Let’s talk Burly Mummas …
Do you know what a burly mumma is? Have you ever heard of that term before? Do you have one? Ok, in all honesty I may well be one of the very few that use that name/term but I think it really should get used more often. A burly mumma is a burlesque mentor or in some cases a burlesque teacher, although I hear more people refer to their teachers as ‘stage mums’…. there are differences between mentors and teachers but either way you get the idea. Plus don’t forget there are ‘burly daddys'[OK, wait up…. how hot does that sound…. “that’s my burly daddy”] & ‘stage dads’ too, and of course there is also ‘burly parents’ and ‘stage parents’…. whatever the individual would prefer.
So what is a burlesque mentor? A mentor is someone who provides guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling in on going one on one sessions. A mentor can also help with exploring characterisation, developing acts, and further education related to the burlesque world. All mentors work differently and uniquely. There is no rule book written about this. As of yet, that I know of.
I’m going to be super honest right now…. my burlesque journey started off in probably the worst dance studio out there (anyone that went there, knows what I mean). I was unfortunately very unaware of a lot of the in’s and out’s of the burlesque world, receiving the majority of any burlesque knowledge from only one person, that being the owner of the studio, who actually discouraged all students from interacting with the rest of the burlesque community (probably knew we’d all work out that she was full of crap and leave). I had never heard of mentorship, until it was offered to me.
Quick little back story as to how I found my burly mumma….
Whilst still at said studio I entered a burlesque competition that I was accepted into. Originally I was offered a place in the Perth – WA heat but when asked if I would be keen to take a spot in another state, I said yes, for 2 reasons. 1) I was happy to travel and met performers from other states. 2) I knew the owner of the studio would make it difficult for me to compete in my own state (which was 100% correct). Long story short, I chose Newcastle – NSW…. (And thankfully, I left the studio officially before the competition even started). That is where I would meet a burlesque artist that I absolutely idolised and looked up to. What a dream come true. Who would of thought that me giving up my spot in my own state would lead me on the path to finding my burly mumma. Sometimes things happen exactly as they are meant to. Some (me, I am some) may say it was fate.
Drum roll please ….
I am extremely proud to call Miss Alyssa Kitt my burly mumma [if you didn’t notice from the header pic] That’s right, Miss Alyssa Kitt! (for whatever reason you don’t know who that is, I suggest you go look her up immediately). She was one of the judges at the competition. I stayed after the show to speak with her, I mean c’mon, I’m in NSW and Alyssa is here, when am I ever gonna see her again. I also did her workshop the next day and after having those small interactions and conversations, she saw potential in me and offered me a spot in her mentorship program. I seriously couldn’t believe it. That was March 2018.
Since starting my mentorship with Alyssa I have grown so much as a burlesque artist. I’ve taken the critiques and advice from her and it has helped shape my performances into one’s I’m now proud of. My ‘Joker – Miss J’ act was one of the most emotional acts I’ve ever worked on and the very first act I asked Alyssa to help me with. The back story to this act comes from a place of pain, hurt, and imprisonment (much like The Joker himself). Alyssa was able to help me harness the emotion and break free from the dark place in which it had manifested. This was an act that I needed to create in order to get through and over come past trauma, so I could move on and become the artist I am today. Almost every act I work on with Alyssa has such deep meaning behind it, which helps me to project that raw emotion on to the stage. This is something I feel I need, for myself, to give my character more depth.
Alyssa has not only helped me grow and progress as a performer and an artist in more ways than one but also many other performers and artists like Dollar Dazzler.
“I knew very early on that I wanted a mentor for my career, I’d always taken Burlesque “seriously” because I’d been a fan of it for at least 5 years before I even stepped into a classroom, so I knew if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right! I know I had other performers who had said in classes “get a mentor”, but I also was a very chronically awkward and socially inept person when I started due to years of social anxiety and also a rough time during acting school where I let criticism get to me rather than build me and help me grow. I was too afraid for a really long time to even ask someone to be my mentor because I was terrified of the possible rejection!”
