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Neo-Burlesque: A New Twist On An Old Number

The “Art of Tease” is back again in all its glamor and glory. Even though many modern Burlesque dancers may be showing a bit more of themselves than their predecessors did, Burlesque still endeavors to be more naughty than sleazy. It is all about attitude, extravagance, and wit. As Dita Von Teese, one of the leading ladies of the Burlesque Revival, explains, “What you leave on is as important as what you take off.”


Zen Arts burlesque dancers, photo courtesy of Zen Arts

Dressing glamorously, ladylike, yet provocatively can be a pretty thin line to walk, especially in eight inch heels. The attitude and quick wit of the performers is as important as their costume, make up, and coiffeurs. Becoming a Diva in Burlesque is open to all comers. A size 24 can work it just as well or better than a size 6, and that comes down to attitude and wit.

In San Francisco, Burlesque is a major part of the performing arts scene, where classic strip tease goes hand in hand with irreverent, snarky, and satirical comedy. Even men are into the act with “Boylesque”. Their revues are a homage to vintage German Burlesque that flourished in the era between the Wiemar Republic and the dawn of Nazism. Berlin was a hotbed of artistic freedom and decadence that drew performers and audiences from all over the world.

Though Burlesque’s origins date back to the time of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Neo Burlesque‘s roots can be clearly traced from the English Music Halls of the nineteenth century. There, the theatrical entertainment was, in large part, satire mixed with music and some nudity. Here the lower and middle classes could enjoy the “burlesquing” of the upper classes’ operas and plays, not to mention the fun made of the social mores of their “betters”.

The other “stream” of Burlesque Revival has it’s roots in the post-WW2 American 1950s that more glorified the more overt aspects of women. This stream eventually evolved into pole dancing and stripping. The more hardcore fetish, B&D, and rubber acts basically follow this stream as well.

The Neo-Burlesque ladies endeavor to dress like one, in stockings, corsets, and feather boas. Sequins, opera legnth satin gloves, and extravagant, piled-high hair-dos all complement the dramatic evening gowns worn. Sometimes the costumes are satirical in themselves, as are the lady’s cheeky stage names, such as “Legs”, or “Bombshell”.

These days, Neo-Burlesque is taking itself to the people, not only with stage shows produced in different towns and cities, but with festivals and traveling road shows featuring Burlesque troupes. Historical and preservation societies are springing up all over, in aid of the artform’s history and the memory of beloved burlesque performers.

Neo-Burlesque seems to be here to stay. Who knows where will it goes from here?

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One response to “Neo-Burlesque: A New Twist On An Old Number”

  1. I love the idea of ‘what you leave on is as important as what you take off.’ I feel like too often stripping is purposeless and fails to even, at a base level, celebrate the female form.

    I would love to see you writing on this blog again!!

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