Creating Your Best Videos -- with Alek Paliński

The New York School of Burlesque is so excited and honored to have Alek Paliński as a guest author this month! With his 7 years of experience in burlesque, Alek has performed all over the world and contributed to the creation of many burlesque acts. He's worked with iconic burlesque performers, such as Dita Von Teese, Dirty Martini and Zelia Rose, to name a few.

Enjoy Alek's comprehensive guide to filming your burlesque act for performance submissions. We get so many questions about this topic and this guide is just what performers need to put their best work forward when submitting for an audition or applying for a festival or gig.

The world of burlesque continues to flourish, bringing more interest and a fresh wave of enthusiasm towards the art form. A new generation of performers combined with the post-pandemic reality in live entertainment makes it harder for the up-and-coming artists to book work. In-person auditions are increasingly rare. Video submissions have become the new standard for presenting work to many promoters, festivals and events. In the digital age, it’s important to be able to show off your work in a video form. Additionally, having one’s work captured this way allows to submit for events and festivals all around the world, not just locally! So what does it take to create a high quality, universal, effective video that will show off your act and skills in the right way? What are promoters looking for such videos and how to best captivate them through a camera lens? Let’s explore some tips, ideas and best practices that you can never go wrong with.

One of the most important and often neglected components of performance videos is the environment. It’s a great idea to put some thought, effort and, if possible, finances, behind the location in which the video will be shot. For burlesque, using a small theater stage is ideal, but can be very costly. However, there are a number of ways in which the theater environment can be imitated. Perhaps you know a local bar, a speakeasy, or a comedy club with a small stage and a vintage feel that could serve as the set of your video. Sometimes you can get access to those spaces for a small fee outside of their business hours. There are also a lot of amazing locations available for rent at an hourly rate through websites such as Some of them are created specifically with themed video shoots in mind. Another option could be researching dance studios in your area and booking a room with no windows that could be completely blacked out. Some of these studios have very advanced lighting options available. Alternatively, you could hire a videographer who has their own lights, often included in the price of filming and editing your video. A blacked out room with appropriate, intimate lighting can mimic the theatre stage pretty well.

Why is this important? Making the environment in your video as close as possible to that of a performance space makes it look professional. It allows the viewer to feel what the audience would feel watching the performance in real life. It helps them imagine the artist as a part of their event, festival, or space. If the video helps them envision the performer on a professional stage, they’ll be more likely to hire them over someone who filmed their act in a living room.

How to film efficiently
When renting a space, being able to film quickly saves money. Make sure you arrive camera ready and warmed up, ready to go. It’s important to efficiently capture various shots of the performance: wide, medium, and close-up. Having different shot options will come handy in the editing process. It will also help to hide any imperfections in the performance by switching to a different take/angle. To make this process quick, I’d suggest filming the entire performance in a wide shot a few times first, before switching to the medium, close-up, etc. With the wide take of the entire number, focus on performing big and your overall execution. Once you’re satisfied, move on. Fight the urge to watch playback of each shot while you’re in the space. It’ll consume more time than you think and you may end up not capturing all the takes needed for a successful edit later. Trust yourself!

Close up - Face and Costume
During the close-up takes, focus on your facial expressions. Play with the imaginary audience, help the viewer feel your connection with the crowd. This is very important. Tease, smile, wink, and point at the imaginary audience members. It will let the promoter know you have the ability to command the stage. Show off your character and make it your superpower. Additionally, a big part of the art of burlesque is the costume and the way in which it comes off. The more imaginative, the better. It is always a great idea to do a close-up shot focused solely on the details of your costume (and it coming off), just like you’d do a close up of your face. This way, you can highlight the most impactful moments of the striptease by directing the camera (and the viewer’s eye) exactly where you want it to go.

Camera Movement
Another important factor in filming a solo performance is camera movement that adds dynamism to the act. Dance naturally loses some of its power on camera and tends to become flat. By adding camera movement you can mimic a more dynamic experience that viewers would have watching you in person. This is why it’s important to work with a videographer who is experienced in filming movement, rather than putting a camera on a tripod for a dry, steady shot. A little bit of movement in the wide shots (punching in and out, swinging from side to side) will come a long way in making those shots more captivating and dynamic.

