In early January 2018, I auditioned for Perle Noire‘s House of Noire burlesque inspired dance company and lived to tell about. I had no idea what to expect. I had little to no idea what I was getting myself into and there’s some back stories you need to hear to understand it all.
Here are some caveats.
- If you’re in the burlesque industry, I’m going to assume you know who Perle Noire is. If you are a burly person and don’t know, you should google her. She’s a key figure in the burlesque industry.
- If you’re not in the burlesque industry and you’re reading this, I link to her websites at the end of this story and also, I’m writing the story as I came to learn about her too. So don’t google her until you read this post. I want you to know the flow of how she entered my life.
- This is a LONG story. Grab a cup of tea, get comfortable and read it when you have time.
- Pursuing around my site, you’ll learn I swear. Sometimes I’m not grammatically correct or politically correct. I thrive in being me in my full complexity, so I’m polished and I’m gritty.
- I share unflattering things about myself. Maybe I could write this story by just giving “Audition Tips” but I want you to know the whole story. I want you to know where I messed up and how I transformed. I want you to know the whole story to understand my side. Burlesque needs more transparency, so I’m telling as much of the story as I think is relevant.
Story Time: I Auditioned for Perle Noire and Lived to Tell About It
Lets back up to 2017. After years of professionally performing primarily as a pole dancer and producing events, an opportunity presented itself for me to tour full time as a resident Burlesque dancer for a production company. I knew very little about the burlesque industry but what I did know was sensual and erotic dancing. This worked considering the company’s focus was on “Pop Erotica.” However, whenever they’d introduce me as a burlesque dancer before audiences each night, I had discomfort with the title because I had stereotypes about burlesque. You can learn a bit more about that in the video, “Meet Shay Au Lait.” Fast forward to timestamp 1:29pm.
Usually when I reject something with such a passion, I know I need to go deeper. So, I started researching burlesque. In looking for erotic and sultry burlesque, I happened upon Perle Noire on Youtube. This video was/is EVERYTHING TO ME!
I loved her stage presence and her energy. I loved how she had flow but would still hit certain accents with such a fierceness that you could feel it coming through the screen. I can’t imagine what it must have been to watch it live. Either way, I knew I loved it. Seeing her perform was one of the reasons I became comfortable with saying I was a burlesque dancer. My ignorance had completely blindsided me to the entire industry and her performance educated and transformed me.
I remember sharing the video with one of the producers of the production company I toured with. They were quick to emphasize how they didn’t find her sexy, how she had once wanted to audition for their show but they didn’t see her as a right fit. They spoke about how she had caused disruption in the black burlesque scene in NY pitting dancers against one another and against some of the legends in our industry. And I just listened. Sometimes when a posting would come up about Perle online…an image or a video, they’d joke and say something to the effect, “Oh there’s Shay’s favorite dancer,” in a demeaning way. I’d tell them she wasn’t my favorite because I didn’t know enough dancers yet to have a favorite. HOWEVER, I’d always emphasize she was amazing and point out again why I loved her videos so much. While she might not have been the right fit for their particular production company…she was a fucking great dancer. And just because one producer didn’t find her “sexy” didn’t mean she lacked legitimacy.
But you know what…I didn’t do my part to shut the shit down. While I had never met Perle and didn’t know her personally, I feel like I could have done more. Because she became one of several people they’d often joke about or make fun of, I started following Perle’s social media accounts more intently. I wanted to see if she was as dramatic as they said. I wanted to see if she was causing division. Who was this woman they were so opinionated about?
I remember seeing some of her posts online that seemed a “bit much.” I saw her calling herself “Mama” and that just didn’t resonate with me and I hoped if I ever met her she wouldn’t ask me to call her Mama. And I remember seeing a particular post of her’s that put a bad taste in my mouth. It was a post about not being credited for a specific dance move. Being honest, I remember rolling my eyes. I even shared my thoughts with the production company and that became yet another joke. I remember one of the burlesque dancers even adding that particular dance move into her latest act as a joke. I’m actually disappointed in myself for any part I played in these judgments and jokes.
