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Unconventional Entrepreneurship: My Burlesque Dancing Side Hustle

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Last Updated on September 9, 2021 by Daniella

Without even realizing, I have been an entrepreneur basically my whole life.

My side hustles operated like small businesses, complete with marketing, social media, pitching, outreach, all of that. And I’ve had a LOT of weird side hustles in my life. For example, the year I was a burlesque dancer.

You may be thinking, “Rachel, how is taking your clothes off in public a small business?” Honestly, the things I did to book burlesque shows and market myself are literally no different from what I do now as an Instagram marketing coach. Networking as a coach and networking as a burlesque dancer are very similar- both require other folks to prosper as an entrepreneur.

Let’s backtrack to 2016. After graduating from burlesque school (aka wrapping up the four week workshop I did with the New York School of Burlesque), I had the option to perform in a student showcase. It wasn’t paid, but we did collect tips. And I thought screw it, let’s get naked.

The first act I ever put together was a doozy- a comedic act featuring a classic Gilda Radner song, “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals”. To this day, I think it is the only burlesque routine involving animal finger puppets. And it did great! I ended up making about $30 in tips that night. Not a ton, but still, it was money!

From that point on, I was able to use footage from that show, and references from the hosts and teachers I had met, to start booking other shows. Similar to building a portfolio as a social media manager, or getting social proof as a coach (aka getting messages from my former clients about how great I am and posting them in an Instagram story highlight), I had to have the skills and visual proof that I knew what I was doing.

You may be wondering, where did I apply for burlesque jobs?

The same place where I booked every writing job I’ve ever gotten. Facebook groups.

Facebook groups are a godsend for your side hustle.

Literally, if you’re not using Facebook groups to network and get gigs, you need to be. Something about the immediacy and intimacy of Facebook is perfect for connecting with other professionals. 

I was part of a burlesque Facebook group for dancers in New York City, and every so often people would post casting calls. The producer of a show would state the shows theme, and list what kind of acts they needed. For example, I did a Sgt. Pepper themed show (the Beatles album, not the weird movie from the 70’s), and the producer listed all of the songs from that album. I ended up doing “Lovely Rita”.

This goes the same for other Facebook group job listings. If you’re a writer, an editor may go into a Facebook group and express a need for an article about a specific topic. Then, you would go and message them with your pitch, if you had the knowledge and experience required for writing the article. With “Lovely Rita”, I expressed a love for The Beatles and told them I had the costume pieces ready, sent along my video from the Gilda finger puppet act, and I booked the job.

Rinse and repeat. This is how I booked gigs as a burlesque dancer. 

What about the marketing side?

Well, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m really freakin’ good at Instagram content marketing. It’s literally my entire job. But even back then, before I was an Instagram coach, I knew how to make my social media account a resume.

Promoting a side hustle on Instagram is all about content. This is what I do for my business, this is what I did for my Playbill and crystals businesses, this is what I did for social media clients, and this is what I did for burlesque.

Content is key.

What do you post as a burlesque dancer? Burlesque videos. Burlesque photoshoots. Behind-the-scenes pictures. Show stories and reviews.

Now what do you post as a small business owner? Product photos. Testimonials. Branded photoshoots. Brand-building posts like behind-the-scenes and personal stories.

Same exact thing.

Because anything you take money for is a business. Everything. And to make sales or book gigs, you need to operate like one. You need to know how to network, how to market, and how to grow your brand.

Lastly, any side hustle you have needs to be 100% you. Having something that sets you apart- a specialty, a voice, a backstory- is essential to growing a business.

Branding is everything.

When I was a burlesque dancer, it was my humor. People knew me for my comedy burlesque, a brand I set out from the beginning with my Gilda Radner act. From that point on, I was booked for character and comedy shows. I did an SNL themed show at a gay bar, I did a Rachel Bloom number for a comedy burlesque show in Philly, and I even did a Bojack Horseman themed show as Wanda, Bojack’s owl girlfriend.

That’s the power of branding. Now of course, my brand is queer witch who is hilariously and unapologetically herself. So what kind of clients do you think I get? Queer witchy folk who have similar values and senses of humor as me.

Once you have the brand, you have the talent, and you have the knowledge to get to where you need to be, you’re unstoppable. And that’s the power of small businesses and side hustles- all it takes is a vision and passion.

Those are the most important characteristics of building a side hustle, and whether you’re a writer, comedian, burlesque dancer, freelancer, whatever that may be, you have the power to grow. Make that money, babe!

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