trans people whose voices are often diminished beneath controversy and misunderstanding.
Here are some thoughts from my address. Parallels between church and theatre are drawn with a call to all to practice what they preach.
Gender-blending in Burlesque:
Like gender itself, burlesque is subject to a lot of myths.
Burlesque theatre is not a recent trend (although there is a resurgence of enthusiasm) and it is not an American form per se. It is also not equivalent to striptease nor even ‘posh stripping’ as some lazy newspapers (and even producers!) have expounded over the years. In fact, in equivocating burlesque to ‘stripping off’ for the sake of stripping off, they misrepresent a joyful sparkling jewel of historic satirical theatre. Besides, striptease is an artform in its own right, too!
Historically and in its contemporary form, burlesque is a multi-faceted genre of diversity one that includes and challenges societally perceived gender and body norms – although I feel today it has more room to grow than ever. Burlesque actually has a 2500 year history going back to Aristophanes in 500BC and just as it was then, true burlesque theatre still rocks the status quo through the very powerful medium of satirical humour. Essentially, performers work in detail to set up, present and then subvert perceptions of propriety/normality. It most often targets gender norms and seeks to question notions of acceptable behaviour e.g. how we ought to conduct ourselves according to our assigned gender identities.
In particular over the millennia, burlesque has dealt with how WOMEN ought to behave, in any given era, often throwing out anachronistic absurdities and double standards that still dictate today. Here is where stripping does fit perfectly – both historically and with modern relevance – because any amount of public nudity is still taboo for women, but not for men.
Double Double Toil and Trouble:
There is a prevailing, undeniable double standard that shames women’s bodies. E.g. On a hot day men can be publicly topless (regarded as distasteful at worst) yet women quietly and even discretely breastfeeding their babies, remains controversial and an ‘outrage’ to many resulting in women having to actually determine official ‘breast feeding friendly zones’. There’s an app for that.
Women are subject to staggering expectations of grooming, weight and genetically determined body proportions that men are not. There is an automatic sexualisation of women’s bodies that encourages shaming – both for the nature of being sexual and for their ‘adequacy’ of sexual attractiveness, whatever that means at any one given moment. Furthermore for the trans community, they also have to contest with a new form of critique – that of being regarded as ‘passable’ (whether or not they could, would or do ‘pass’ as a believable man or woman), which kind of be implies a default status of ‘failure’ as an identifiable being. The fear ignited by the ambiguity of such subjective impressions is where anxiety and self-loathing blossom. In theatre, the three graces (of the classical era) became a trio of ugly and necessarily ‘evil’ witches – an idea that prevails in our modern ‘culture’ where women are admonished over the unattractiveness of ageing or wisdom. There is too, an increasing concern for young men today who are also being emotionally targeted over body shame (typically for commercial financial gain, e.g. grooming, weight and muscle building products and services) in a similar way, but the long term prevalence of women’s oppression is undeniable.
As the Western marketplace for health and beauty has been directed by white straight male privilege for as far back as advertising has existed, the resulting notions of ‘appropriate’ gender roles and bodily ideals have been perpetuated by a communal participation – to the point of perceived ‘fact?’. Of course, like many ‘facts’, gender and body norms are entirely subjective and are in-fact subject to a changing landscape of belief.
As liberal as the world of arts is considered to be, it too is not without such biases of its own or as enforced by the status quo; there are often venue rules that only apply to female anatomy e.g. no nipples to be seen on stage (but male nips are fine). An irony is now raised in asking whether such rules apply to women or only to those with assumed XX chromosome pairings, per se. What of transgender women’s nipples? What of transgender men’s nipples? Or are these nips in some sort of policy limbo? As a producer I have yet to get a straight answer on this from venues.
Gaze, Gays and a new Craze:
Our cultur’s backdrop too, has the eponymous ‘male gaze’ in paintings, the arrests of Victorian music hall performers, the imprisonment of homosexual writers and the selective recording of history that has relegated herstory to bit-parts and supporting roles at best. The theatre was also constrained by male privilege for so very long (arguably still is), yet interestingly at the same time it was a relatively safe place to be subversive. Such subverting artists gradually affected change because there was a costume department and stage with a fourth-wall that permitted the suspension of belief and a sense of separation from audience participation. Here there were thinkers and risk-takers ready to write or perform and to sneak their ‘dangerous’ ideas in the stage-door (which is usually the back-door) and on to the public platform for consumption.
Burlesque theatre in itself is actually where we see the first women take up lead roles on stage – but they did so, in the male lead roles (let’s face it, all lead parts were male parts and you needed well, male parts to be allowed to play any part even if you were pretending to have female parts). Crucially however, these male roles came with an almighty opportunity for women to be heard and not just seen – for the first time, women had speaking parts with which to address a captive and willing audience. Dressed as feminised male icons, villains and heroes (e.g. Don Giovanni, Henry VIII, Robinson Crusoe, Bluebeard…), led the shows mocking the patriarchy of their day with their ribald speech, song and gender-blending figure-hugging modus-operandi. See Eliza Vestries and Lydia Thompson for some 19th Century gender-blending fun.