Be that as it may, I still loved her as a dancer. And at the same time I thought she was being dramatic. (Oh the assumptions, we make when we really don’t know shit.) That’s the extent of my judgement of her. I thought her posts online were a bit much and honestly that she was giving herself too much credit. That kind of judgment is baseless. I mean, I’m entitled to my own opinion but how’d I go from being enthralled with her dance to seeing her online posts and assuming the worse? Maybe I let the group think of a cult-like production get the best of me. I have no idea. Please don’t make the same mistakes I did.
After many unsafe conditions, a hostile work environment, poor communication and being put in shitty situations left and right, I left the production company and decided to forge my own path in Burlesque. Touring was quite an experience but I wanted to perform in other types of shows and I needed to reclaim my time. I wanted to start producing more. I wanted to get to know other burlesque companies and dancers. Well, and I wanted to feel safe at work. So we fast forward to spring/summer of 2018 and I began forging a new path.
I started teaching weekly Burlesque Dance classes. I started performing at interesting shows like Do Both and Velour Noire. I started getting commissioned to perform for private events. I built a new burlesque brand. I even gave myself a stage name after performing under my government name for 15+ years. I was trying for that whole Phoenix rising from the ashes.
And I started looking at Perle without any preconceived notions and without any other voices clouding my own thoughts. Then I started following House of Noire, Perle’s dance company online. Towards the end of the year, I saw postings about an audition to join their dance company. I initially dismissed it. After the tumultuous and unprofessional experiences I had had while on tour, the last thing I wanted was to be associated with another dance or production company. I come from a theater background and I’m used to standards and what I learned from being on tour was that there were no standards in burlesque.
But as I watched the video teases Perle’s team put out about her upcoming audition process or what it meant to be a House of Noire Gem, I started getting real curious. Ignorance might have you think their videos and posts were dramatic and ridiculous. They’d talk about their expectations. How she expected perfection. How you had to dress for rehearsals. How you had to wear red lipstick. The list went on and on. And each time they released another “demand” or “expectation,” I started getting turned on. Like REALLY TURNED ON and VERY CURIOUS. Their company vaguely reminded me of the high performance and professional standards of the theater world that I was used to. So on a whim and without considering ANYTHING…which I think would later bite me in the ass but teach me several lessons….I signed up to audition for House of Noire Gems!
Once I signed up to audition, I started going back through all the posts made by House of Noire online, as there were clues about how to get the most out of auditions. I wanted to be prepared. I could tell by the posts that we were expected to be in full makeup. But I couldn’t tell what I should wear to the audition. (I definitely wore the wrong thing.) I also started watching everything I could about each gem in House of Noire. I wanted to research in every possible way because I could tell they didn’t play around.
As I prepared to audition, I knew there was a huge possibility I wouldn’t be offered a position, but I also started thinking, “But what if I do get in? What if I become a Gem? What does that mean? How many hours a week is devoted to it all? Would that work with my schedule?” Whatever the answers might be, I figured I’d cross that bridge if and when I eventually got there. (Be that as it may, it would be helpful to know what the commitment level is for anything you audition for prior, so you don’t waste anyone’s time. I knew no matter what, the entire experience would be worth it but I’d love to know the overall commitment level before versus after.)
So its the day of auditions. Day one, that is. I knew if you passed the first round, there would be a second round of auditions. So its the day of auditions. I wake up early and spend two hours of time on my makeup…because I’m a bit of amateur with makeup and my strokes are not made with confidence. I wear what I thought would be decent, in line with their aesthetic with my limited options and yet still enough to show my personality. Honestly, the entire get up was wrong. I wore the wrong shoes, the wrong shirt, the wrong bottoms. Like Jesus Christ. It was just all wrong. I had the wrong wig on. The wrong bra. And this isn’t because they told me what I wore was wrong. I knew it for myself.
