what is burlesque

Modern day burlesque is composed of many different genres of entertainment but none as famous as the slow sensual strip-tease. When most individuals are asked to describe what burlesque is today they will probably answer with something along the lines of ‘strip-tease’. Burlesque is considered a classy performance by 21st century standards, due to the lack of revealing anything considered truly indecent. Women strip down to a tiny g-string and wear nothing on top except for playful nipple tassels or nipple pasties. This is all people generally and honestly know about the world of burlesque, some even thinking that the seductive performance is all there is.

Catherine D’Lish at Sublime Boudoir 2012

The word burlesque is an adjective, noun and verb. The origins of ‘burlesque’ is actually dated back to the late 17th century in Europe. The big kicker here is that a burlesque show didn’t consist of any strip-teasing. Burlesque literally means “to imitate, parody or send up” and it became a well known term. Being defined by spectators as grotesque imitations of already existing performances and social and economical statuses. Examples of burlesque performances are “The Rape of the Lock”, “Hudibras” and the scene from Shakespeare’s “Mid-Summer Nights Dream” where his characters, Pyramus and Thisbe, are mocking a romance from another play titled: “The Knight of the Burning Pestle.” Eventually burlesque split up into two types of humor: high and low. High burlesque was imitations of literature and other performances while low made a mockery of serious subjects.

Modern Comparisons

Plays that were considered burlesque could be compared to parodies today. Comedy movies such as “Scary Movie”, “Meet The Spartans” and “Vampires Suck” are all spoofs of other movies. Televisions shows such as “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken” would be lumped into this category of burlesque as well. Through comedy these productions poke fun at world wide social issues and problems found in society. That’s what late burlesque did as well, making statements of the social and economical classes though crude humor and entertainment.

Burlesque is probably sounding less and less classy as the history unfolds itself, especially after being compared to such blunt, and even vulgar, movie films and television sitcoms. That was exactly how the people of the 17th and 18th centuries felt but at the same time, just like today, they also loved it.

Through the 1830s to 1890s, burlesque turned musical with Victorian burlesque. Taking well known plays, operas and ballets and turning them into musical comedies. Often creating them to be risque and absurd.

armitage shanks burlesque host
Armitage Shanks, cabaret singer and burlesque host

American Burlesque

American burlesque, which is the most popular form, took certain elements of Victorian burlesque and morphed into a whole new entertaining epidemic. The crude entertainment of the burlesque scene began to simmer down in England but thanks to New York City, it was revived. The American style was mostly centered around exotic performances and female nudity and thus the birth of the burlesque strip tease was officially born. Besides scandalous scenes, American burlesque also incorporated singing, circus stunts and tricks and low comedians to bring back the boorish humor of the original burlesque. The 1920s through 1940s, otherwise known as the ‘Golden Age’ of burlesque, flourished with new burlesque starlets such as: Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand.

Talulah Blue burlesque
Talulah Blue, burlesque perfomer

Burlesque today has expanded even more and added different and exciting elements to it’s shows. Once a mockery and unsavory form of the arts is now one of the most dazzling display of talents in the world. Each show can be so vastly different in themes and props, such as Dita Von Teese’s strip routine in a giant martini glass. Some performers bring a little special something to their acts from aerial circus stunts to ballet and singing solos. Burlesque is even including the men, crafting another way to enjoy burlesque or as it’s called: boylesque.

Neo Burlesque

Modern day burlesque is sometimes referred to as neo burlesque. Some famous performers these days are: Ginger Valentine, Lou Lou D’vill, Perle Noir and Dita Von Teese. Each bring tantalizing bits of sex appeal with every graceful movement and flirtatious smile. Using plush boas, large fluffy feathered fans and spontaneous props to keep the minutes of their strip-tease lingering, they playfully re-cover what they just revealed. Always keeping the audience wanting more, burlesque dancers often interact with the crowd. Throwing removed gloves and stockings to the eager gentlemen. Ginger Valentine is a straight A tease when it comes to titillating the men. She offers them a glove and when one reaches for it excitedly, she pulls back. Repeating this process until she throws the glove to the side of the stage.

This art form has so much to offer and is never dull or shy. Stripping is an art, no matter what the critics say. Slowly removing only a few articles of clothing while taking up a time frame of three to five minutes. Its a lot more challenging than one may imagine.

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Nina is the founder of Book of Burlesque and can sometimes be seen out and about at burlesque events where she lives in The Netherlands. Nina also loves designing and making clothes and hats - check out her designs over at Bite Me Couture: www.bitemecouture.com



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