Burlesque was (and when authentic) still is essentially, a kind of adult pantomime with a socio-political undertone. In my opinion, what was really shocking about burlesque in Victorian Britain was not the fact that ladies had ankles (two by Jove!) and were in fact bipedal like their male counterparts, but more so that they were literally wearing the trousers and these garments symbolised power. They had for the first time, a public voice and they used it for derision. Whatever would be next? Opinions on things? Financial independence? The vote?
Not a far cry of “he’s (or perhaps she’s?) behind you!?” or even a gender neutral? “they’re behind you!!?” that we still see in pantomime today where young women play feminised lead males known as the principle boy (think Buttons, Peter Pan or Prince Charming) and in contrast to everyone’s favourite the outrageous Panto Dame – usually the local vicar or policeman. Again the subversion of gender and societal norms is clear: On stage we are allowed, permitted, to empower those without male privilege whilst we emasculate those who traditionally hold all the male-dominated community power. Underneath all the twinkling tat and titillation, lies a rather potent inverted power-dynamic.
Burlesque was and is a playful form of exploring transitions – often we see performers transition in character and/or costume as their backing music and lighting jump dramatically between styles – from fully clothed to nude, from male to female and vice versa, from timid to bold, from repressed to liberated. Always in the positive direction of freedom.
Now more than ever, we see the same stages hold space for transgender expression but the stage is an oasis of relative safety amidst the real world of gender-driven power dynamics, fear and redundant social conventions. Through performance art we begin to really appreciate that our notion of ‘male or female’ gender itself is arguably a complex performance with no one defining aspect – a performance that each and every one of us is playing out, right now. We do it every day, from the moment of birth, as we learn and play, at home, school, work, and online. Whether ever on stage or off, it is one life-long personal interpretative dance sequence.
The trick is in learning to play and perform together, not as segregated by conceptual differences. We must share our props and costumes – and to not only allow all people to move and adapt the roles they were randomly assigned as babies, to encourage play, develop and perhaps even to move to an entirely new role that is more suited to their unique being. In the school play of life, some of us get the part of the prince and others the princess but most of us are cast as generic genderless, mute townspeople or background trees. The roles assigned may seem important at the time – but in reality they are all equal starting points for our individual progress because they don’t ever define us as people.
In Other Frocks:
When I first received Rev. Hampson round for tea and cake as a new resident of his parish, I was concerned that he might not embrace some of my ideals as exemplified in my decor choices; namely the multitude of pagan icons on the walls, the pet pythons, the morbid collections of Victoriana and our Holy Toilet of Wonder. This is the tiniest room in the house – a downstairs loo festooned with rosary beads, crosses, reclaimed church apparel, dancing 3D religious images, Buddy Christ (from the film Dogma) resting on the toilet brush, choral music playing from a light up nativity scene and portraits of myself as “Mary Dragdalen”, my other half as “Jon the Baptist” and our friend smoking a roll-up as the “The Virgin”. I was delighted to hear him laugh heartily from the confines of this unusual confessional and I knew I was on to a different breed of cleric. After much discussion about art, humour, comparative religion, gender, metaphor and the power of provocation, I was excited to become involved in his Peace and Justice Week of panel events and to learn of his own story of controversy within the CofE itself – where he has tirelessly championed for the inclusion of gay marriage services.
From having participated in the Peace and Justice Week it is a breath of fresh air to be able to see that there are many such enlightened clergy today challenging their own institutional status quo, their direct contemporaries and congregants in order to support the inclusion of all, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. This is no mean feat considering the staggering history of church-led persecution and its mercurial (often ironic) interpretation of scripture to exclude, punish and create a culture of fear and intolerance of various groups of people. Colossal mistakes of the past are to be learned from and clerics today have more autonomy to lead effectively and in line with the core message of their faith – one of universal love. For example, Rev. Chris Newlands (Lancaster Priory) went all the way to the General Synod to pose a motion for services to recognise gender transition. The result was that the Church of England has created new liturgy meaning that trans people (who had been baptised or Christened in their former gender and name), are able to ‘re-introduce themselves’ to their community and to God.
Regardless of how absurd it may seem to some (in either camp) to draw parallels between burlesque theatre and the Church, if we can all put our trendy or moralistic prejudices aside and see the people, there is hope for ever more celebration of our collective and individual being, regardless of whether you believe in creation or cabaret.
In in the spirit of moving forward together, we need direction. We must let go of misdirected anger, grudges and prejudices that we often levy at aspects of the perceived patriarchy – perhaps the church, the government or even society itself. Yes, there is history (and herstory) and it is to be learned from. We all could practice what we preach and it seems that burlesque theatre and the church might just be singing from the same sheets – albeit if it’s in a cat’s choir.
A further theatrical parallel is clear when contemplating the whole point of the church is in being a host to and also representative of Jesus, often described as ‘the Host’ that ministers to the community. Successful variety shows rely on a great host – one with commanding skills of influence, through grace of wit they offer the audience ‘the way’ to engage on both sides of that invisible 4th wall or ‘realm’ .