My advice: Wear a black body suit and fishnets or patterned tights with the feet cut out.
Bring appropriate dance shoes that are easy to get in and out of.
Put your hair up.
Have a classic makeup look with a small flair of personality and smile.
So I got my makeup on and my outfit on. As I’m not sure what the audition process will entain, I bring several alternative outfits, just in case. I literally had never gone to a burlesque audition before, so I just wasn’t sure. (I overpacked. I mean, its better to be prepared than not but I overpacked.) And then I get into the area about an hour before the audition because early is better than late. I wanted to find the exact building, floor number and door I needed to be at without any issues. And once I’d done that, I knew I could grab coffee somewhere close by until it was closer to audition time. The following is a transcript.
Shay: Hi. I’m here for the 2pm House of Noire auditions. Do you know which room it will be in?
Front Desk Person: There isn’t a 2pm reservation today. They had a room booked yesterday at 2pm.
Shay: (FREAKS OUT ON THE INSIDE.)
Is it possible that somehow I lost a day? Did I sleep through an entire day and miss the auditions?
What was going on? Or did I get my locations wrong? Was audition #1 in Brooklyn and audition #2 in Manhattan? Was I supposed to be in Brooklyn right now? I pulled out my phone to try to pull up any information.)
Shay: I’m sorry. What is today’s date?
Front Desk Person: It’s January 4th.
Shay: Oh my goodness. I’m here a whole day early. Lawd. Umm. Ok. Thanks. Guess I’ll see you tomorrow.
Ahhhh! In my excitement, nervousness and moment of absent-mindedness, I showed up an entire 24 hours early for the audition. I remember going home and being annoyed with myself. Putting on makeup is hard for me. I’m teaching myself how to do. I understand the importance of it. There’s simply a learning curve and I was annoyed I spent two hours doing my makeup unnecessarily.
My advice, shift your perspective.
Nothing is a waste. If anything what I did was practice makeup applications for two hours. Truth be told, I should spend at least a minimum of two hours a week practicing makeup looks. Just as I rehearse my choreography, I should be rehearsing my makeup too. Instead, I had a pretty poor attitude. I decided since I got all dolled up, I’d spend the rest of my day in my makeup and my outfit doing household tasks like laundry and cleaning. The poor attitude part continued…I made it clear to my family that I’d sleep in my makeup and wear the same makeup the next day at the actual audition.
What in the world, Shay?
We’ve all done it. Well a good portion of people have slept in their makeup at least once and kept it on the next day. I get it. However, this was not the appropriate time to do so. When working towards being a part of the BEST, you should always give your best. Perle Noire and everything she touches is world renown. She deserves a fresh face every day.
I should have continued my day at home in my full costume and then I should have taken a long shower, done a facial, relaxed and then woke up the next day to try again.
Instead I tried to sleep pretty and I touched up my makeup the following morning. I picked another bad audition outfit and headed back to the location on the right day.
As I sat outside the audition room with a few other early birds, I remember focusing on the wrong thing. I wondered if they had a room somewhere else for us to change in and for us to put out belongings in. I was used to Theater auditions, where actors/actresses have a designated spot outside the audition room for all their personal belongings and such…so that when they walk into the audition room the only thing they have is what they need for the audition and the audition can begin from the moment they touch the door knob.
For Perle’s audition, we eventually put all of our belongings on top of one another, piled on the floor on one side of the room that we’d be auditioning in. I remember thinking at the time this wasn’t what I was used to.
Remember my advice awhile back? Shift your perspective?! Yeah, here was another opportunity. I knew for a fact the entire team would be observing us in every moment of that audition. Not just when we were dancing but even when we stood on the side waiting our turn. I knew they were watching HOW we warmed ourselves up or how we said our name. I knew everything was a part of the audition. So instead of wondering why they didn’t have a designated spot outside the room for us to put everything, all of that was usable opportunities to show how I handled myself with dignity, grace and style. I assume it doesn’t matter where a Gem puts her bag down or hangs her coat…no matter where it happens, she does it like a House of Noire Gem. I really didn’t immerse myself how I should have.
