A Quick History on the Art of Burlesque

Burlesque seems to be a somewhat lost art in the world of adult entertainment, but has recently found new life.  Whether Secrets private strippers cultural tastes are changing or the fad is just coming back into style, more and more people—men and women alike—seem quite fond of this tantalizing live show. Maybe looking into the history of this fanciful performance will shed some light on why it is growing in popularity in a new generation.

BURLESQUE:  The Linguistic Roots

First and foremost, the term “burlesque” is taken from the Italian word “burlesco,” which itself has its own roots in the term “burla,” which means joke or mocking.  Essentially, the term originated in the 17th century as a means to describe the type of establishment which would produce these types of shows.  It was also used to describe parody and pastiche while “burlesque shows” were often referred to as both “extravaganza” and “travesty.”

BURLESQUE:  The Performance Roots

So just what types of shows did these theatres produce? Well, at its peak in the mid-19th century burlesque was, in fact, originally meant to parody very popular—and London high-society—cultural entertainment like opera or Shakespeare.  Often these shows would take the original music from these shows or from popular music of the time and rewrite the lyrics for specific comedic purpose.

In the Victorian style Burlesque women wore tights to cover their legs. This was actually quite risqué at the time as the culture was to wear large gowns with ruffles to hide the female leg.  Indeed, these women wore very little while still performing the spoofed dramas.

BURLESQUE: The striptease

In the 20th century, the introduction of elaborate costumes gave individual characters to the dancers, aside from the dramas they were parodying; and the form evolved into a striptease.  The first notable production was at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and was met with quite rampant outrage.  

At this time, Vaudeville was very popular and very competitive.  More importantly, perhaps, film and radio were growing rapidly and this might have helped to further encourage the development of the striptease as entertainment.  Burlesque saw a major decline, then, during the Hollywood surge after the 1950s, but has seen steady interest since the 1990s.


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