Amateur Hour: What’s the Difference Between a Professional and Hobbyist Burlesque Performer?
In Episode 018: The Business of Burlesque, we talked about how Cabaret and Cocktails went from a side gig among friends to a professional operation. But in talking with some listeners and even some clients, I wanted to clarify what having a business really means and the difference between running a business as an entrepreneur and running a business as a hobby.
First off, Burlesque is absolutely a business. We run a successful partnership, we pay taxes, we make budgets and we each have an integral part to play in our company. But let me tell you what we do not do:
- We don’t show up for a performance unprepared.
- We don’t no-show for a performance.
- We don’t make-up routines on stage.
- We don’t glue our costumes together last minute (well, maybe I do, but that’s every costume, all the time, forever).
- We don’t say things like, “oh it doesn’t matter, this is a small audience” or “oh, I’m just not feeling up to it tonight.”
The difference between a business and a hobby is more than just the money or the tax paperwork. It’s about how you perceive and portray your business.
Yes, by definition a hobbyist or amateur Burlesque performer is someone who engages in an activity in their spare time, purely for the recreation or pleasure of it. So also yes, Cabaret and Cocktails (and Burlesque Moms) falls under that definition. We all have other jobs and lives we perform 90% of the time, while burlesque falls into that other 10%; but when we are existing in that 10%, we are rocking it! And if a hobbyist is performing for pleasure, does that mean that a professional Burlesque performer isn’t enjoying it? Hardly.
So, what defines a professional Burlesque performer?
- Being paid
- Being active
- Being an expert
- Being “professional”
Being paid is the most obvious of distinctions between professional and amateur Burlesque performer. But is it really the most important?
Ha! Coming from me, I’m sure my friends think I have lost my mind, because to me, it’s all about the money. But hear me out. I volunteer my professional services (granted, not as a Burlesque dancer, but as a consultant) on a regular basis. Does that mean I’m not a professional? When I perform for a charity event and receive zero compensation, does that make me just an amateur?
I didn’t think so.
How much do you perform? How often do you think about performing? How often are you preparing for the next performance? Being active is more than just stage time.
And being a professional doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your profession. There are lots of reasons why people choose or don’t choose a profession, but how passionate or active you are in a hobby can be an indication of how seriously you can or could take it as a profession.
Being an Expert
You know your shit. And I don’t mean you can pass in a casual conversation. You know it. You know about reveals, peels, shimmies, and carpet vs gaffer’s tape.
Being a professional means you know more than most people and you have a passion for sharing that knowledge.
Being a “Professional”
For me the true test of a professional is in something that really doesn’t have a traditional definition. Professionalism is a behavior—how to portray yourself on stage, backstage, and at every point in between during the process of booking and performing.
This is what truly sets apart a professional from a hobbyist. A Burlesque dancer may not have the same ethical code as a doctor or lawyer, but I think we can all agree that there are certain acts of conduct that are universally understood as “professional.”
So, what’s the difference between how a hobbyist or amateur and an entrepreneur run a business—even one as unconventional as a Burlesque troupe?
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