9 Ways to Find Your Next Burlesque Act Idea
Coming up with a burlesque act idea can be difficult. If you’re not struck by inspiration, you can spend hours going back and forth with concepts and music, trying to find something that works.
So, to help kickstart your creative process, here are 9 ways to find your next burlesque act idea:
1. Start with the music
One of the best ways to settle on a premise, or concept, for your act is to start with the music. Finding the right song can unlock a previously untapped font of creativity — the right song will tell you, in the music or the lyrics, what your choreography should be. It can tell you when to bump and grind, it can set the mood of the piece, it can even tell you what the story of your piece should be.
I’m personally not good at knowing music — I’m always 10 years behind the current trends, and I somehow missed all the good stuff that happened before I was born — so I have a small music library from which to choose. Fortunately, the internet is a great tool for finding music you didn’t know about. Use Youtube, Spotify, Bandcamp, and other music platforms (or just do a google search with terms related to what you might want to dance to) to discover new music.
Pick random songs that seem like they might fit just from the title, explore new artists and genres, and don’t walk into your music-selection process already knowing what you want. Sometimes, when you’re least expecting it, the perfect song will present itself.
2. Pick a theme
Themed shows are always easier to do than un-themed, because they give you an idea of where to start. If it’s a Broadway-style show, you know that you’re going to have to use show tunes; if it’s horror-themed, there are Halloween-style tropes and horror movies to choose from out of the gate; etc.
Humans are notoriously bad about making decisions when given too many options; we like to have boundaries. Boundaries can actually give you the space to be more creative, because you’re not forced to make infinite decisions during the creative process.
So what do you do when you’re faced with creating an un-themed act? Make up your own theme! Yes, you can do that.
Think about themes that producers use often or might be likely to use in the future, so that you can get some milage out of your act. Think about themes that you would like to do or that speak to you on a personal level. Think about themes for which you already have ideas. If it’s not too specific or out of place (for example, doing a Christmas themed act in July), then go for it! Once you have a theme, you’ll be able to start narrowing down premises.
3. Use a pun
Puns, plays on words, and turns of phrase can be an unexpected place from which to create an act. For example, I have an act called “Goldilocks and the Three Chairs,” which I came up with at random for a fairy-tale themed show. I didn’t have any other ideas other than creating a play on words, and from the title alone, I was able to create what would become my signature act.
Think of titles of art, movies, or other pieces of popular culture. How can a play on words be used to create an unexpected and fun act?
4. Find a fandom
Popular culture is a great place to go for act creation, because it gives us a common language with which to connect with our audiences, while providing us with the boundaries of an already-created character’s story from which to create an act.
What you do with popular character’s story will either subvert or fulfill the audience’s expectations of that character, and you can play around with the tension that comes from the audience’s anticipation of that fulfillment.
Just be careful not to be too cliché in picking your character and telling their story; there’s a fine line between fulfilling expectations and being too predictable. Don’t let your choice of a fandom fool you into thinking that the story has already been written for you. Be creative!
5. Do a tribute
This is a very touchy subject, so if you choose to do a tribute, do so knowing that you are going to have to be very deliberate about how your proceed.
A tribute act is an act done in the style of another performer, meant to celebrate that performer’s work. Here are a couple of things to think about before doing a tribute:
- Is the performer’s work well-known enough that the audience is going to get that your act is a tribute to theirs?
- Is your tribute clearly a tribute, or are you just copying (stealing) someone else’s choreography?
- Is your tribute culturally sensitive? (I can’t believe I have to write this one, but PLEASE don’t do blackface or appropriate a style that isn’t yours to use.)
Like I said: tread lightly in this territory. But if you approach tributes with the right amount of reverence and respect, you might just have an amazing act on your hands!
6. Pick apart a trope
In addition to nerdy fandoms, there are thousands upon thousands of cultural tropes that you can play with.
As with tributes, you want to be careful not to lean on stereotypes that will harm people or appropriate a culture that isn’t yours. But with that in mind, there are still many tropes to pick from.
When selecting from a cultural trope, keep in mind that the synonym for trope is “cliché.” If you lean too heavily on a cliché, it can be boring; figure out how to subvert it or breathe some new life into the cliché.
Your task is to pick that trope apart and find out what makes it tick — why does the nerdy underdog resonate? The jilted girlfriend? The hot teacher? Then figure out how you can be that character while doing something different. Show us something we haven’t seen before!
7. Comment on culture
Right now, the hot take is hot. Whether it’s the latest ad campaign gone wrong or a political shit storm (and there are a LOT of those to choose from), there are a lot of sociopolitical happenings on which to comment.
If you’re going to tread into this territory, as always, do it with class. If you’re going to do a number dressed as a Nazi, maybe try to make sure that the satire is apparent before you do your Nazi salute. When in doubt about whether or not your piece reads and your side of the argument is clear, ask someone to watch your number first. Get feedback.
Sociopolitical numbers especially can be fraught. You don’t want someone thinking that your piece about diet culture is actually fat shaming when you meant to be promoting fat acceptance. Get feedback, and then go out and help change the world with your dance!
(Also, for excellent examples of sociopolitical acts, go follow The Body Political. These acts are specifically focused on the politics of the body.)
8. Improv and freestyle
Sometimes, when you’re feeling blocked, the best thing to do is just let go. Instead of trying to force creation, find a Spotify play list in a genre that speaks to you, hit “shuffle,” and just start moving. You may stumble onto a song that lights you up or a dance move that you want to work with.
You can up the ante by finding a series of writing prompts and randomly selecting one to start with, or strewing random props around the room and picking them up and working with them as you freestyle.
You’ll probably do a lot of stupid stuff that doesn’t work — and you’ll also probably stumble onto something amazing. Just stick with it and trust the process. If you don’t like doing it alone, grab a friend or two and play!
9. Do the Opposite
This one might be the hardest, but when you’re truly blocked: do the opposite of what you’d normally do.
If you normally perform nerdlesque, start playing with a strictly classic number. If you are always dabbling in goth/gore, give yourself the task of creating the most bubblegum pink and positive number you can. If you never use props, add in a fan, a chair, or any other element that you’ve never played with before.
You may find that you hate the number you come up with, BUT you may also find that you can use elements of what you just explored back in your regular genre. Wouldn’t it be funny to see a bubblegum pink number that slowly gets blacker and blacker as the act goes on? What if your classic reveal was Wonder Woman at the party with a sword behind her dress? What if you discover that fans open up a new world of reveals and teases that you couldn’t have done with just your costume alone?
Play. Play with opposites. Play outside of your comfort zone. Get out of your own head.
And don’t forget to take notes or video as you play and experiment with new acts. Good ideas like to travel as soon as they’ve been brought to life; sometimes you might have an idea that needs to be revisited later, and you don’t want to forget it!
So there you have it: 9 new ways to come up with burlesque act ideas. Which one(s) will you try? Have other ways to come up with ideas? Leave a comment below and let us know!