Hosts with the Most:
As In the variety show that is the church (it’s not always a media shit-show), some churches have ditched the dogma and where Jesus is referred to as ‘the Host’ – he is still regarded as a renegade going against the status quo of his society… and from what I’ve read in wider terms, he seems to be all for pan-sexuality and gender equality. Perhaps now, the church, can introduce people to one other as souls beyond gender and encourage more gracious support for each other, applauding each other’s performances, however uncertain, and with however much room still to improve; both there in the theatre of the church, and out here in the world.
Our burlesque show hosts always encourage the audience to give in to rapturous applause and to make as much noise as they can – to whoop, cheer, encourage and ultimately to show Love. We often joke that we need the applause because performers are rather needy people.
Big laugh… but there is truth in this.
Keeping the Faith:
It is important to recognise that needing a show of support is not a sign of weakness. It is in fact a request for solidarity because to get on stage in front of strangers (especially those who have paid hard earned money) takes guts. In fact, it takes more than guts – it takes a special kind of Faith. Faith in others to understand or at least, to listen. Like all people secretly do, performers openly crave acceptance and praise – but they know the risks and are willing to take them to be heard. Even in acts who do not use their audible voice, being heard is about the sharing of ideas, a fundamental truth about the self – an encoded message sent out in to the dark in the hope of some kind of response.
Extending the theatre as a metaphor for life, by virtue of their own courage, transgender people are exposed on the world stage. Every day in the media, at their workplaces and schools, at home and in play. They cannot escape to the green room – because they are not actors. They have emerged beyond performance, the masks are off and they are the authentic jewels.
It’s time that burlesque theatre reminded itself of where it came from, so that it might continue toward a more inclusive future. One without the body and gender shame for all. Striptease, pinup glamour and political whimsy are entertaining but hardly addresses the patriarchy, the pound or the potential for change with any power. It is time to revel once again in the taboo and play dangerously with those matches and mismatches – that just might ignite a revolution.
The Church of England are, rather ironically, making like an ecdysiast – the serpent and the stripper. They are shedding their skins. Peeling off their once oppressive robes and stepping out into the light. We can all take inspiration to lose our dogmas and be bold in the simplicity of individual freedom. As ecdysiasts with a sense of humour, we need to scale up our operation.
Whether we go to church in the morning or cabarets at night, we all stand together in our vulnerability. Just as a performer can be naked and fierce in public they are yet gently bathed under a lighting rig’s colours to flatter or augment their realities. Stained glass images can be beautiful to behold, we must not forget to go outside and see the source that makes them possible – that one true light that shines on all of us equally.
As a producer I am calling for more trans performers to get in touch – for both stage and/or for coaching. Visit or apply to join the Ministry of Burlesque mission here.
I was a child model but…. (butt) as soon as puberty hit no-one wanted to know. I experienced much anxiety and shame over my height and body shape as a young teenager. I eventually reached the mighty height of 5′ and a bit of an inch and with fully blooming curves but of course was totally ‘unfit’ for ‘off the peg’ garments and ‘fashionable’ things…. Ho Hum. Whether it was the height or my curves or the combination… I don’t know.
So, I went about testing a theory. My theory was that the status quo on ‘acceptable’ female bodies was always changing and probably quite easy to subvert, if I was willing to be risky (risk rejection, dissent, criticism…) and persist. So, I did.
As an adult, I have appeared on many magazine covers, billboards and advertising campaigns. I somehow managed this by being fastidiously present at events and amusing/interesting/eccentric enough to publishers, producers and designers for them to take a punt on a differently shaped, pint-sized model with something to say.
I have a lot of insight to share now with others – emotionally, practically and artistically on these illusory ideas of beauty and gender norms.
I landed (cat-like) in the world of fetish and alternative fashion, modelling internationally for latex and corsetry designer, appearing in print and on many global catwalks. My subversive appeal led to some very interesting achievements including being on the cover of prestigious art publication 125 magazine (thanks to the the wonderfully creative Finlay MacKay, photographer), appearing on the walls of London Fashion Week 2007 (TOWERING in print over the fashionable folk! lol) and with my image hanging in the Paul Smith Gallery in Tokyo.
I was also the face and body of a variety of advertising campaigns for skin care, corsets, BDSM apparel (why not?), luxury goods and events. My image has become useful to artists in a variety of mediums, from digital to acrylic as, chalks and even music. I’ve even been manifested as an oil painting here and there too. I keep a special one in my attic.
Often working with those experiencing emotional difficulties over body image, I offer workshops to enhance body confidence drawing on my skills and experience complete with personal photoshoot. Click here!
Coming Out of The Closet
Victorian Spiritualism and the Vaudeville Striptease
(First Published:?Erotic Review. Issue 66, 2004.)
A grand parlour room bathed in the dim and eerie glow of phosphorus and magnesium lamps hosts an arrangement of ladies and gentlemen, seated on edge. They eagerly await the emergence of the fine figure of the scantily clad, nubile maiden anticipate (but not billed) to appear before them.?
