Cherry Charleston Credit 3 Fates Media

Credits: 3 Fates Media (Photographer)

What happens when things go wrong.

My name is Cherry Charleston and I am a 53 year old burlesque performer from Naarm, Australia. Mx Burlesque Victoria (MxBV) is the premier competition for burlesque artists in our state and it’s a high end competition with lavish costumes, high quality acts and the who’s who of burlesque in the audience.

I decided to enter MxBV this year for a number of reasons. I’ve been performing as a soloist for the last five years or so, and have always viewed competitions as an opportunity to improve. I figured that MxBV would enable me to elevate my burlesque practice, put the best quality acts I could put forwards and hopefully, enable me to create bookable acts. Of course, I would have loved to win. But I didn’t hold winning as the ultimate goal. Instead, I wanted to be seen, for people to love me, and to hopefully have producers knocking on my door to book me for their next show.

The first hurdle was to be accepted for the competition. Not everyone gets in. I nervously waited for the notification and I remember feeling joyous and validated when the acceptance email came through. As there were 9 of us accepted, it’s possible that everyone who applied was accepted but that’s secret squirrel business and I can only speculate on how many applicants there were.

I started preparation early. I had my outfit sorted for the red carpet parade early. I decided on my strip tease act four months before the completion and had a close to complete costume to work with. And my unique act was an established act that I enhanced for the competition.

For the four months before the competition I worked my ass off every spare day I had. I ordered and then glued a gazillion rhinestones onto my costumes. I got help with altering the rest from professional folks. I practiced daily. I worked with Maple Rose to pull together my new striptease act as I wanted to bring things that I wouldn’t normally do to the stage. I tried many sets of heels, spent a fortune, and held down my day job (wearing my heels).

A couple of days before the big event I had the chance to compete in an alternative competition on a smaller stage. My striptease act was a hit, I came second in the heat and had the chance to bring my enhanced unique act to a showdown, and was selected to go through to the final. I felt confident and ready for MxBV.

On competition day I went to my makeup artist around 10:30am to get my stage makeup done. It’s unbelievable but true that it lasts impeccably until the end of the night. I was calm, fresh and focussed. I arrived at the venue ready for a tech run and ran into my first problem. The venue, whilst beautiful, required us to go up and down 2-3 flights of stairs to arrive. Our changing area was down two flights of stairs from the stage and many of the stairs did not have railings.

I freaked out.

I am extremely fearfully of stairs where I cannot hold on. I have had a catastrophic fall down stairs in my past which resulted in severe injury, plus a traumatic bike injury, and one missing quadricep in my other leg. This means that on my best day I can go down stairs slowly, one step at a time, holding on for dear life. I can go up stairs with less problems but since the quad snapped off at my hip flexor, I need to hold on to rails or walls to feel safe. In heels, I need rails.

And there I crumbled.

The competition itself was a devastating experience for me. Walking on stage in the red carpet act I would have looked as scared as I felt. We had enter the stage walking up stairs without railings, viewable by the audience and with support from the stage crew. I was grateful for their hands as they led me up the stage but my first step onto the flat stage was visible and unsteady. I’m sure most people would have thought that I was nervous about the competition but no I wasn’t. I was frightened of falling over and doing the kind of damage I’ve done to myself before. It meant I had to be situationally aware of where I was on stage at any time, and keep a close eye on joins in the stage with my peripheral vision.

Backstage I let the crew know I was struggling with the stairs and bless them they helped me get up when I needed it.

Fear sucks. Many people have stage fright, and their fear shows on stage. I’m really disappointed that I could not get past my fear and bring 100% to the stage that night. The only part I truly enjoyed was doing my unique act. I do it barefoot and once I set foot on my vibrating platform I don’t get off it. It’s a safe place for me.

I'm sure you’re starting to get annoyed with the organisers. They should have done something to help or should have made the competition more accessible. But here’s the thing - the producers did ask for accessibility requirements. We did discuss the need for me to be helped on and off stage and I knew there would be stage hands to offer support. And we all thought it would be fine.

Overall I felt flat, disappointed and embarrassed with my performance in MxBV. Processing that disappointment is a lengthy process - it feels like a punch in the gut, and regret and rumination are not my friends. I think it’s taken me three months to reclaim my confidence. I am glad I did it. I got what I wanted out of it and have more exposure and bookable acts. I respect all the amazing performers who competed, and I completely agree with the results. I’m grateful for the feedback from the judges. And I’ve learned so much myself about my own worthiness as a performer. I’m worthy and deserve to be on the stage.

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