This is another very important part of the process. Most videographers will edit the video for you, however, it is important to ensure you will be able to share your creative input, give them notes and make changes to the edit. You should clarify this with the videographer before you book them. Some videographers will let you join them during the editing process and make choices in real time… Most prefer to provide you with a draft first and then implement your notes. This is where you become a director of your video. Step into the audience’s shoes, imagine you’re seeing the performance for the first time. What excites you? What keeps you engaged? Where do you want the viewer’s attention to go, what do you want them to feel in each moment of the video? Highlight these things in the edit using tools we spoke about earlier: switching between wide shots and close ups, between facial expressions and costume details, between the steady and dynamic moving shots. Think of where the audience's eyes would naturally go during a live performance and keep this in mind for your montage. Make sure to maximize the tease aspect of the video as much as possible and leave the audience wanting more.
Additionally, it is important to ask your videographer for all the raw footage files from your shoot. That way, you’ll be able to watch everything on your own time prior to working on the montage and identify your favorite moments, so you can have them included in the final cut.If you are on a tight budget and can’t afford to pay for editing, there are multiple free tools out there that you can use to edit yourself (e.g. iMovie.) Most of them have an intuitive layout and with a little bit of time, you can learn them from YouTube tutorials!

If you do end up working with an editor, it would be ideal to find one who can do basic color grading (or “color correction”) as well. You’d be surprised how powerful coloring can be. A few subtle adjustments can bring a whole new quality level to your video. Color correction can go a long way in making something look beautiful, especially if lighting options in the space were limited. There are many amazing colorists out there who specialize solely in this, but it can get very expensive for a self-funded project. Finding a videographer who can film, edit, and do basic color correction would be ideal for a small project like this. Working with one person in a “one-stop-shop” manner will save you time and money.

Final touches
• Make your number memorable. Create a name for it! Something intriguing that nods to the visual appearance or the story in your act. Name of the performer and the number plus contact information should appear in the beginning and the end of your video, as well as in the caption when you post it. Make those parts of the video visually pleasing, too. Think of it as a book cover. Choose a font and colors to match the overall mood of the performance.
• Upload your video as “unlisted” on YouTube or “private” on Vimeo. This will allow people you share the link with to view it, but it won’t be visible to anybody else. Of course you don’t want to give your act away to the public, just have it handy for submissions. You can send it to promoters of events/festivals/spaces you are interested in. It’s always a good idea to also make a shorter “teaser” version of the same video and put it up on your social media, YouTube, etc. This way you can get a broader audience interested in your work, while showing the full version only to potential clients.
• Lastly, let’s talk about a few things a promoter looks for in an act and a video submission: stage presence, connection with the audience (show it with those close-ups!), beautiful costume (and an original way in which it comes apart!), distinct look (what makes you stand out and sets you apart from other performers in the genre?), overall originality (it’s always better to be yourself than a second-best copy of someone else.) Finally: less is more, especially in the art of stripTEASE.

When the work is finished and you have the brand new, shiny video showcasing your work - send it everywhere! Don’t be timid and reach for the stars. What’s the worst that can happen? Maximize the potential of the hard work, investment and time it took to capture your act on camera. Show it to anybody that may be able to hire you, be consistent, and watch the magic happen!

About Alek Paliński
Alek is a professional dancer and choreographer born and raised in Poland. He received a Jazz Dance Instruction and Choreography degree under Kielecki Dance Theatre from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland. After a successful dance career in Europe, in 2015 he moved to Los Angeles.
With 15 years of experience as a dancer, choreographer and educator, Alek is an active member of exclusive industry organizations: Television Academy, SAG/AFTRA, National Dance Education Organization, Dance/USA and Dance Studies Association. He is also a Founding Member of the Choreographers Guild. In 2023, Alek was nominated for the National Dance Education Organization “Outstanding Leadership in the Independent Sector” National Award. He is committed to staying an in-demand dancer, choreographer, and educator, with deep roots and expertise in the dance community and the entertainment industry.
Some of Alek’s professional credits include: Celine Dion, Pharrell, Jessie J, Karol G, Kehlani, Camila Cabello, Finneas, Kim Petras, Christian Louboutin and Dita Von Teese. He regularly performs on TV/Film and live stage. Some of his screen credits include: SYTYCD, X Factor, NBC The Voice, CBS The Talk, “Don't Worry Darling” Motion Picture, "Sitting in Bars with Cake” Motion Picture, FOX “Monarch", Paramount + “1923" and Dancing With The Stars.
Alek's love for writing started with his mother, a high school Polish teacher. Before dance, he considered journalism as a possible future career. He fulfills this passion by authoring scholarly articles focused in the field of dance and entertainment industry.

Representation: MSA Agency Los Angeles

Do you have further questions or suggestion? Drop them in the comments below!


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