Through some mysterious ritual, the audience witness a noble girl of teenage form fall in to a helpless trance as she is led amongst the shadows and shapes of the room, to the dark enclosure intended for her alone.? Parted lips are licked in anticipation of an unknown known and to quell the dry speechless mouths of anxiety as she is willingly bound by her wrists, ankles and neck and secured in a seated position in a cabinet just big enough for one body. A heavy curtain is slowly drawn across the front, obscuring this vision of blind submission from the onlookers who squirm and stretch their limbs in sympathy or frustration.?
A gentleman of note stands near the girl, please with his bondage and set but he too now awaits the phenomenal ?emergence? and her big reveal.?
She is the perfect picture of innocence, a tableaux of substitution as she sits in silence, patiently bound to an era of scandal.?
The chanting and gentle, nervous singing of psalms masks the true emotion of the group while the master of ceremonies begins to perspire in anticipation of the climax of this absurd eroticism.
Then, it happens.
The onlookers and in awe and dare not move, nor speak so loud as to disturb Her.
She is coming.
Perfect, snow white feminine hands with long tapered fingers peel their way through the motionless folds of the curtains where they adjoin so seamlessly. She begins to emerge from one world in to the next and inch by ivory inch, the silky figure of Katie King materialises as from the fabric itself.
This apparition, the 23 year old daughter of legendary 17th century pirate John King has arrived. No one moves.? This petty criminal, adulteress, murderess, long since dead and now repentant visitor at this moral class gathering, is now the ironic guest of honour.
The audience gasp in disbelief, some in fear, others in awe or ecstasy as they each realise their long coveted spiritualist dreams.
?By God, it?s true!?
?It cannot be so!?
?It is. It is.?
The corsetry of some of the ladies is suddenly too tight by too many inches of truth and learned men struggle? and grapple with language as they each flounder and grasp at any rationale for their own embarrassing social delirium.? However,? no one takes their eyes of Katie and the gesture is reciprocated as she commands the audience with silent stares which whisper echos of the other side.
?Suddenly she moves and appears to draw a young man out from the audience with her ghostly fingers, now parted lips and spellbinding stare. She beckons him away from the safety and sobriety of his seat and like a skilful puppeteer, she pulls his ethereal strings and follows her, both gliding toward the other side, of the curtain.
Within inches of touch, exotic lips pass a gentle breeze of warmth on his burning cheeks as they travel to whisper secrets to his throbbing temples and recumbent ears, deaf from the din of his own pulse inside.
The atmosphere is charged to its limit and catharsis is imminent. One man cracks with desperation and lunges forward through the quaking voyeurs.? His lust for the truth has overcome his dutiful sense of propriety and he lunges forward in a clumsy grope for knowledge. He grabs at the Spectral Beauty in seconds as shrieks of horror and gasps of panic rip the meditative concentration of the room to shreds in even less time.
But it is too late. The ghastly crime of such a wanton individual has already been committed exposing his real motives for bearing witness to the proceedings and exposing hers for her ill thought out parlour trick.
The women faint, pass judgment (but on whom they are not sure) and other feign a faint to avoid making such a decision. The men lung at the lunger but stop dead and flummoxed until they realise the big reveal before them; ?she lies gripped in the arms of her exposer, semi clad in semi opaque cloth that is slipping off as she struggle to free her limbs and dignity.
Everyone is silent, staring and no-one says a word. The young medium is aflush with the heat of vexation and her round eyes stare up accusingly as her shallow rapid breathing grows slower and louder.
There is no applause – no hero to cheer for, no victim to cry for and no conclusion that anyone wishes to draw, except the curtains on the empty cabinet in the dark.
If you had been privy to a mediumistic session of the 19th century, the above scenario is a likely interpretation of what you might have seen.?To commune with the dead was the ultimate Victorian parlour game, many a scientist?s line of enquiry and a window to God and the sociable Dead to those of varying societal class and rank.
These s?ances were at the forefront of Spiritualism and Psychical Research and an emotional outlet of the mere mortals who obsessed over the macabre to the ironic point of fetishising death, perhaps in lieu of any direct sexual relief, a topic that was most abhorred. Modern critics have scoffed at these gatherings declaring them to be born of sleaze and not soul, but for a deeply sexually repressed and often confused society, this pseudo science of the day embraced all the taboo of sex and transformed it in to it?s polar twin and thus justified the sexual curiosities as more akin to religion than the erotic and the as the sessions were conducted by men of science, the meetings could be accepted as legitimate gatherings in the name of science and exploration.
By the 1870s, the stereotype of the medium had changed. The image of the withered old crone teetering on the brink of death herself was replaced by a much more palatable model medium. Young women of puberty were generally accepted to be ideal mediums; young women and girls often under the age of consent were often selected from ?respectable? families were capital stock.
?We anxious investigators can scarcely complain of the change which brings us face to face with fair young maidens in their teens?
Rev. C.M Davies, 1875
The famous physicist and chemist, William Crookes made his mark on Spiritualism when he dedicated himself to testing such young mediums under scientific scrutiny such as Mary Rosina Showers and more infamously, Florence Cook.
