Tips For Tuesday: Music for Burlesque


Vintage sheet music available at

When it comes to burlesque music, the truth is that anything goes! Whatever you love will work.

However, there are a few tips to keep in mind.

1) The great music of the early and middle 20th century works because it was made for burlesque, or arranged in a burlesque mode. You never have to use it unless you want to use it, but if you do want to use it, you definitely should. Some people say it's cliche, but I prefer to think of pieces like "Night Train," "Harlem Nocturne," and "Pink Panther" as standards. It's important to know that some burlesque producers and performers are tired of them, but if you want to use this music, ask yourself about the value of their opinions: Were they ever going to pay to come to your show? Does your actual audience love that music? Make your decisions based on your goals.

2) The music sets up audience expectations. You can fulfill (classic striptease to sexy music) or confound (comedy routine to sexy music) expectations, but you can't ignore them, or you'll disconnect. Often performers both fulfill and confound in one routine, but there's usually a direction toward one or the other. Align with their expectations or resist them, but don't overlook them. If the music has unique meaning for you, be sure not to create your act assuming they know that. By the same lights, if the music has a special meaning for an individual in the audience and you couldn't have known that, the rest of the audience has the usual expectations and that's what your performance should reflect.

3) Too much slow music can bring down the energy of the room, so make sure that if you're using it, you make every second on stage count. If you are ethereal, create spectacle. If you are spooky, give them tension. If you are moody, give them drama. On the other hand, there's no need to play high energy music if you don't want to, or fast music if you can't dance to it as you like. Be true to yourself, but while doing so be conscious of the effect you want to have on the room. Pandering won't satisfy them or you, but neither will ignoring the audience altogether.

4) Unless there is a scheduled tech rehearsal for the entire show, or you have a special relationship with the DJ, you have to edit your music to stop and start where you want it to happen. Also, if there are two tracks you should make them into one file. Otherwise the results will be unpredictable, to say the least. Make it easy on yourself and make the file exactly as you want it before you submit it for the show.

5) You don't have to use music at all! Tigger! uses an entire soundtrack of applause in one of his fabulously poignant comedic numbers. I have a number to the sound of breaking glass. You can even perform in silence, or get the audience to sing for you. Be inventive! Go for it! Play with it! Experiment!

Read the chapter on music in The Burlesque Handbook, available in your local library upon request or wherever books are sold:

How to Send Music for a Burlesque Show

Notes on Cultural Sensitivity:

I hope you found this useful! The purpose of this blog is to promote the New York School of Burlesque and to benefit anyone, student, instructor, producer, or scholar, who wants to know more about burlesque. This blog is not monetized, but if you'd like to contribute, you can tip me at


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