This week would have been the Miss Burlesque NSW State Final in one of Australia’s biggest burlesque competitions, Miss Burlesque Australia. I was due to compete against some of Sydney’s best and brightest burlesque performers.
I’m not complaining that the global pandemic has seen the competition reschedule to later in the year, there are far bigger issues the pandemic brings that we should worry about. But it has given me pause to reflect, and remind myself of my goals and reasons for taking to the Miss Burlesque stage in 2020.
I first participated in a burlesque competition back in 2014, in the brand new Burlesque Idol Australia competition in the Wollongong heat. I had a blast, met so many performers from across NSW and ACT and managed to place 1st Runner Up (a title I still hold since there has not been another Wollongong competition!). It was a positive and rewarding experience which connected me to people who I still consider close friends, and provided me valuable feedback on my act. Competitions also often provide great footage and photographs of competitors, which can be invaluable assets for a performer who may not be able to afford showreels, photos shoots, and promotional material, or may not gain show opportunities that provide those as part of their show.
Also, my father and step-mother attended the show, and Dad learned one of the hard rules of burlesque – namely that tall, bald men should not sit in the front row lest they be targeted by almost every performer and have their personal space severely compromised throughout the show. To this day, he now always sits at least half way back in the audience (at almost any kind of show) and never on an aisle, LOL!
Not so positive experiences
But it’s not all roses and sparkles. I have had experiences in the past that have left me bitterly disappointed, feeling like my soul was crushed, and that I was utterly useless and should give up on burlesque altogether. Though, upon reflection, and after a lot of time to reflect and grow, I learned that negative experiences are rarely the fault of the competition itself. We as performers place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves, place pressure on ourselves to exceed, and hold one moment in time as if it represents all of our works and worth – past, present, and future.
The interesting thing about competitions, and particularly the judging thereof, is that the results are specific to the time and circumstance, that if delivered on a different day or time, the outcome could be different depending on the performers and judges state of mind, physical or emotional feeling. It’s as simple as that.
Why should a performer compete?
I feel it’s worth competing at least once, in a low pressure competition, just to see how you react and respond to the stress and pressure of competition. From there you can decide whether it’s for you or not. However, it’s important to have the right intention for competing. Many experience bitter disappointment or disillusionment similar to my experience, a huge let down and anti-climax if your dream outcome is not realised. So it’s really about the personal goals you set yourself.
Titles, Tiaras, Sashes and Expanding your horizons
Earlier this year I wrote about Tiaras, Sashes and Rolls where I celebrated my successes of 2019. While winning, placing and gaining all kinds of sparkly trimmings is a delightful and fulfilling experience, what I have valued more highly is the opportunity to travel, perform in different cities, and meet a diverse and inspiring array of burlesque performers from all walks of life. I have found competing in other cities and states, and even countries, has introduced me to new producers, and in turn new shows I have been invited back for paid performances in, or different opportunities to network and connect with performers from around the world. Plus, you are exposed to new audiences and followers who like your style and want to support you and follow your career. Sometimes just having engaged fans is a really positive outcome that helps propel you forward in your burlesque journey.
Sometimes competitions have particular rules or requirements you must adhere too. These could challenge you, like DIY BurlesKoala, the sister competition to the original New Zealand competition DIY BurlesKiwi. It challenges competitors to create the most innovative and entertaining act for less than $100. Other times competitions have restrictions or requirements you want to excel in, for example, Miss Burlesque Australia requires both a Traditional and a Modern/ Unique act. As a performer you may not be experienced in or excel at one of those styles and you use the deadline and requirements to test and challenge yourself to create a new act that fits the criteria. Or perhaps a competition has broad criteria, inspiring you to create that large or signature act you’ve always wanted to stage but haven’t had the reason or opportunity too. Or maybe the motivation supplied by a competition is actually just the creative juice you need to create new routines.
In 2018, after competing in Miss Burlesque NSW, I wrote a long Facebook post processing my experience and what I took away from competing that year. A friend recommended I check out American performer Egypt Blaque Knyle who currently holds the most burlesque titles in the world. I reached out to her, and started following her on social media and was instantly enamoured. Her drive, determination, and dedication to her craft is unmistakable, and the sheer energy she puts in to her performances make it clear how she has managed to accumulate almost 40 burlesque titles. I was honoured to meet her in 2019 when I travelled to the USA to compete in GLCC, and now call her friend. Though Egypt is still a massive inspiration to me, to be the best performer that I can be.
One of the most valuable competitions I have entered, and had the honour of gaining not one but two titles from, was the Golden Legends Champion Challenge (GLCC). The competition is founded on experienced performers mentoring competitors. I was mentored by Burlesque Legend Judith Stein for 6 months before travelling to Florida USA to present the debut performance of the act we had crafted together. I didn’t take the top spot, but the opportunity to work with a Legend, meet other Legends and powerhouse US performers (including Egypt, and Sweetpea) was more valuable to me than necessarily winning. It set me up to understand and value the mentor-mentee relationship which I carry with me in to my teaching at the Muse School of Burlesque, and also in my approach to Miss Burlesque.
The right head-space
If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that the intention you set, and the head-space you inhabit will dictate how your experience resonates with you throughout and beyond the competition. It’s healthy to want to win a competition, it’s the drive and motivation that helps you present your best work. But placing your identity, your worth, and your entire reason for competing on the outcome of winning can only go one of two ways – but unless you’re incredibly lucky, or actually the very best in the world, it will eventually lead to disappointment. It’s not possible to win every competition you enter. Instead having a growth mindset, a desire to learn and improve, and willingness to take on critique from judges and apply that to future performances is the best competition setting you can enter.
So why do I compete?
I have taken to setting personal goals and things I want to achieve. I’ll be competing in Miss Burlesque NSW on Friday 13 at the Factory Theatre. It’s the third time I have been a NSW State Finalist and I am looking forward to the challenge. Do I want to win? Yes. Do I want to place? Yes. Do I want to present diverse, entertaining, yet quintessentially ‘Mae’ burlesque performances? Yes. Do I want to challenge myself and push myself out of my comfort zone? Yes. Do I want to have fun and get to know other performers better and appreciate the beautiful art of burlesque in all its varieties? Yes. Do I want to work hard and push myself to achieve my own personal goals? You better believe it.
Will I do all of these things? You’ll have to get your ticket to find out.
Friday 13 November, 8pm live in theatre, or online live stream
Limited tickets on sale now.
MBNSW Photos by Georgia Moloney Photo taken at The Factory Theatre for Miss Burlesque NSW 2020.