Florence Cook was born around 1850 and between 1872 and 1874, she is credited with manifesting the spirit of Katie King on a regular basis. Florence willingly participated in Crookes? experiments where he endeavoured to study both the medium and the materialisation, Katie King.
In order to observe Florence?s behaviour, watch for trickery and to witness any spontaneous appearances of Katie King, Crookes had the young medium move in to his home to live with him.? Many people scoffed at this arrangement seeing it as a scandal; one critic (Trevor hall) even claimed that at one point that Florence ‘shared his bed as his mistress’.
To add to scandal, it was reported that Florence was only fifteen and had lied about her age but the most peculiar aspect of the reporting of this affair of science, is that Florence declared that at times she was also sharing the bed with Katie King who had promised that she would make a ?full bodily materialisation? within a ?year of development?.
It is perhaps of great interest to those who prefer the ?scandal hypothesis? to that of ?legitimate research? that Katie King was known to be a long dead daughter of pirate and was a notorious whore among other illicit things. This aspect of the dubious nature of the arrangement was explained (or perhaps justified) in that she was making her post mortem materialisation so that she might repent for the sins of her life.
During her materialisations, Katie King ? like many other apparent spirit forms ? emerged from behind a curtain or from within a purpose build ?spirit cabinet? where the mediums sat bound by strings and ribbons in an attempt to prevent a fraudulent apparition.? However, not all displays such as these were intended to be evidential of the spirit world; they intended quite the opposite in fact.
Ana Eva Fay was famous in teh late 19th century for her ?phenomenal? act in which she was tied by her hands, neck and ankles to a pole, sat on a chair and secreted in a closet.
Various musical instruments were placed on her lap and after the cabinet was closed, the audience would hear various instruments being played. Within minutes, the audience would then see garments of her clothing (i.e. her hat and hoop) being cast from the cabinet.
Although this was a deliberate show piece, as the popularity of Spiritualism grew, Ana began to be billed as a ?talented medium?. Naturally, more people began to question the general integrity of mediumship, wondering if it was all trickery ? a mere vaudeville side show often peppered with a strip tease. Mediumship became a lucrative part of showbusiness as people still came in droves. The curiosity of the debate still maintained a grip but more and more people were attending shows in the hope of catching the medium out and exposing their illusions.
Many of the young mediums were indeed exposed. Many were found to be playing both the medium and the spirit and had ?spirit costumes? stuffed in their knickers and petticoats for a quick change, whereas other were found to use an accomplice to act as the spirit ? often a sister or personal maid.
What is more difficult to explain, however are the eye witness accounts of other phenomena such as levitation; unfortunately the accounts of Florence Cook levitating off a table and ?flying? around a room vary so much from one another as to make them questionably accurate. The account none the less are entertaining and perhaps suggestive of witness seeing and recalling according to their desires ? one account states that Florence floated on and off a table while another states that her ?clothes floated off? before levitating on to? table, naked before her audience. Excited gossip and rumours are likely impossible to disentangle from any truth, especially when sexual fantasy was courting the fantastic.
For a bit of burlesque fun, we produced a silly little sketch based upon this very scenario: ‘Seance and Sensibility’ debuted at the Fortean Times Unconvention in London:
First Published:?Erotic Review. Issue 66, 2004.
Why burlesque could be good for you.
In the face of ever-evolving social and artistic controversy over burlesque as a form of entertainment, I?d like to volunteer my tuppence-worth on an overlooked aspect of participation. ?As someone who has meaningful experience in both the promotion of burlesque theatre and mental health interventions, I believe that burlesque can be more than just good fun ? it can be good for your mental health.
As any wellbeing practitioner and therapy-frequent flyer will know, most of our statutory and established practices for overcoming and managing ?common mental health problems? (including depression and anxiety) are based on a ?CBT approach? – that is an approach that is rooted in evidenced-based ?cognitive-behavioural therapy?. As the name suggests CBT focusses on the relationship between a person?s cognition (their thoughts and thinking styles) and their behaviours (what they do and equally what they are not doing).
Many people experiencing low moods and worry tend to get stuck in vicious cycles where negative and intrusive thoughts collude with harmful habits (or inactivity) ? to form a symbiotic relationship of emotional distress and psychological turmoil.
Note: For the purpose of this blog, I?m taking a simplified CBT model as the basis of good self-help practice and is intended for reader relevance i.e. those a) experiencing lower levels of anxiety or depression and b) those who might be interested in the celebration and exploration of gender and body confidence. It is not aimed at those currently in?crisis or experiencing severe psychological distress or psychosis. Please consult your mental health professional or?approach your GP for advice, if you suspect you are in need of help. This is an article of personal experience and not based on any official advice or guideline.
In the case of anxiety, there is an underlying unyielding intolerance to uncertainty ? a desperation to feel in control of that which we can?t even predict. This leads to ?checking behaviour? all the time ? checking things are safe, checking how many ?Likes? we have on a FB post or Instagram image, checking that we haven?t upset our friends (by repeatedly asking obscure questions to the point of irritation), checking our email has sent and was word perfect, checking that our multiple alarm clocks are correctly set, our doors are locked, and so on? I?m sure I am not the only one to have had the very modern compulsive need to check the on/off switch of a suspect pair of hair straighteners – ?that are sure to explode killing everyone, when you least suspect it?. (If you want to know my solution to this? just ask, it?s ridiculously simple.)
