I was scared.
Scared. Biting my nails, gurgly stomach, pacing the room, snapping at my husband and my poor little dog scared. This was too big. Just too big. As I paced and chewed my nails, a CD skipping in the back of mind kept repeating “You’re a trainwreck — a disaster — a trainwreck — a disaster — YOU CAN’T DO THIS.” But then I stopped pacing and remembered that no one listens to CDs anymore. And I tossed that fucker out the window.
Then I went to the Art Institute and performed a striptease for a room full of the most inluential artists, designers, politicians, movers and shakers in the great city of Chicago. And they loved it.
After I sent that resignation letter off, I texted a good friend of mine — and retired burlesque performer herself — who had been especially rock-like to me to let her know that I had taken that step for better or worse. She must have called me within minutes. She worked for an event company and her current client just so happened to want a burlesque performer for her after party celebrating the opening of the Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective at the Art Insitute. The client was Ikram Goldman, legendary stylemaker and stylist to Michelle Obama. And the event was in 11 days. Clearly it was meant to be. I almost peed.
I immediately hit the ground running, conceptualizing a Lichtenstein inspired number complete with thought bubbles and pixellated make-up. I found a Devo song that was just fucking perfect. With no time to waste, I got down to it. I rhinestoned and choreographed like the wind. The inspiration was hitting me and I let it do it’s thing. The day before the event, around 4 in the afternoon, I got a chance to speak with Ikram herself. She was terribly friendly and I liked her immediately. As we chatted about the event and what she would like out of the performance, it became clear that a straight-up classic performance would be most appropriate. Gear switch. She described to me what Dita had done the last time she had hired her and how her guests had loved it. Dita, as in Dita Von Teese, who had apparently really wanted to perform at this particular event but was already booked elsewhere. So, I was filling in for Dita Von Teese. Fuck. No pressure or anything. And as we were discussing other details, Ikram said to me, “Now, you can not be fully naked. The mayor will be there and I can’t have you naked in front of the mayor.” So, Rahm Emanuel would be there. Of course he would be. Again, no pressure.
As I ended the conversation with the most influential fashion player in the city, I realized I had approximately 29 hours to put together something fabulous. A mixture of fear, crazy excitement, and relief zapped my body. Fear — no explanation needed. Excitement — likewise. Relief — that one was unexpected, but appropriate. The concept number wasn’t quite up to the standard I wanted it yet (but I’m pumped about it and can’t wait to finish it and debut it!) and fabulous classic I can do. I should; it had been drilled into me for two years by now. I called my friend who told me to gather up all of my most fab shit and meet her at her house in 45. Within the hour, her spare room was a glittery war zone full of feather shrapnel and rhinestone bras. Together we decided on the absolute best look (After all it was her company who recommended me. I had to deliver. Still, no pressure.) I chose a solid classic burlesque song that I knew inside and out and, with no time to choreograph anything (thank God, actually,) I decided to improvise it. My first performance on my own.
The next day was a whirlwind of salon trips and last-minute rhinestoning. I must have listened to my music two dozen times. And during all of this — that CD skipping in the back of mind — I was remembering everything bad anyone ever said to me. I remembered that I felt, not at all long before, that I couldn’t do this. And that people expected me to fail. And then I remembered that I want this. Really badly. And that I’m done with all of that. And I remembered something that an amazingly talented performer said to me in an email only days before, “…please keep knowing that you can’t “do it wrong,” the only way we live life wrong is to not live fully.” I decided to take World Famous Bob’s advice and I pressed eject on that CD. I swallowed that fear, put on a brave and perfectly drawn-on face, and went out there and took what was being offered to me. Because I was lucky. Because I was talented. And because I fucking wanted it.
And it was awwwwwwesooooooome.