A Day in the Life of a Burlesque Dancer
By Veronica Dudo
Performing over a dozen different routines (complete with props and costume changes), applying full makeup, styling hair, entertaining the audience and interacting with the crowd: It's just another night on the job for Amy Toliver. This is a day in the life of a burlesque dancer.
For many, it may sound like a dream come true, stepping onto a stage and into the spotlight, but the reality involves countless hours of rehearsals combined with intense workouts. As part of a 10-member cast, the Phoenix, Ariz., native says the key to a successful show is to enjoy your profession.
"Performing is just 100 percent fun for me," she says. "You forget about any stress that you have going on in your life, and you just live in the moment, and that's the great thing about my job."
Currently running at Bally's Casino in Atlantic City, iCandy Burlesque is a contemporary dance revue that features dancers, singers and aerialists. While infused with classic steps from the past, Toliver says that the show also has a contemporary vibe. "Burlesque was something that came about years ago and now we're kind of bringing it back," she says. "But this is a little bit more of a modern-day version, which has a little bit more sexiness to it but still kind of keeps the costume flavor, the pinup look -- which is very classy and very sexy at the same time. So it's definitely a hit right now -- it's huge!"
After the 10-dancer ensemble was formed, they needed to grasp the choreography quickly, recalls Toliver. "We literally met two weeks before the opening of the show and every day it was a 10-to-12-hourlong rehearsal."
During rehearsals, Toliver says, emotions ran high in the pressure-filled atmosphere. "Not only are we having to put together a huge show like this, and make it look polished and great by opening night, but a lot us have never danced together before, so we're having all of these different styles come together."
It takes a lot of teamwork, patience and hard work from Toliver and her fellow dancers to get everything ready for opening night. "We've learned in the matter of two weeks about 15 different numbers -- and we're talking about routines that are just all over the place in terms of variety. We're doing lifts with the guys, chair-dancing, aerials; we're covering many different types of choreography, so it's a lot."
But, she adds, "In the end it all comes together and looks phenomenal."
On show days, there's a more relaxed atmosphere, according to Toliver, who says the dancers partake in light rehearsals to make sure the routines are smooth. "Now that we've learned the bulk of the show, we have maintenance rehearsal. So anytime we get a number that's kind of messy and needs a little cleanup, then we'll meet for a couple of hours and we'll just focus on that routine and get it polished and looking good."
With an 8 p.m. call time, cast members show up to fix their hair and put on makeup. Toliver explains how they stay organized: "Our dressing room is fairly small, with 10 people in it, so when we meet we want to make sure that our costumes are lined up for show. Because the show changes every night, it's never the same show twice, so the costumes are totally changing and we want to make sure that we're totally prepared before the show starts so that takes some preparation."
After meeting and getting changed into their colorful costumes, it's show time. As audience members watch the cast sing and dance to popular music, Toliver says they have added their own unique moves. "Sometimes burlesque dancing can kind of get interpreted a sexy in a slow way, where as we put a little twist in on it and we made it very high-energy and fun."
The shows run every half-hour and run from 10 to 15 minutes. "In-between shows we have go-go dancing, so there's always something going on," Toliver explains.
Staying in shape is another important component when performing. "A few of us cast members actually get together every other day and do this really nice workout on the beach," she says. "We each take turns leading it, and on the off-days we run on the boardwalk."
Toliver says that she loves the excitement of her job and the opportunity to do something that she truly enjoys sharing. "For me, dance is a form of expression. I love performing. It's just that time where you can zone out and be who you are. There's just something about performing that I love."
Hearing and seeing the response from audience members every night, Toliver says that she is reminded why she works so hard to nail every step. "I just like to see people having as much fun as I have onstage, while watching the show."
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