Experiencers of depression and anxiety typically hold a low opinion of themselves and of their personal ?worth? as a member of their wider community (often by unhelpful comparison with others). Consequently, they experience excessive worry (or even obsessions) about what others think of them. These emotional states and negative thoughts are often confounded further by feelings of guilt about self-care and doing anything ?just for me?. Ironically, in not doing anything for themselves they have no way to gain a positive self-appraisal or consider their worth as a contributing member of their community.
They feel that their worth is defined by others ? either in comparison to (?I?ll never be as a good as Jeannie McTwinkletits??) or, in service to the needs of others (family, work, village hall and so on). As a result they find themselves avoiding self-care and cease any investment in the self. They stop going out socially and, where their mood ultimately takes a nose dive, they also disengage with their own hobbies and interests taking on a sense of general pointlessness (and worthlessness).
In theatrical terms it?s a lighting cue for a fadeout to black.
Exit: The leading lady?
Enter: The shitty understudy.
Unlike most theatrical practices, burlesque ?breaks the fourth wall? and in a beautiful metaphor for mental health awareness, it allows the protagonist to call out directly to the audience and tell it like it is – as the hero(ine). This is what burlesque is supposed to do ? give a voice to the voiceless, the repressed and the misunderstood through the medium of satire.
Well, I can lend testimony to this as my personal motivation to perform was born of a desire to challenge my own body anxiety. Of course, most would not think that turning oneself in to a public spectacle of ironic nudity would be a natural solution to this issue, but here is why I say it is so…
Over 15 years ago I started a performance company (Ministry of Burlesque) on this very same wellbeing hunch ? of directly challenging negative self-perceptions with ?positive risk-taking?. This (then considered bewildering) mission of mine helped at least in some small part, to launch a beautiful movement. Now looking back I can clearly see that my intuition on this was not just personal recklessness, wishful thinking nor a spurious justification to ?dance? around Glasgow in my oversized frilly pants.?Nor was it part of my ?secret sex-worker agenda to pay my University tuition fees? as The Sun* unhelpfully misinformed the public at the time. Oh the anxiety that caused.
So? in briefs, here is a quick outline of what I have observed. I hope it is interesting and perhaps it might fuel a bit of discussion, debate or even experimentation?
Performing (or even attending as a purveyor) burlesque hits all the marks for a good piece of CBT homework, if done with positive intentions and sensible judgement. Doing so challenges your thoughts, prompts you to do something different or, to do or look at something familiar, differently.?After all, it is in our differences that our individual beauty is reflected.
Performing burlesque involves the following:
- Positive risk-taking.
Not reckless risk taking! But intentionally taking positive ones calculated with reason – which can be scary and new to us all the same. In taking risks, we create opportunity to reap rewards and expand our own boundaries. When we don?t push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we don?t learn anything new about ourselves. It is ok to try burlesque and decide ?it?s not for me?, in fact this is just as good an outcome as deciding that you love it. Either way, you grow.
- Challenging your own preconceptions.
Challenging your own long held ?NATs? (negative automatic thoughts) about body shaming, gender roles, nudity and social propriety is essential to growth. These are the miserable or nasty thoughts that seem to just pop up and plague you, as though they come from somewhere outside yourself like ?women shouldn?t wear so much make up it looks tarty?. They often come with ?should? and ?ought to? statements in them?)
- Accepting uncertainty.
On stage and off stage. Will it be all right on the night? From Costume malfunctions to tumbleweed responses, you will build resilience to the uncertain nature of the world in which you live. The onstage is reflected offstage too and not just preparation, backstage and online but in your regular life aspects too, what once seemed like uncertain terrors might now be put in to perspective. What’s the worst that can happen? Really? Is that likely? Find out what is the best that can happen?
- Social Engagement and Acceptance.
You can make friends within a bustling community that celebrates body and gender differences, at a pace you can manage. You can take dainty toe-steps or you can wade in both on the ?scene? in clubs, expos and meetups or, online. These people too share something in common with you and are happy to accept you as you want to be – yourself or even as an ?avatar? or stage-persona, allowing you some breathing room behind a costume or alter-ego. The caveat to this though is to remember that you are doing so and that others may be doing the same. You may not be making genuine authentic friends with anyone, as you are still in many respects ?performing? in a fantasy world. Taking to extremes, this can be an issue ? but that is for another blog.
- You will be an outlier, a heroine, a pioneer!
You are part of a movement that challenges the status quo. Being an outlier with a purpose means that you are making a massive contribution to the community ? be at the arts, social or political. You will in tandem become more resilient to criticism and, can better deal with the world?s jerks and trolls.
- Quick gains.
Burlesque as a performance form is very inclusive and accessible that doesn?t have prerequisite skills or training to start.
- Physical exercise.
Exercise like dancing helps to tackle body confidence issues with toning the muscles and of course benefits your body and mind from improved cardiovascular function to endorphin release. You get those happy hormones and lasting feel good effects 🙂
- Enhanced Creativity.
