Going to a Burlesque Show? Be Sure to Mind Your Manners.
For such a freewheeling artform, burlesque has a surprising number of unwritten rules. Is it okay to yell? What about tipping? Given that the performers routinely strip down to nothing but pasties, how does one know what to wear to a burlesque show (or, more in the spirit of the proceedings, what not to wear)?
To answer these burning questions of burlesque etiquette, we sought the advice of Kitten LaRue and Lou Henry Hoover. A brassy burlesque starlet and her drag-king husband, Kitten n' Lou were named “Most Comedic” at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, which is a pretty big deal in the world of burlesque. Thankfully, they had plenty of tips to help you have a sexy (and polite) time at your first show.
What to Expect
Kitten’s number one tip for any audience member? Expect the unexpected. “A lot of people have a preconceived notion of what burlesque is,” she says, but it’s best to “go in with an open mind.” It might be tempting to try to research all you can beforehand, but Kitten doesn’t think that’s necessary. “As an audience member, it’s good to have an open mind and just be willing to go on an adventure with the performers.”
What to Wear
Kitten sees burlesque as a “fantasy of glamour,” so she’s not crazy about seeing shorts, sweatpants, or flip-flops at her shows. Thankfully, this isn’t usually a problem. “Sometimes the audience is dressed better than the performers,” she says with a laugh, and Lou is right there with her. “I love that form of respect for the performers,” he says, “because it does matter what you wear.”
When (and What) to Holler
“Be prepared to make noise,” Kitten says. “That’s a thing that newbies are a little shy about.” Remember, this isn’t a symphony or a play—the performers want to hear you hoot and holler when you see something you like. Just don’t try to tell them what to do. “One thing that’s not useful to yell is ‘Take your clothes off!’,” Lou explains. “Don’t worry. It’s going to happen.”
What Not to Do
Performers are almost always delighted to chat and pose for pictures after the show is over. But there’s one thing Kitten would like you to keep in mind during the photo opp: “Do not touch a girl’s hair to see if it’s real!” Lou agrees. “Don’t touch anything to see if it’s real,” he warns. “Don’t touch anything unless invited, period.”
During the show, there are some basic rules that mainly fall within the bounds of basic common sense. The biggest one? “Never come up on stage unless invited,” Kitten says.
How to Tip
Before you go, it might not be totally obvious if the performers will be asking for tips, so bring some cash just in case. Once you get there, you won’t have to worry about figuring it out on the fly. “It’s always very clear if the performers are looking for tips or not. It’s never a mystery to the audience,” Lou says.
The Golden Rule: Be Generous
It takes a lot of courage to take your clothes off on stage, so audience members should keep in mind just how open the performers are being and behave accordingly. “It’s a very generous act, and a very generous artform,” Kitten says. “A person has really put a lot into what they’re doing, and they are allowing themselves to be vulnerable in order to entertain you … Someone is being generous onstage, and it’s important to remember to give that generosity back.”
Photo courtesy of Kitten n' Lou.