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History of Burlesque

Posted by laura on June 8 2017.

Burlesque historyWhat is burlesque really? Corsets?  24inch waists? Deep Red Lippie and a slight strip tease? Burlesque is much more powerful than just the images were presented with. Burlesque includes mime acts, comedians, dancers as well as strip tease acts all incorporating jest with a saucy feel. It’s a powerful art form that encourages tones of confidence.


Early Burlesque

Burlesques origins started in Britain from the 1840’s. You may be surprised to know it had no sexual connotations at all. The idea was to entertain the working class in a theatrical setting. Best form of entertainment… comedy! One type of ‘Burlesquing’ meant to take the mic out of the upper class that many of the audiences worked for and some resented. This form of entertainment was hugely popular for some time amongst working class, however eventually audiences got a bit bored and numbers began to drop off. Shapely sexily clad women were essentially brought to add a little sexuality to the humour. Typical. This increased the Burlesque popularity tenfold, performers travelled to New York and spread the popularity over the pond.


American Burlesque

Minskys burlesque

With America’s interest in Burlesque things evolved quickly, stars were born. Burlesque became more of a variety show with different style performers included in the singers, comedians, dancers and of course the voluptuous female, which was increasingly becoming focused on female (semi) nudity.

Fast forward a little (well a lot) to the 1930’s and we’ve headed right into the strip tease tag burlesque is known with today. The shows included some singing by performers  (comedians still made appearances) but there were up to six ladies stripping in one show. The atmospheres at these shows were often described as inhibited, with free flowing booze and plenty of banter. The appeal of these shows as with the earlier Victorian era of burlesque is that ‘proper’ ladies should be covered appropriately at all times in society, so it was a huge deal and very desirable for men to be able to see women’s legs and parts of their chest even if only exposed slightly.  Socially this was perceived as a huge problem by many people, regarding all involved with the shows as undesirables. Popular star Minksy often let herself get arrested to amp up Burlesques reputation as raunchy. The mayor of New York and similar cities clamped down hard on Burlesque shows imposing hefty fines and draining many of the producers out of business, and as a result saw the rapid of the decline of burlesque. During this time in England burlesque had eventually phased out as other trends such as Elizabethan shows were becoming the new craze. Many of the famous British performers had made a home for themselves in New York since the 1930’s.

The Pin Up Era

the classic pin up


Having burlesque performances essentially booted out of many theatres around New York and the surrounding cities was a problem for all those who sought out the pleasures of viewing a beautiful curvy semi naked female, where were they going to get it now!? Publications were born such as ‘Peep Show’ and ‘Eyeful’. And Hollywood icons such as Marylyn Monroe appeared in films with big boobs and curvy ‘fertile’ hips. This was a further projection the image of voluptuous as beautiful and overtly womanly.‘The bigger the chests and hips and the smaller the waists, the better!’ – Hourglass figures were now in Vogue and the corset made a dramatic return.

Burlesque Toady

 modern burlesque


By the 1960’s Hard Core pornography had become accessible so the appeal to see women only semi dressed had dropped off quickly. This saw the decline of burlesque as a raunchy highly thrilling form of entertainment for its audiences. Paris saw huge success with Moulin Rouge which had a great deal of glamour and novelty to it, but on a local scale burlesque was a dying form of entertainment. Now in Modern times its regarded as an art form, looked back on with nostalgia. In a world were porn is ridiculously accessible to all burlesque proves to demonstrate refined sexuality and class, and its tones of fun! You can be gentle, take time and slowly seduce and wow audience which is truly a skill.

Today people are unsure where burlesque falls, whilst many regard it as an art form, some are struggling to see that and brand it demeaning to women. A towns council were recently trying to shut down a burlesque festival, raising issues of gender equality. But surly these curvy sensual women are empowering? In control of their sexuality and using it to their advantage.

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