To say that I value education could be seen as a bit of an understatement, one does not simply teach in public urban schools for as long as I did if one does not think that education is important. Education is the great equalizer it allows people access to experiences that they otherwise may not have access to.
It is in that spirit that I write this blog, over the years I have heard many positive and negative things about ...Burlesque schools. As a lifelong 5th generation teacher I would like to say that, that is not the standard operating procedure for any reputable school. Now I will say that no school is perfect, public, private, or home, but we all try to do our best to pass along the knowledge we have. Not everyone is a natural teacher, I openly admit that I had to learn how to be an effective instructor. Having knowledge is not enough to make you a good/master teacher, you have to commit to being a lifelong learner and even then you are prone to uncontrollable bouts or humanity. The road to becoming a Master teacher is not easy and very often people, students, parents, and administrators have high unrealistic expectations. People love graduation, they love to see the finished product but very few people know all the work it takes to create a graduate. The late nights, the early mornings, the self doubt, the research, the endless certifications all to prove that you are indeed a teacher.
I will readily admit that (right now) there is not specific industry recognized certification program for Burlesque instruction (if there was I would sign up in a heartbeat) and as a result there are hundreds of performers out here trying to do their part to pass along this wonderful glitter knowledge. This is where Burlesque schools and workshops come into play, some people refer to them as puppy mills, pay to play, rip offs, churn and burn etc.... I am sure there are horror stories out there about horrible people doing horrible things, I have heard a few in my time. I’m an optimist and I like to think that everyone is really trying to do the best they can, so when I hear about things like cheating students, undercutting, hiring under qualified or flat our unqualified instructors, etc… it truly breaks my heart. School is supposed to be a positive place where people come to learn and in the best cases exchange information. Which is why I am a HUGE advocate for Burlesque schools. Whether it's a series of drop-in classes or a fully fleshed out curriculum, you are part of a unique group of people who have the advantage of setting the local industry standards. You see school is the great equalizer when you take a burlesque class at a reputable school you know that you are getting the same information as the person next to you. If the instructor suddenly remembers a point or tip you know that it is something that you and your classmates can all share in. Class size isn’t important, what is important is the information that you are receiving. What makes burlesque schools so great is that it helps grow the industry! Schools add and encourage diversity because anyone can join, you don’t have to fit a certain aesthetic, or be a certain age or be friends with the right people to get in. Honestly it’s as simple as registering for your class and paying your fee! I know there are people out there who think Burlesque schools are muddying the sacred waters of burlesque by allowing just anyone to participate in the art form, but think about this, I’m based in Richmond, Virginia home of the confederate capital, we have an entire street lined with monuments dedicated to confederate soldiers and generals. In a place like this if I decided to go the “traditional” burlesque education route I doubt there would even be a Lottie Ellington because I don’t fit the mold (pale, thin, tattooed, under 30). I knew about burlesque and I wanted so badly to learn but alas, there weren’t any schools operating, so the only route to the stage was befriending an existing performer and hoping to parlay that friendship into a possible mentorship relationship. The only problem with that scenario was… I was an outsider, 30 something, curvy, quirky, black female school teacher, living 45 minutes from Richmond where all the action was taking place. I had to wait nearly 2 years before the community of performers I had followed opened up a school. Now once the school opened I dove in with both feet taking ALL the classes they had to offer, because I’m a scholar. However I know that if not for this school opening I wouldn’t be here today. At the time I had no idea just how much burlesque would change my life, all I knew was that I wanted to be on stage. Through my burlesque education I learned many lessons from many teachers and I am thankful for all the lessons I have learned as a result of pursuing my burlesque education. I know I am a better performer because of the training I have received.
Words of wisdom from the Great burlesque expo 10
It’s me Lottie!
I’ve been holding on to this ever since my return from the Great Burlesque Expo in Cambridge Mass. and I am so excited to finally be able to share. While I was there I took the time to jot down a few words of wisdom and advice. These tips are valuable regardless of what festival you are attending so get comfortable cause I’m about to lay it on the line.
• Plan in advance – look at the schedule and map out that you want to do. Take ALL the classes!
• Talk to ALL the people – especially the ones you admire on facebook!
• Take good notes –
o in class some of the stuff you will remember, some, you will need later, and some stuff you will want to share.
o at the show take notes on things you like things that inspire you and things that were awesome. You will have so much stimuli coming at you it will be difficult to filter out what is important.
• Dress the part – if you are taking a movement class dress for it, if you are volunteering the at registration table, dress the part. Cary multiple outfits for each day so you can change as necessary.
• Drink water!
• Pack fruit during the festival you will find yourself running from place to place, you will need to have real food, chips & Cheetos are not breakfast food!
• Add people to your social media and tag them, everybody likes to feel special!
• Fill out the evaluation forms – festivals need feedback so that they can get better, suggest classes, topics or whatever you think would make the festival better. No guarantees that they will do it but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
• Engage in casual conversation you are surrounded by the best creative minds in the industry, you may not meet the headliner but never discount the value of your fellow performers. You may be sitting next to the next king of Burlesque.
