We are so proud to share this honest, personal reflection by Rubie Magnitude written for appeeling. We respect her beyond words and are always motivated by her passion and positivity.
In the long list of questions that burlesque performers get asked on the regular, one of the most common is “How do you get the confidence to do what you do?” Unlike some of the other questions - “Omg! How long have you been doing this?” (fifteen years) “Is Rubie your real name?” (is that important?) - the question of confidence is not so easily answered. As much as I’d like to say “I was born with it, baby” while doing a hair flip, that isn’t the whole story. I mean, I was born with pretty fabulous hair, and under the star sign Leo, which lends itself to a hefty degree of innate confidence. Unfortunately, my innate self loathing was stronger, and after years of toxic messaging from TV and teen magazines in the late 90s and early 2000s, what started out as a flicker in childhood was a full blown beast by adulthood. A familiar story, to be sure.
Contrary to popular belief about burlesque, I didn’t arrive at the art form in the hopes of curing my self-confidence issues, but rather decided to dive in despite them. Although at the time it was more a dipping of the toes than a full cannonball. And how on earth did I arrive there anyway, an insecure 23 year year old theatre nerd with a decade of disordered eating and body dysmorphia behind her already?
Well, I didn’t wait until I felt ready, that’s for sure. Nor did I have my mane of hair yet, not that I would have used that as a security blanket or anything (I one hundred percent would have). Alas, it was 2007 and all I had was my weird pricey pixie cut and a dream.
My dream was to be on the stage, not as a burlesque performer per se, but when my university roommate told me she was starting a troupe and asked if I wanted to be involved, I couldn’t say no. Even after the first few meetings and rehearsals when I had the sinking realization I was the only one who wasn’t a classically trained dancer. Shit. I’d spent high school playing sports and studying Shakespeare while these girls were doing jetes and crushing dance competitions. So, really, there’s no way I could’ve felt fully ready in this scenario. I’d have to go back in time and convince my parents to put me into dance, which would have probably required moving to a bigger town or city, and would have definitely messed with my (already tenuous) body image in devastating ways. Alright, forget the time machine. Work with what you’ve got, as they say. Which brings me to another line I’ve seen a lot in recent years: “Start before you’re ready” or “do it before you’re ready”, or some similar phrasing of that sentiment. And I’m here to say hell yes to that team!
To be clear, when I’m referring to starting before you’re ready, I don’t mean bypassing the necessary preparation for a stage debut. A LOT of work goes into being a burlesque performer and one should not cut corners. What I’m talking about is when you’ve reached the point where you are, practically speaking, ready. You’ve been out to see shows, you’ve taken dance classes, talked to performers you admire, you’ve rehearsed, you’ve worked on costumes, you’ve chosen music you love to move to, etcetera. Now what? Ah. You sit and wait for that magical feeling of readiness to wash over you.
Spoiler alert - it won’t! Okay, well, it might, and if it does, you’ve been given a gift and I’d like to read your blog post about it, please and thanks!
For the rest of us, that feeling may never arrive. So we’re left with two choices: do the thing, or don’t.
It’ll come as no surprise that I’m team “do it” here. If I had waited until I felt truly ready to make my burlesque debut, well, I shudder to think of all the wonderful things I would’ve missed out on. I doubt I would have ever felt ready for the madly intimidating experience of dancing and taking your clothes off on stage for the first time.
And while baring yourself in this way might feel scary for a while, I promise you, it gets easier. There’s a big aspect of exposure therapy to developing confidence, and this is its most literal incarnation. Trust me, in my first few years of performing I’d be shaking like a leaf and borderline hyperventilating before I went on stage. That calmed down over time, thank goodness, but I still get butterflies in the few minutes leading up to my entrance. I’ve accepted that I always will. When you love being onstage, though, there’s a magical moment where the nerves melt away, and this liberating feeling hits more quickly and completely the longer you perform. For me, it’s an instantaneous shift when I hear my name announced or the first note of my song. But that didn’t happen overnight.
It’s also important to accept that the confidence journey is not a continuous upwards trajectory. There will be times when you feel like Jack on the bow of the Titanic yelling “I’m the king of the world!”, and other times when you feel like poor little Linus dragging his blanket around in Charlie Brown. Except in this case it would be a bedraggled feather boa or a suitcase with a busted wheel.
Take it all in stride, and try not to walk away if it’s something you still love. Or, perhaps you’ll discover it’s not something you love. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. And this applies to any endeavor, not just burlesque! Of course, there’s no denying that a special level of confidence is required to be a burlesque dancer. But, just as we’d never expect to be new to figure skating and landing triple axels right out of the gate, expecting to have the confidence of a seasoned performer doing backbend tassel twirls on a bartop is just unfair to yourself.
Keep at it, and find things that make you feel like the version of yourself you want to share with the world. There’s no uniform aesthetic in burlesque, which is a beautiful thing that gives you space to explore what costume pieces make you feel best, what music makes you feel most alive. Be inspired by performances you see around you, but don’t feel boxed into being something you’re not. That’s a very difficult environment for confidence to flourish. When you love what you’re bringing to the stage, chances are audiences will too. And when you feel that love coming back from them, your confidence increases even more, which elevates your next performances, and then in turn…you see where I’m going with this. It’s a symbiotic relationship like that. And like any relationship, it’s gotta start somewhere!
I had to give myself this same pep talk a few months back when I started producing and hosting my own shows. I’d been interested in emceeing for quite a while but was too nervous to take the plunge. It felt easier to take on when it was my own show, and once that date was set, there was no turning back. Did I feel ready to make my hosting debut that fateful night in April? Absolutely not. Did I do it anyway? Yes. Were my hands shaking uncontrollably as I re-read my scribbled notes two minutes before going onstage? Also yes. And you can bet my nerves didn’t just fizzle away when I stepped out there, and that I fumbled over my words and made fun of myself at various points throughout the night. It was also wonderful, I was flying high on adrenaline and making people laugh and knew that I’d hit on something I wanted to pursue, fumbles and nerves and all.
As I try to find a way to wrap this up, I keep turning all these different adages over in mind. You won’t know unless you try. Fake it til you make it.You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take. While they sound cliched, the older I get the more I realize these phrases stick around for a reason. Straight up, it’s sound advice. Life is short and it’s never too late to start unlearning the habit of holding ourselves back. If we can’t experience the joy of doing things we love, then what are we here for?
C’mon, dip a toe in - the water’s fine ;)
Rubie Magnitude is a multi-faceted creative with dance and fashion at the forefront. An avid writer since childhood, she aims to add professional author to her list of accomplishments one day. In the meantime, Rubie is tearing up the Toronto burlesque scene as a performer and producer, and is also a proud member of the city’s vibrant Waacking street dance community.
As a survivor of eating disorders, and more recently, breast cancer, Rubie is more committed than ever to pursuing her dreams and living a joy-centered life. She hopes to inspire others to do the same by sharing her stories and leading by example the best she can.