Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Burlesque 101, or How I Found Empowerment By Shaking My Ass

"It's like this," I told my friend Bob, as I shook my chest in the booth at the gay bar.

I've come a long way since June.

Several months ago, I was at a crossroads.  I loved modern and musical theatre dance classes, but I felt in a bit of a rut.  Plus, I was frustrated with my writing and with other parts of my life.

I needed a new hobby.  Preferably one that got me up and moving and feeling good.

At the same time, a friend of mine was getting into burlesque dancing, and her Facebook was full of stories of women with awesome names like Jeez Loueez and comments about something called "shimmying."  Despite having danced for nearly twenty-six years of my life, I was a little unsure about what burlesque entailed.  Even the word "striptease" was opaque to me.

Understood or not, I was patently aware that I didn't think I could do it myself.

As a former theatre major, I was well-informed of Gypsy Rose Lee. Not to mention I've been dancing (other, more clothed forms) for 26 years. But I couldn't do that. Sure, it was a far cry from licking the pole a la Nomi Malone, but still . . . baring it all in public? No way!

Plus, the non-body snarking feminist in me was hesitant.  Could I really get behind an art form consisting of bumping, grinding, and clothing removal?  Was that copasetic with the sisterhood?

There was only one way to find out.

I went to a burlesque show.  Specifically, a showcase of advanced students at the studio where my friend took classes.  I naively stepped into the bar that Sunday night, unsure of what to expect.

What I got?  The dirtiest dance recital known to (wo)man.

At first, it was a little weird.  I tried to muffle my nervous giggles as the first girl did her thing, shaking her tail and shucking it all off.  But then something happened: I got into it.  The ladies of all shapes and sizes.  The silly puns and dirty jokes between dances.  The fun, creative choices of music: everything from Bobby Darin to James Brown.  The feathers and adorable shoes.

Then the head of the studio--Miss Exotic World 2005, and a finalist on the first America's Got Talent--did a fan dance like you wouldn't believe.  She was wearing next to nothing, but it was downright elegant.

I wanted to do THAT.

So I signed up for a basic class at Studio L'Amour in Chicago.  It's a friendly, funky little place (and no, they are not paying me to talk about them) where all girls who want to learn to shake it are welcomed with open (bare) arms.  I went in person to sign up because I wanted to check out the vibe.

"Um, is it okay if I wear workout clothes?" I shyly asked the studio owner/head teacher.

"Sure, I'm wearing this for class," she replied, indicating her own workout clothes.

Five months later, I'm demonstrating my shimmy for my friends. 

Mind you, I haven't shown any real skin: the studio emphasizes being comfortable with yourself, and you don't take anything off until the performance class, if you choose to go that far.  But what I've learned is this: burlesque isn't just about skin.  It's about having a sense of humor.  Embracing those silly puns while bumping the hips your mama gave you.  Getting your dance on while thinking, "damn, I look hot!"  It's not about the boys.  It's about the girls (innuendo intended).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to practice tying a tie.  So I can remove it from my person at next week's class.

Oh, and true burlesque or no, I am excited as hay-ell for this movie:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guest Post: Everything I Needed to Know About Public Speaking, I Learned From The Office (UK)

Hey guys and dolls,

Today's guest post comes from my pal Mare Swallow, whom you may remember from her excellent radio guest post last February.  Enjoy, and I'll catch ya next week! 

As a professional development facilitator and speaker, I coach my clients on how to improve their speaking skills. Lots of educational gems can be found all around us -- on TV or on the internet.

One of my favorite shows, The Office (U.K.), illustrates some of the, um, worst practices for public speaking. David Brent is the "entertaining" boss with a "cool vibe," who, sadly, doesn't really know a ton about effective presenting. Fortunately, I do, and I'll share some tips with you.

Below are some lessons I teach in my workshop. David Brent Illustrates the exact oppostite of what you should do to ensure success when you speak.