Before we even got to the whole, “where is my bag gonna go?” process,…before auditions even started, I remember sitting outside the room with a few others. Several people spoke about how nervous they were. They were antsy. Or some people walked in like they owned the entire room and they were equally dramatic with flair. (When I used dramatic, there is no negative connotation here. Just very expressive and big energy.)
Me, I was pretty calm…and apparently full of judgments and questions about the proper place to put my damn bag. (eyeroll to myself about myself)
One person asked why was I so calm. I said something to the affect of, “I’m either going to get picked or not. Point. Blank. Period. There’s nothing nerve wrecking about that for me. I also know that no matter what, this is going to be an amazing experience and great learning opportunity. We are auditioning for four hours and she’s going to put us through the ringer! But really, do you know how much it cost to spend four hours being trained by Perle? It was $15 to audition. So even if I don’t get picked, what I did get was personal dance and life training by Perle and the House of Noire. Do I hope I get in? Yes. Do I want this? Yes. But I also might not get it and all I can do is learn my lessons and try again the next time auditions open up.”
Side note: My ability to balance a yes or no and stay grounded often gets read as being “nonchalant” or “not caring.” Its none of that. I want what I want but I also know I might not get it. And life still has to go on even if I don’t get what I want. So instead of beating myself up or falling down a black hole, I learn the lesson and keep in moving. I really hate that my ability to manage my emotions is often read as not being invested.
Back to story time. It was now time for auditions to begin. And BABY, they worked our asses. Perle warned us at the beginning. They worked us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It was an audition but it was also life coaching. Perle was dropping pearls of wisdom all over the place. I wanted to take out my journal and write down her quotes. She didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard before. A lot of her philosophy in burlesque and life, resonates deeply with how I view the world. I simply never knew what her philosophy was. I only knew her from dance videos and online posts. But she was profound. She IS profound.
I don’t want to give too much away as I don’t know how much of her audition process is properiary or not. Also, there is an air of mystery surrounding House of Noire for me and I like that. So what I will say is this…
- Ask questions. Prior to auditions and during auditions.
- Remember that every moment is a part of the audition. Every single moment. After you finish your dance number in front of the judges and the music stops….when you walk to the side to let the next group dance…..even your walk should still be a part of your audition. When you’re watching others dance and cheering them on, how you behave and stand and watch…should still be a part of your audition. You are ON until you walk out that building. To be safe, stay ON until you walk down the block and turn the corner, in case she’s watching you out the window too. I wouldn’t put it pass her.
- If what you’re doing in a burlesque audition isn’t entertaining, don’t waste anyone’s time. Perle straight up stopped us at one point and said she was bored. (Was she being a dramatic diva? Not in the negative sense. She was telling the truth. Burlesque is ENTERTAINMENT. So if she wasn’t entertained, just what the fuck were any of us doing?) I loved every time she told us she was bored. Might sound backwards but it made all the sense in the world.
- Don’t freak out. I don’t think you’re supposed to be perfect in an audition. In fact, I feel like they set us up to mess up. They were teaching a LOT of stuff in a short amount of time. Sometimes we didn’t have time to practice it before they told us to show the judges. They had turns and spins I just physically couldn’t do. Honestly, sometimes I felt like I was just flailing all over the place. But don’t freak out. I feel like that’s a part of the test. Besides seeing if you can execute the choreography, I feel like they were trying to see how and what types of things you pick up quickly versus not. I feel like they were evaluating what you did WHEN you messed up. They were looking at our emotional stability and intelligence after we fell down. Even the Gems themselves sometimes missed a beat but they kept going, kept smiling and pointed their toes.
