The first burlesque performance I ever saw was by Beeby Rose in the Supper Club, Amsterdam a few years back.
It was an enjoyable evening out with friends in the trendy restaurant club in the center of Amsterdam. We’d just been reclining on beach like sofas to enjoy dinner, and were now standing around chatting noisily. The usual ambient sounds floating from the Supper Club DJ decks were an eclectic mix of atmospheric drum n bass and ambient, delightfully different tunes.
Suddenly the heady sound of a 40s jazz trumpet cleared the noise and demanded everyone’s immediate attention. In an instant I was whisked back to a smokey 1940’s nightclub full of gangsters and sassy dames. The audience’s gaze was drawn to an amazing sight: a delightfully curvy, dark haired beauty emerged, stepping and shimmying in time to the upbeat vintage tune. Apparently this was a ‘burlesque performer’ and she was laced into the most exquisitely feminine, pink corset which was adorned with satin ribbons and draped strings of pearls, and she wore sheer stockings with dainty vintage shoes. I was totally transfixed by what appeared to be a real life version of my childhood heroin, Betty Boop! This was Miss Beeby Rose (pictured above) and I would end up attending her fun filled burlesque workshop just a few months later.
This first performance that I saw was an elegant but cheeky semi striptease in time to an upbeat vintage tune of a bygone era. I say semi striptease because a burlesque performer will never normally go completely nude. Ones modesty is always covered by those little tasseled discs or hearts known as nipple tassels, which are often cheekily spun around to the delighted amusement of the encouraging audience.
As with any form of art there are many different types of burlesque and here I have described just one, which is often called ‘neo burlesque’ or ‘classic burlesque’ (also the favourite of popular burlesque performer Dita von Teese, pictured above). For me a burlesque performance can be a mixture of theatre, dance, striptease and comedy. I have seen incredibly talented burlesque performers whose routines consist of a clever anecdote or scenario: stage props and costumes are created in theme with the idea, and the story is acted and choreographed across the stage.
Burlesque first appeared in the latter half of the 1800’s in England and America. The idea back then was to perform a rather tongue-in-cheek show which poked fun at events/people in the politics and economics of the day. Among performers back then were scantily clad women who invariably did a striptease during the act. Due to strict rules of society at the time women were not allowed to show their breasts completely and so the idea of the nipple tassel was born, in order to get around that particular restriction!
I’m not entirely sure what caused the current revival of the art of burlesque. Maybe it never really went away and it just gained popularity again in the last decade, who knows? In any case it is an art form which has entertained audiences for the last 150 years so it’s not going away any time soon. Personally I love the old fashioned glamour and glitz of burlesque, I love that the performers are so creatively imaginative and entertaining, and I love the people who make up the enthusiastic audiences. This has been a world I have felt comfortable in and have found a real connection with the friendly, creative and fun loving community that is burlesque.
To read a more in-depth look at the history of burlesque and modern burlesque, read our burlesque article here: burlesque
Top photo: Beeby Rose
Middle photo: Dita von Teese