1. Always rehearse before you present. At a bare minimum, rehearse your opening.

2. Begin with a bang. No one likes to hear a boring opening. You know, "Hi, my name is Marianna and I'm going to talk about blah blah blah." Create a dramatic, interesting, or captivating opening. But not of the David Brent variety:

3. Start Strong; Finish Strong. Creative opening? Use a creative finish. Even if your talk is more subdued, you want to close with conviction. I always tell my students the worst way to end a presentation is with a flat finish like, "Well, that's it." Here's an even worse way:

Do the opposite of David Brent, and you'll be just fine when you give your next speech.

Marianna Swallow is a professional development facilitator, blogger, and writer. She's currently writing her how-to book on public speaking. See her in action at

Wanna get your guest post on?  Email me at maybeimamazed02(at)yahoo(dot)com. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNo: Oh No? Oh YES!

"So you have creative aspirations, huh?  Well, DON'T."

At least, that's what Laura Miller of would like you to believe.

A friend linked this article on her Facebook page this morning.  Basically, Ms. Miller takes it upon herself to deride all participants in National Novel Writing Month as delusional time-wasters who believe that penning a first draft makes them J.K. Rowling.

You know what, Laura?

Kiss my NaNoWriMo'ing ass.

Below is the (very polite, for me) devil's advocate comment I posted on my friend's page:

Wow. That's a lot of vitriol. Just to play devil's advocate, I did do NaNo last year, and am doing it again. I'm stil rewriting my project from last year, and will keep doing so until I feel it's good enough to submit to agents (which, initially, I did earlier this year, but not without editing and rewriting first). Like I did last year, I outlined this year's project, did character sketches and plot summaries, and spent months thinking about my plot and characters (all of which are allowed within NaNo guidelines).

Before NaNo, I had written two novel-length manuscripts. I have a blog and write for a film website. I've also spent time at an arts colony, an opportunity that was very competitive to get. I read constantly, and I've never understood so called "writers" who say they don't read. Writers read, that's that.

However, I also have a full-time-plus job, and before I did NaNo, my last manuscript's first draft took eight months to complete. As it happens, November is also when things slow down a bit at my workplace, so it gives me more time and energy into getting out a first draft, which I will subsequently rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

The point of a first draft is to exist. It should never be submitted to someone for representation or publication as is. There will always be people who don't understand that. However, there are plenty of us who do, and who will keep working on our novels for months to come.

The author of this column has a right to her opinion, of course, and it's true that this writing approach is not for everyone. I just feel it generalized a bit, as not everyone has all the time in the world to write, and it CAN be productive to churn something out in a month and work from there.

Plus, if someone's going to plunk out a crappy novel instead of watching a million hours of TV, why not let them?

Now, here's where I let shit get real:

Really, Laura Miller?  Really?  You're going to take a ton of people the world over--serious writers with our eye on publishing, folks who want to give writing a shot, lit lovers all--and tell us NOT to take part in an activity we choose to do on our own, that no one's forcing YOUR uppity ass into?  Really?

Because it's soooo bad for someone to think outside the box.  God forbid they like to read and want to take a stab at making something of their own.  No way should anyone who feels a little bored or unfulfilled or depressed channel their negative energy into something positive.  Never should someone use their typing fingers for anything other than operating a remote control.

Three and a half years ago, I distinctly remember saying to my mother: "I'm a 27-year-old temp.  Who cares what I think about anything?"

Then I went with a friend to our alma mater's production of Cinderella.  It wasn't great.  But it made me remember an idea I'd had years ago.  About the backstage drama at a community theatre production of that very show. 

The next morning, I woke up and reached for my laptop.  I wrote a seven-page story, that eventually became a 120-page novel.  Several months later I showed it to Bob, aka The Friend Who Doesn't Tell You What You Want to Hear, But What You Need to Hear.

He said, "It's good.  You should keep writing."

A year and a half later, I took my first long-term fiction writing class.  Maybe two or three of us wanted to publish eventually.  The rest were there because (cover your ears, Laura), they liked reading and writing.  They thought it was FUN.  And you know what?  We all read and wrote and listened and gave feedback and laughed and made friends and generally had an awesome time.  And we learned stuff. 

I know, I know: such a waste of time!  Think of all the shitty TV I DIDN'T watch!

In between 2007 and now, I've written three manuscripts.  I started a blog.  I've been an artist in residence.  I've also made a ton of friends, real and virtual, that have made me laugh and made me learn.