Halfway through our auditions, Perle decided she wanted to do a first cut. She asked us all the leave the room while the team decided who would go home. As I sat with other amazing dancers, tears started flowing for several. Others were beating themselves up. Others wanted it so bad that it meant everything to them. I get all the emotions. Me…I knew I had failed myself. It wasn’t even about impressing Perle. I had shown up a day early. My makeup was two days old. My costume felt like a distraction. My choreo was so NOT on point. I felt lost versus focusing on just being me and being ON. I was expecting to get cut early. And yet….I made the first cut. I actually had to look at my number to double check that in fact it was me going to the next round of the day.
After about half the group was sent home early, we continued our auditions. During this particular time, we were able to see Perle demo a freestyle dance and LAWD HAVE MERCY. At one point she danced to about 8 inches from my face and stood there looking deep into my fucking soul with her heart wide open. I mean, I get that she dances with flair and accents and I understand what performing is and what it means to emote on stage and all that jazz. And I’ve studied her videos. But this wasn’t about being dramatic or having a flair. She was literally dancing her heart even in her stillness. She was open and absolutely beautiful and I felt like she saw straight into me. I felt her gaze in my ENTIRE SOUL. And that’s when it all made sense.
Perle Noire is a legend.
Perle Noire is a professional with the highest and best standards.
Perle Noire is an artist.
She’s primal and raw in her emotions but polished in her execution.
Perle is soulful, beautiful, fashionable, heart-felt with a larger than life personality. She’s not even arrogant. She’s confident. She knows her worth. She understands her value. And if you’re going to be before her presence, it better be worth her gaze. And if you watch her perform, she’s going to give you everything inside of her.
She’s simply a star.
Now, I’m not gonna start calling her “Mama.” But what I will do is check any motherfucker that speaks ill will about her. And I will do my part to educate people of her and her work, considering I’m a Burlesque Dance Instructor. If you’re teaching the History of Burlesque, her story needs to be included. Her impact needs to be in there. If you’re teaching Modern Burlesque, her story needs to be included. I will do my part to teach the truth.
I’ve been before her presence in a professional way. From what she revealed, I see how she works. She’s a professional with industry standards. In fact, I don’t even think she asked anything of us that was extra or ridiculous. She asked for the baseline of industry standards. Show up on time, without exception. Audition with your entire heart. Don’t waste my time. Be entertaining. Dress the part. Have charisma. Etc. Etc. Etc. None of that is “extra.” Its actually the baseline for professional standards.
I don’t know. I just think she’s fabulous and worth more than her weight in gold. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to audition. I’m truly sorry I failed myself in my overall perspective. I know where I can do better.
And after departing from a horrible situation with my trust broken in teams and production companies…I’m so glad Perle reminded me of what the professional side looks like. She’s the one who changed my view of the burlesque industry to a point that I felt comfortable calling myself a burlesque dancer. So of course, its full circle that she also restored my hope in burlesque production companies and burlesque dance companies. She’s a powerhouse.
I auditioned for a legend’s dance company. I didn’t make the second cut. I wish I had. But looking deep, I’m not ready yet. There’s some wounds I need to mend when it comes to teams, art, and trust. Perle’s company isn’t just about dancing and wearing gorgeous fashion. There’s a deeper spiritual connection at play. If you’re not there to put your soul on the floor in every breath, don’t waste her time. Literally, your soul. I’m not talking dancing “emotionally.” If you are not ready to unzip your skin, pull your soul out and find your story while entertaining her too….don’t waste that Queen’s time.
She is a Queen. I can’t call her Mama. But I definitely recognize power and because of that audition, I’ll always bow before her as Queen.
Dramatic much? If you think so, it means you have no idea.
- Perle Noire’s Website
- House of Noire Website
- What Its Really Like to Be a Burlesque Dancer – Cosmopolitan Magazine interviewed Perle and this article is amazing.
- Perle Noire: A Beautiful Imperfection – 21st Century Burlesque interviewed Perle and its amazing too.