Costume As Burlesque Choreography

So you’ve got a concept for your act and you need help with costume ideas? Or perhaps you’ve already got your costume key pieces and need some pointers when it comes to mapping them in your routine… Well, here are a few things to bear in mind when costuming an act. 

Costume considerations in general: 
Unless you are not going to take anything off during your act (and some acts are non-strip), then key pieces of your costume will be your choreography. You will need to look at each piece to decide how it will work in relation to your chosen track and how much time you will have to remove it or play with it. For instance, gloves: how long are they? will you highlight their length? How will you remove them or how will that removal be unique to the bog-standard biting the fingers off technique? There are umpteen ways to remove gloves; be creative! Also, what will you do with the glove afterwards? Will you play with it? Will you use it to pat your hot self down? Will you use it to clean the windows? Consider the following basic pointers:
  • Why is your character wearing the item and why is your character taking it off?
  • How they come off – do you peel, unzip, untie, open from a busk, slip out of it, rip it off etc
  • What happens to the item afterwards? Are they discarded violently? Placed down, Played with? Or does the item become a vital part of the plot?
  • How do you highlight the item before it’s removed? It’s sometimes nice for the audience member to have a clue what is coming next. You could also give a false ‘clue’ by highlighting a certain costume piece or body part and then do something totally different!
  • Cut labels out / remove stickers from bottoms of shoes.
  • Replace any zips that are not long enough to allow easy removal
  • put a tassel or length of beads on a zip pull so it can easily be found during a routine (and so you don’t have to look down and fumble)
  • Try and co-ordinate your act to a theme or colour scheme – it’ll look more polished
  • Rehearse with your costume (and shoes) on. You will need to know how it comes off and if there are any glitches or fumbly bits.
  • Put as much costume pieces as you can find on in the hope you will fill the entire track, please! This just looks like a ‘list’ of garments coming off.
  • Look down at the item you are removing. By all means give a little glance but looking down at the item looks like you are unsure of how it will be removed.
  • Wear shoes that are too high and you can barely walk in. Better to get a lower heeled show that will give you the steadiness you need on stage.
  • Do floorwork or rolling around on stage in a C string or merkin. The audience will see a lot more than you want them too and it’s just not classy. If you must do floorwork, do it in pants and save the C-string / merkin removal for when you stand up.

The right costume for the right routine?  

Consider what your concept is. If your character is a pool-side life guard, a beaded/sequined up bikini would fit the bill but would they really be wearing a corset or stockings and suspenders? The costuming of an act has to make sense for the audience to believe what you are doing and just because you think corsets and high heels (always a big NO for the stage if you can’t walk in them – instead choose a lower, more manageable heel height!) is ‘burlesque’ doesn’t mean you have to throw them all on in a routine.
Try and be creative with the costume you choose. If you are lucky enough to be able to make your own costumes you are on to a winner! If not, there are plenty of people in the community who can make stuff and you’d be surprised how easy it is to customise stuff you’ve bought. Also, think about the way it will come off, and how you could make that removal unexpected: eg, could the arms come off? Could it come apart in a different place? for the audience member who has seen a lot of burlesque, the unexpected removal keeps them on their toes!
Mapping out your costume bits
So you have your costume already sorted, now it’s time to map out where they will come off in the routine. Think about the story you want to tell and the punchline at the end of it (the final reveal). Personally, us here at Bluestocking prefer a routine where the reveal is at the end as after you’ve removed everything there’s not a lot more to say and an ending without a punchy reveal or some kind of finale often does not make the impact your cracking routine deserves.
  • What order will they come off in?
  • what is the reveal? (Is it pasties? Pants? No reveal? C-string or merkin?)
  • Does it make sense to the routine and is there a story to tell with the items you’re taking off?

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