“Alyssa and I have been friends since 2014 when I first met her during PIBF, and around 2016/2017 was when she brought me onto the museum. We already knew each others work ethic and philosophy about performance so we suited each other naturally. It wasn’t until I said I wanted to start looking for a mentor that she said she had a spot open and asked if I would like to take it! That being said, I wasn’t initially sure if Alyssa would fit where I wanted to go with my performances; I wasn’t looking to be just the “nerdlesque” performer anymore, and If i wanted something more like that, there are a few who I would be happy to mentor with. Turns out the future Burlesque Dr Kitt knew exactly what to prescribe me and its blossomed into so much more than I could ever have hoped with my friend, boss and burly mum!” – Dollar Dazzler
Having someone that 100% wants to see you succeed and wants to help you achieve your dreams, was something I so desperately needed after leaving the studio I was at. Although it wasn’t all bad, it was for the most part an extremely toxic environment that had made me question everything about myself as a performer. The self doubt was at an all time low and I really needed that one person that didn’t know me before and also had no idea about said studio or owner. Someone who could see my struggles and uncertainty, and say “I’ve got you”.
“My mentorship is a way to help my students grow from the inside out in a loving and supportive environment – this can be from building a positive mindset, building self-actualised connectivity of the body and mind, building physical strength through exercises that support their body to be able to do the choreography that they want to do in their routines, through to dramaturgy of specific acts, developing characters and overall as artists that exist both on and off the stage. It’s all been based on my own experience in life through to education – be it history of burlesque, dramatic and theatrical theory, through to my passions of training at the gym, yoga and sensual self-exploration of sexuality. The work we put into ourselves comes out on the stage and my role is to guide this process.” – Miss Alyssa Kitt
Being a mentor is a lot about sharing your experiences and knowledge with another. The more you’ve done, the more you have to share, well for the most part anyways. Be realistic, if you’ve done one term of classes at a burlesque school, does that make you an expert…. yeah nah. Do classes, do workshops, go to shows, watch videos of performances, read, educate yourself, get out there in the community and learn, learn, learn.
“Teaching is a natural progression for many artists. I’ve been teaching burlesque since 2010 and naturally leant more towards working one on one than teaching classes (I don’t enjoy the choreography process for classes as I’m a very intuitive dancer).
I found that many students would book in for a one on one for one hour to develop a concept or polish an act – there is only so much that can be done in one session.
While one off sessions are great – they can be a brutal smack to the face of EVERYTHING that you need to improve an act and often I feel like that may leave students overwhelmed or lacking further guidance. Feedback, ongoing work, checking in and generally guiding the artistic process.
The journey to making an act is a long one, with many ups and downs along the way. It’s important to take into consideration production timelines that fit into our own lifestyles and ebb and flow of creative energy.
Sometimes motivation is high in the initial stages of inspiration and concept development, but wane when implementing production schedules and keeping the churning list of to dos along.“ – Miss Alyssa Kitt
I’ve been having regular (usually monthly) sessions for 3 years now…. wow time flies. When I said Alyssa has helped me in more ways than one, I meant it. From mental health to act development to choreography to characterisation to strengthening my mind and body. I’m extremely lucky and honoured to have someone this skilled.
You may be wondering the same thing I did, do mentors have mentors themselves?
“I have found that my own best acts that I have made have been worked on with outside eyes – such as my own long term mentor Lola the Vamp – who guided my burlesque journey from as early as 2009 – to guiding me into my PhD (she even wrote one of my letters of recommendation and introduced me to my supervisor, Dr Sean Frederic Edgecomb). While we speak less about what acts I’m making now, we do speak about autoethnographies of work, burlesque in cultural studies and queer theory. Lola is an endless source of inspiration to me even after 10 years.