Flexing your creative muscles in creating an act involves as much or as little time and effort as you want to put in. Having this purpose gives you permission to take time out to do the following:
Listen to music to be inspired?
Watch old movies?
Go to the theatre?
Design and make costumes
Dance, sing, play etc
Learn new skills – clowning? Aerial? Singing? Make something disappear somewhere interesting?
Research beautiful, weird and wonderful things – all guilt free!
Of course, there are always risky-risks involved in any risqu? risk-taking and so here are some practical guidelines to make it as positive as possible.
Your issues laid bare?
I?m sure we have all heard someone comment on /scoff at a performer who appears to be ?working out their issues on stage?. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact the process may be cathartic or experimental for them. Just like all other areas of artistic expression, mental health is a huge motivation, inspiration and influence. However, this needs to be considered with some caution as laying bare your soul can make you very vulnerable to the interpretations and criticisms of others – others who do not know you, your story nor understand your intended sentiments (which let’s face it, might not be as clearly expressed in dramatic form, as you intended). We all grow and refine our expression over time whether it’s burlesque, writing or painting, so be kind to yourself and keep your stage message simple and clear.
If you are in professional therapy, then it?s important to discuss your interest in burlesque/ intention to perform with this professional and what might be involved for you to participate. For example… you may need to consider gradual adaption to new behaviours or gradual exposure to triggers is advisable, e.g. If there are body issues then nudity might not be the best first port-of-call. If there are social anxiety problems then a crowded backstage might not be good for you to dive in to.
As therapeutic as performing burlesque might be, that doesn?t make burlesque teachers ?therapists? in any way. It is important to have good guidance not only to maximise your personal potential in performing but in gaining wider opportunities for personal development. Therefore it is crucial that you do your homework on teachers. As a fairly new and largely nonspecifc genre interns of skill sets, many teachers are riding the bandwagon and have made up their accolades. I am aware of two who have built up seemingly credible businesses based on careers they have fabricated and awards that don?t exist/were never given to them. Good teachers don?t need/or want to do this. They will be honest with you about their own experience and limitations – it?s about what they can and can?t do for you. Be wary of those who talk a lot about their amazing careers. If it?s genuine, and exists why do they need to tell you? Also be wary of those who talk about ?empowerment? and self-esteem. Very rarely are dance teachers also qualified therapists. Good teachers won?t waste your time talking about themselves nor try to recruit you in to newcomer showcases /contests (how could they possibly know what?s right for you before you even begin?) Sadly I?ve seen women damaged by so-called teachers (who had no business selling burlesque never mind burlesque as some sort of therapy), bullied them in to tassel twirling and stripping at their ?graduation shows?.
Often these performances are filmed without consent and put online (this is not ethical but many don?t or won?t see the problem). Such videos can go on to create more anxiety e.g. With work colleagues and family members seeing it. Public comments can be cruel and often those who were bullied might draw their persecutors attention again… relationship problems etc
These talent contest format events are generally not healthy. For a number of reasons but most obviously that in taking part, you are permitting strangers to judge you. Why would you give anyone that power? On what authority is ANYONE to judge you? Is this fun?
- Bullies and trolls.
I?ve been on the hot and pointy end of this stick many times, especially in the first 10 years. The rumours spread have been astonishing ? from my use of ?mind control powers? over the best performers and my ?manifesting? myself as a ?dark spirit? in to the bedroom of a detractor, to my ?hiring assassins? to wipe out other promoters?. You wouldn?t believe it, although incredibly, some people did!
My experience was on the extreme end of things. I had death threats, harassment and have been stalked ? even by my own customers who have since set up as teachers and promoters of burlesque (caveat emptor). But then, I was a visible figure at the forefront of something interesting creating something (MoB) that others desired to be part of. I couldn?t please or include everyone and those I didn?t please felt justified in bullying me and copying my work to the point of direct imitation. That?s life – life through a jealous lens. ?Don?t be scared by the trolls ? if I can find this hilarious in hindsight, you can tread the boards already laid out for you, any bumps underfoot just remind you to keep it real.?This was the calculated risk I took – and for me it was worth it as I have also met amazing people who have inspired me and have been privileged to have been part of others? journeys; and I continue to meet people today with whom I?m honoured to coach.
Here is my advice in another blog post, on dealing with dafty trolls and bitches:
In conclusion, I think it is fair to reiterate that it is important to recognise that burlesque is not in itself any form of therapy and its proponents are not therapists, however, embarking on your own burly adventure has all the capacity for therapeutic self-help.
A good example of what I term ‘creative wellbeing’, burlesque is an opportunity for personal development. ?Positive Risk and Reward? are positively correlated and that where reason and sense should be employed in safeguarding yourself against the pitfalls, the same sense and reason should equally be used to encourage a sense of derring-do. The key to wellbeing success in burlesque is to find creative ways to peel back the layers of self-doubt, to let your mind dance freely without restraint and your authentic spirit shine in the spotlight of your unfolding life.
*I refer to such publications as ?noise-papers? rather than newspapers as they scream out unintelligible obscenities from the gutter shelf, rather than communicate news.
