The Business of Burlesque or, Dangrrr Pisses Everyone Off: Part One

Burlesque Performer Dangrrr Doll

Out along the edge
Is always where I burn to be
The further on the edge
The hotter the intensity

Kenny Loggins sang these words in the 80s. I’m pretty sure he was talking about burlesque performer and cosplay queen Dangrrr Doll. He just didn’t know it yet.

In this our newest column, Dangrrr Doll will share her many opinions on various things burlesque. And yes, I’m going to say it. Here, together, we shall

Ride Into The  Dangrrr Zone


I quit my day job in July 2013 to pursue my dream of not being a secretary for idiots.

Since then I’ve been a full time costume creator, producer, and performer. It’s been an interesting and exciting transition primarily because it made me rethink how I view burlesque as an industry, and mostly by making me think of burlesque AS an industry.

My lovely little filthy, exhausting, and completely dreamy town of NYC houses one of the most sustainable burlesque scenes in North America. We have shows for beginners and intermediate performers; shows for pros and shows where all levels can mix. We have free shows and $50 per ticket shows, tiny filthy dive bar shows and large staged productions; we have an abundance of classic AND of weirdo burlesque.

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There are opportunities to move up in our city, and to grow and make mistakes—thankfully. There is always space for new kids to come in, despite the pronunciations otherwise that come daily from those even only one year older, declaring burlesque’s “death by n00bz;” the reality is that as long as you’re talented and behave like a professional, you will work.

I’ve made some missteps, both serious and less so, in all of my burlesque-relevant ventures as I assume everyone has. But my mistakes and that of others around me, combined with our successes has given me a serious medical condition called Way Too Many Opinions.

Luckily for you dear reader, here I am on behalf of Burlesque Beat to spew these opinions forth into space for you to take, or not take, with as many grains of salt as you wish.

Welcome to the Dangrrr Zone.

It is very important to me that burlesque in America grows up and recognizes itself as a business. I think it is more difficult to become a “professional burlesque performer” here than it is to become a professional of any other art form. Successful American burlesque performers—people for whom burlesque is their primary form of financial independence—are few and far between. It’s not impossible, but it is unrealistic. I do believe, however, that this can and will change.

Please understand, I also wholly believe that people can burlesque however they want at whatever level they feel like; the same as how not all piano players need to be professional piano players, not all burlesque performers need to be professionally naked-ish artists.

However, piano players for whom piano is just a hobby do not project themselves to others as professionals; they do not expect to be paid professional prices or to draw large crowds of adoring strangers to watch them tickle the keys. They play for Christmas parties and community theater and their children’s school concerts. They do not figure out how to play Paschal’s Lullaby and then debut it a week later at Carnegie Hall.

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There’s no shame in not wanting to be a pro, or even not being able to be one. Be aware of yourself and of your goals. No, you don’t need to research all the legends or rehearse thirty hours a week or spend money and time on your costuming if you don’t want to be a career performer. But if you decide you want to be treated like a professional, you should also be prepared to put in the mountains of effort required to become one. There is no difference in the importance between burlesquing for fun and burlesquing for a career, but there is a difference in the quality, behavior, and opportunities that will and should surround you.

I place this burden on the shoulders of performers and producers alike; let’s all rise up and improve our industry. Let’s create better, produce better, and face reality. We joke about how there’s no money in burlesque, but it’s a poor joke when it’s on us. We are the ones to blame for our own industry’s failures and I for one think it’s time to make that money, folks. Let’s stop treating burlesque like playtime and WERK.

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  • Noah Singman

    As burlesque fans who want this art we love to thrive, what can we do to help besides attend shows and spread the word?

    • Dangrrr Doll

      The BEST thing to do as an audience member is what you’re already doing! But if you want to do more, you can probably also do two other things. First, when you love a venue and have a great time at a burlesque show at a venue- let them know! One of the hardest parts of our jobs is convincing venues of our value to them. Secondly, if you think a show would benefit from an extra service for which you would be willing to pay a little extra- premium seating, cocktail service, merchandise, what have you- let that producer know! We can all benefit from more feedback both positive and critical and it’s important for us to know what makes our audience happy.