Mostly – she is the voice that tells me that I’m on the right track, to believe in myself (which can be hard when we are our own worst critics) and KEEP DOING WHAT I’M DOING! I often find with a bit of guidance that we come to see these things for ourselves in time – but it’s so humbling to have someone that you look up to nourish you with their own knowledge as an icon in their field. Good teachers see the potential and help find a way of drawing that out. That’s Lola for me and I want to keep being this person in Australian burlesque for the younger generation of performers (not necessarily in age but years in the burly world – haha I’m only 32 but have been stripping since I was 18 – wowee that’s a long time to be getting naked on stage!)” – Miss Alyssa Kitt
Towards the start of this year I was approached to be a mentor. It took me by surprise. I was like me, really, me? Of course my self doubt kicked in. I originally said no, I didn’t feel I was in any way ready for that sort of responsibility. Good old self doubt, kicking me down once again. After possibly a good month or so of thinking on that, I decided that I do have a lot to give, a lot to offer, and if they are asking me then they must see something in me, after all they are asking me to help them on their burlesque journey. So I decided to give it a go.
“I wanted to find someone who’s style of Burlesque I liked. Someone who also would help me grow my style and not totally change who Mistress Mustang is. It’s important to note that I am still a baby in burlesque, but I do have a defined character who needs padding out but not a total change.”
“Once I had someone in mind [Delza Skye], I approached her and asked if she had any mentoring spots available. Remember not every performer will be willing to mentor and some will only have a few spots available. You must be prepared for a no. To be honest the first time I spoke to Delza about mentoring she did say no but was still very giving of advice and help. She really is such a selfless and loving person, but strong and fierce at the same time. We did do some work together and talked again about mentoring and came to an agreement.” – Mistress Mustang
Being a mentor to someone is a huge responsibility. Your mentee looks to you for advice and support. Was this something I could do, wanted to do or had time to do. Also taking into consideration that giving advice and offering support is one thing but at the end of the day your students and/or mentees still are their own person and own artist, they have final say on anything they create and put on the stage. It isn’t about taking control of someone’s art, it’s about helping to try and build it into something spectacular.
“Honestly – I’ve never really done much in the way of promoting myself as a mentor because most of my students come to me – so in a way – they choose me!
I am selective about who I work with though – firstly, I have to have a positive connection with someone and see potential, drive and commitment to the art that they want to produce in the world (or for themselves).
…. so in short, potential, drive and a connection. Students often reach out to work with me because they’ve connected with me either on a performative level or through words that I have shared.
I always want to know what it is that has touched them or what they see in me that they want to see in themselves. I’m lucky enough to work very closely with some incredible individuals around Australia and internationally.” – Miss Alyssa Kitt
Choosing a mentor can be tricky, they ideally need to be someone you connect with, someone you trust, someone you are willing to take guidance from. They also need to want to work with you. It really does need to be a partnership you both want or it may not work out. Personally I won’t work with someone that I don’t feel I gel with. Not because I don’t like them or don’t see potential but if the connection isn’t there I’d rather see them find someone more suitable.
I’ve been running my body positivity, confidence and inclusivity workshops for a while now and being able to share my knowledge and experience on the subject to help people on their journey of body positivity is such a wonderful feeling. Recently I was given the opportunity to teach (something I never thought would happen) thanks to Scarlet Bell Burlesque for offering me a position as a guest teacher. Being a stage mumma has filled me with so much pride and joy. I now, also have a few mentees, and being a burly mumma and being called Mumma Skye brings tears to my eyes (happy tears), something I couldn’t of even imagined way back when I started out as a baby burlesque student. Yes, I’m a very emotional person, can you tell hehe. I actually never knew I’d love teaching so much. Body Positivity, Confidence and Inclusivity is my passion and being able to see my students and my babies grow in confidence and knowing they are in an environment where they are accepted just as they are is what it’s all about for me.
