Written by Zelda Holiday


Have you ever wondered what burlesque is?  Stripping?  Or maybe something out of the movie Burlesque?  Truth is, it's a bit of both, and more.  Burlesque is the art of the tease.  While you can find it on stage today or even in your own bedroom at home, burlesque as we know it actually has roots in 17th century Europe.  It comes from the Italian word “burla,” meaning a joke or mockery.  Originally it was any literature, plays, or music done in a style of comedy and satire, often making fun of high brow society and arts.  Victorian burlesque evolved in 19th century England and was any comedic or ribald adaptation of a classical opera, play, or ballet, and performances included music, dancing, acting, and elaborate costumes and stagecraft.  American burlesque evolved from this and included worldly exotic and erotic dancing, as well as vaudeville acts such as music, magic, miming, circus, fire, and more, while still often incorporating comedy.  Exotic back then meant it in the literal sense, with characters and dance styles from foreign cultures, and erotic back then was a bit tamer than what we call erotic today.  Many female performers became famous during this time, and while burlesque went underground suffering from the Prohibition on not just alcohol but “indecency”, the influence of these stars still resonates across stages today.  

The Neo Burlesque movement is the contemporary revival and evolution of the art form that's been taking the stage for decades now.  Many performers pay homage to these traditional glamorous styles and stars of days past.  Some reinterpret the art to focus on theatrical aspects in their acts, which can include comedy, sci-fi, horror, pop culture, or any and all genres of entertainment, and often acts include elements of burlesque of centuries past.  

But really, what is burlesque today?  It's music, dancing, elaborate costumes, sometimes props, and of course, striptease.  Performers typically peel away garments teasing the crowd, but never revealing all.  This, as well as the theatrical focus, are two of the biggest differences between burlesque and what you might find at a strip club.  Burlesque performers might dance in acts as a group or solo, and might be a part of a troupe or perform on their own.

One of the wonderful things about burlesque is that it's inclusive and celebratory of all bodies, regardless of gender, size, age, or ability.  For many performers it's a chance to express themselves in their arts.  For some it's a chance to reverse the power dynamic of objectification by taking command of the stage.  For others it's an opportunity for their own personal empowerment and healing.  For the audience, it's a chance to sit back, suspend reality, be titillated and entertained, and maybe even inspired.