I'm still trying to get published.  I don't have an agent yet.  My NaNo from last year is still a work in progress.  Will I ever get that elusive book deal?  I don't know.

Will I ever regret writing?


To get the bad taste of Ms. Miller's article out of your mouth, I offer you a quote from the filmmakers of Up, which won big at the Oscars earlier this year:

"You want to be creative?  Get out there and do it!  It's not a waste of time."

That's what I'm talking about.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have two angsty 70's music-loving teenagers in my head, who need my attention.

NaNo forever!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Guest Post: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team

Hey y'all,
So you may have noticed October was a bit quiet around the ol' Unpro.  Basically, I've been dealing with some personal stuff, work has been insanely busy, and I really miss creative writing so I'm about to dive into National Novel Writing Month for the second year in a row of 50,000 words in 30 days.  The next couple weeks will consist of guest posts, and I'll be popping up in the comments to add my two cents (because I always have at least two cents, or four, or fifty-three).
Thanks for understanding, and this week, please to enjoy an awesome post from Meg, who's shown up on this blog to comment on Things TV Taught Us and White Girl Problems, and now has her very own blog, Questionable Taste!  Rock on with Meg as she explores her favorite cable television treasure and be sure to let her know what you think!

Everything is bigger in Texas. 
The hair, the sequins, the oil rigs, and, of course, the football. I kind of have a fascination with Texas - it's like a different world. I love big and sparkly things, and I think maybe I was a Texan in another life. Because of this, I’m going to share with you the best-kept secret on basic cable: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. I realize I have questionable taste in everything, but before you laugh at your computer screen, hear me out.
The concept is pretty simple: cameras follow young hopefuls as they shake, kick, and jump-split their way to a spot on the Dallas Cowboys’ famed cheerleading squad. In charge of choosing the ladies are DCC director Kelli Finglass and choreographer Judy Trammell (both former cheerleaders themselves) who demand excellence not only in dance ability, but also personality, handling public appearances and “looking good in the uniform" (read: not having any extra weight).

Kelli and Judy are tired of your shit.

The aspiring cheerleaders go through several rounds of auditions, with a select few making it to the squad’s training camp, where they’ll learn routines and the fine art of "sexy walking," get sized up by the audition judges on Cowboys Stadium's 60-yard flat-screen TV, and endure boot-camp-style workouts. From training camp, several more ladies are cut from the squad, being called into Kelli's office and informed that "Tonaht will be your fahnal naht." (That's my typing impression of a Southern accent there.) Tears and heartbreak ensue. So why do hundreds of girls try out for 36 spots each year? And why can I not stop watching this show?

Because Kelli and Judy are damn good at what they do. Kelli knows how to put a squad together, and Judy comes up with dance routines that are fun and sexy without being over-the-top. They’re no-nonsense big-haired Southern belles and they know exactly what they’re looking for. Show up late to a uniform fitting? Stumble in the kickline? Kelli and Judy won’t have it. Being a DCC is about more than just being hot and shaking poms. Part of what I like about the squad is that the cheerleaders have to actually be able to dance, and not everyone can do high kicks and jump in the air and land in the splits. And if you can’t hack it, you’re out.
And as someone who’s been involved with dance and theater most of her life (and on the poms squad in high school), I know the crazy and emotional ride that is the audition process. So much can be at stake, and in the end, it’s a situation over which you have no control, and the show doesn’t sugarcoat this fact. Some of the ladies auditioning are back for the third, fourth, or fifth time, often making it to final auditions but ultimately falling short. It may seem like it's just about doing booty-shaking and high kicks and cheering on Miles Austin, but it’s not as easy as it looks.
Despite its intensity, though, I totally want to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. I took poms and dance and love sparkles and can tease my hair and could probably eventually do high kicks if I worked on it. But I think Kelli and Judy would probably kick me off the squad - not sure I have what it takes.
But I really want a pair of those cowboy boots.
Are YOU guest bloggy-rific?  If you'd like to contribute to The Unprofessional Critic, email me at maybeimamazed02[at]yahoo[dot]com!