“Haha – I always laugh when my mentored students call me Mama Kitt (cause my own Mum is Mama Kitt). But having a burly Mumma and being one is being that person where your babies come to you knowing that they’re going to be looked after and cared for. It’s like calling your own Mum for support. I love my role as a mentor not just to my own students, but to the burlesque community.” – Miss Alyssa Kitt
Hmmm, are you now pondering the thought of getting yourself a mentor? Let’s be honest a rhinestoned costume and a dance background can only get you so far. Don’t get me wrong, there are some people out there that scream natural ability and talent (argh, fully jelly). Learning about burlesque on a deeper level is always highly recommended if you want to reach for a professional level. There is an abundance of knowledge and burlesque history to learn about. As I say when you think you know it all is when you stop learning. I, myself, know I still have so much more to learn.
“If you want to be serious about this, invest in your art, not just your costumes or your rhinestones! That also being said, mentorship is not someone dictating to you how to perform, its about working collaboratively together to see you succeed. Tell them if you don’t like something, or if you find the lesson they’re giving you is not right for now, then don’t be afraid to pay out the rest of the fees and find someone who does suit you. But a mentor who cares about you, will want what is best for you first and foremost before their own ego. Alyssa is most definitely someone like that for me.” – Dollar Dazzler
Now, you are probably wondering, how do I find myself a mentor? Well, not all performers and artists have the time to offer on going mentorship. Most have muggle jobs that take up a lot of their time. Some, however, will offer one on one sessions rather than an on going situation. Also many don’t advertise that they do mentoring. Best thing to do is to think about who you’d like to work with and contact them directly. Introduce yourself and let them know who you are and what you are after, they will let you know if they can help you or they may refer to someone else. Yes, I know, it’s scary to approach a performer or artist you look up to.
Also I really should mention this bit…. there are costs involved with having a mentor. Much like going to classes. These things cost money. Every mentor will have a different fee schedule and you do need to consider this before you start. Is it something you can afford. Depending who you choose, you do need to take into consideration that they may not be in your budget. Trust me though, they are giving you invaluable information that they have accumulated over their years as an artist. Just remember that before you have a possible heart attack at the fees. Also, don’t choose a mentor solely based on price either. Consider everything as a whole and also discuss with your possible mentor what your budget looks like. I know full well Alyssa goes far beyond just the hours I spend with her. There is much background work that goes on that is done outside of our 2 hour sessions. At some point, and probably still do, these artists have spent a huge amount of money and time on their own education in the burlesque world.
Another note worth mentioning…. just because you have a mentor does not mean you can’t still go to classes or have one on one sessions with other artists. You can still go learn from who ever you feel you need to in order to improve your skill level. For me, Alyssa offers just about everything I need but sadly she is not in the same state as me, and now not even the same country. I have done some one on one sessions with Bettie Bombshell and also classes with Miss Lady Lace for that face to face in studio time.
Now, I bet you are wondering how it all works if your mentor isn’t in the same state or country as you. The wonders of technology of course, Skype, Zoom or something like that. That’s right, you can choose an artist from anywhere in the world. Just be aware of timezone differences. For the most part I do sessions with my mentees via Zoom.
“Working with Delza has improved my performances and confidence 100%. She keeps me accountable and helps me to see the way forward. Whilst she is gentle and loving, she can still be strict and hard when called for.
I now have a strong direction and my ambition meets my ability. The standard of my costuming has risen with her advice. I am more focused, and goal orientated. This year I competed and was a finalist in 2021 Apprentease Excellence Award, which I know without Delza’s mentorship I wouldn’t have gone quite as far.” – Mistress Mustang
Honestly, mentorship is not for everyone but if becoming a professional burlesque artist is something you truly want, then it’s something I do suggest you look into. Do your research and have a good think about the direction you want to take on your journey…. and then if you decide its something you do want to pursue, take that leap of faith, contact that artist you want to work with, you never know til you ask. Go on, do it!
Love Delza Skye xoxo