Please note that help is available through the NHS to tackle issues of mood and anxiety, don’t suffer – start your progress today by talking to your GP. Many of us have been there already, you are not alone.
For anyone experience crisis please know that there is help available on many resources helplines and services including in presenting yourself to A&E:
Ouch! When someone is inexplicably mean it is often because they are licking an unconscious wound…. Damage to our self-image can take many forms and wounds can be inflicted in any ways. From deliberate insult to personal failure, typically a bruised ego affects only the owner who feels tender(ised) on the inside… but a broken ego can shatter in to a thousand shards that leave others walking on broken glass.
Having a professional attitude or approach to a thing is not necessarily what makes it your ‘profession’. When something is your profession, it is implied that this is your main source of earning and what you have specifically dedicated your training to.
Those who perform as a hobby aren’t any less ‘professional’ in their conduct. It’s just that their ban balance isn’t reliant on the earnings. Those with valued vocations, who conduct themselves in an efficient, respectable manner are just as likely to be hired as those whose profession it is.
This is a complicated issue but it is essentially about being realistic in terms of the many different factors which contribute to ?professionalism?. There are no exact black and white criteria and different professions require different factors.
Overall, we can generally agree that to be a professional anything, there are two key factors involved:
1- Having the specialised knowledge or skill required.
As such, some professions are regulated or standardized in some way (i.e. accountancy, teaching and medicine) which makes it easy for us to identify and accredit professional labels to people. However, some industries (like burlesque, art or writing) are either too niche or defy a set of ?rules? to be obviously standardized in a meaningful way.
2- Being able to earn a living from it (and then paying appropriate taxes on those earnings).
To pursue something ?professionally? implies pursuit of financial gain and so to be a ?professional? you would need to first of all, be in a position to earn a meaningful income i.e. you get enough interest because of your ethic, attitude, reputation etc.
As a result, professionalism in the entertainment industries tends to be judged most heavily on income and personal reputation merits such as attitude and ability.
Amateur and Proud! Being an ?amateur? doesn?t imply a lower standard of work or a poor attitude. Not at all. The difference can simply be down to choice. The word amateur simply means that the person does not (or does not intend to) earn money from their pursuits. After all, Sherlock Holmes (the greatest detective of all time..) classes himself as an ?Amateur Detective? and many of the greatest sportspeople are classed as amateur purely because they do not get paid for the actual playing of their sport. An ?amateur artist? may simply indicate the pursuit of a person of leisure and independent wealth, thus the title is in no way indicative of a lower level of talent. In fact, some people rightly use it with a sense of ?pride?.
Being a professional anything doesn?t make a person an expert in any way. In fact often is the case that the amateur enthusiast is the one bagging the 10,000 hours of practice required to justify a claim to be ?expert?. This is a general criteria which applies to all things, not just burlesque!
Where can I find reputable teachers?
Taking up lessons from reputable teachers is an excellent way to start out, but do research your options ? the person who happens to be most local or inexpensive may not be the best choice. There is no ?standarisation? or regulatory body to ensure safety and even basic skill. Be careful in choosing a class to attend as it?s not just you money that counts ? it?s your quality of learning, fun, health and safety too. With the rise in popularity of burlesque, more and more people are looking to join in the on-stage fun. This has seen a concomitant increase in people offering to give ?burlesque lessons?, not all of whom are in a position to honestly do so. MoB are available for consultation and direction and reputable teachers are available through our Coaching services.
Here are some pointers based on community feedback and experience. My hope is that you can learn from others? mishaps:
The diversity of the genre. Burlesque is a diverse genre involving many skills, styles and should be available to everyone. Any teacher who seems to be selling their particular specialty (i.e. striptease) as burlesque, has misunderstood what they are purporting to teach. How are they going to address characterization? Prop comedy? Making satire accessible? If the title of the class is literally wrong, we can be confident that the content will fall short too.
The importance of insured, experienced and qualified instructors cannot be emphasized enough. You are likely to be engaging in moderate to upbeat exercise and teachers must be properly trained, insured and knowledgeable about the possibility of injury or strain. Your specific needs and any limitations of movement are important in your learning – and must be considered by any instructor. Also, be wary of anyone who uses any kind of ?self-confidence coaching? psychobabble without appropriate certification or experience ? they could be doing you more harm than good.
How experienced are they – really? Make sure your prospective teacher also has adequate experience themselves in the burlesque world. You will want to ask for advice on putting your new skills in to action, and your first steps toward building a good reputation are crucial.
Ask any teacher about their own successful careers as Burlesque performers ? i.e. how many years experience have they specifically in this genre? Have they travelled internationally? Whom do they work with? Which reputable agencies can provide corroboration of this? None? Oh dear?
Burlesque is a craft ? not an adjective applied to any random class featuring a feather boa or buzzwords. The importance of having both teaching experience and performing experience are not to be underestimated. How will a teacher provide you with direction and advice if they have none to give?
Do ask for specifics, don?t be shy. Any genuine instructor will be thrilled that you are taking your education seriously enough to ask.