• Exchange business cards (if you have them) and make a note on the person’s card that you got so that you will have a frame of reference when you contact them. Follow up! Shoot a brief email to the person who you exchanged business cards with and use that note you wrote on their business card as a starting point.
• Volunteer to staff or help out at the festival, it’s a great way to meet people and learn about the festival.
Festivals are wonderful and every time you attend a festival you should come back a bigger, better, more sparkly version of yourself!!
Today I did Yoga
Today was the first time since undergrad that I took a Yoga class, over the years I have practiced Yoga using various Yoga video’s, DVD’s and YouTube video’s but this was the first time in years that I was actually in a class. As a former Physical Education teacher I know on the cognitive level the benefits of Yoga, and on an abstract level I remember how calm and present I felt when I was taking yoga. But in all honesty like most American’s I stored it away in the back of my mind under things to do when I have more time. This week Project Yoga Richmond participated in a 36 hour Yoga-thon consisting of …. You guessed it 36 hours of back to back Yoga classes! I missed the first day of classes because as is the norm I was ripping and running around getting my oil changed, returning emails, researching business tips etc… So once again I put Yoga on the back burner. Today instead of running around being “busy” I actually took an 1 ½ hour Yoga class, with so much change happening in my life, I really needed to unplug and reconnect to myself.
So I entered the building after a pretty hectic morning, I really didn’t want to get up but was trash day and that meant that Honey (The Wonder dog) was up and on duty warning me of the impending doom coming our way as the garbage truck approached. Since we live on a corner of a busy street the garbage truck of doom comes at us from all directions, so after the third lap I finally agreed to get up and help Honey patrol the perimeter. I changed up my morning routine and instead of making Chi tea, I opted for water, grapes, Greek yogurt and a heavily buttered croissant (don’t judge me). Then Honey and I were off for our morning walk, I usually use our walk as meditation and restorative time however today I just couldn’t get centered. Once we returned I got a text message from Ayana, my good friend, mentor and “boss” (as I am currently “working” as her intern/assistant) giving me a rundown of today’s activities. Which included heading back to Project Yoga Richmond only this time I was determined to take a class. When we entered the building everyone was smiling and speaking in a controlled whisper. After signing in I left Ayana at the registration desk and continued on with mission Yoga, as I walked down the hall I passed a trio of ladies sitting in the lounge area relaxing and enjoying pleasant conversation. I continued down the long narrow hallway and entered a secondary lounge area where I placed my many bags into a cubby. Suddenly I realized that I’d left my Yoga mat at home, but luckily I had 2 extra Yoga mats in my truck, (remnants left over from my 13+ years of teaching) so I ran back outside popped my trunk and grabbed the first mat I saw. Entering the studio was a huge contrast to what I had experienced in college, the room was dark with just a hint of light glowing from a red paper lantern/lamp in the corner. I found a spot (up front as is my usual custom at any dance, fitness, movement class) and unrolled my mat to get ready for class. As I settled in I noticed people getting pillows, blocks and blankets, not wanting to be out of step I got a pillow and block for myself, now I have never actually used a pillow or block before but being the lifelong scholar I am I wanted to be prepared. The class started and I was pleasantly surprised as how quickly the breathing and poses came back to me. For the first time in years I was able to focus on “being” I didn’t have to struggle to keep my mind engaged (like I did when I did DVD yoga at home) my mind stayed actively engaged and focused on the task at hand. Yoga allowed me to be free in a new way, normally I equate feeling free with the reckless abandon I feel while dancing or hooping but this freedom was different. It was peace in the absence of chaos. All of the thoughts and voices that had kept me up and caused me anxiety were silent, and all I could think about was controlling my breathing and maintaining my balance. I can’t say that I will become an avid Yoga fan but I will say that this is something that I plan on doing more often. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
When I was little I remember how excited I was to begin planning and then ultimately revealing my Birthday wishes! I never bothered with silly superstitions like "don't tell anyone your birthday wish or it won't come true" or "you have to be thinking about your birthday wish when you blow out the candles". When I was a kid none of that mattered to me because in my wonderful child like mind the world was full of miracles and magic! When I was nine I had my "Crazy Auntie Linda" convince me that she was a magical fairy.... but back to the subject at hand, birthday wishes! I will be posting my birthday wishes on this blog, my wishes are only limited by my imagination. Some wishes will be amazing and fantastical while others may border on the mundane. More than anything else I hope that this exercise will help me remember how to wish and dream for things. Long ago I had wishes and dreams and slowly over time, I stopped dreaming, I stopped believing in magic and miracles and I replaced my awesome dreams with boring middle class outcomes and expectations. I started relying on things that I had control over, like degrees, my career and making sure that I never had a (clutches pearls) child out of wedlock. I set the bar for my dreams so consistently low that I fooled myself into thinking that I was happy, because I had reached my goals and attained my wildest dreams (sadly my wildest dreams consisted of $100 boots from Macy's and Jill Scott concert tickets). So I invite you to join me on this journey of self discovery as I practice by making random birthday wishes during the month of September.
Lottie Ellington burst on the Richmond's Burlesque scene in April of 2011 and has been on a mission to shimmy, shake and hip roll her way in to your heart!