What is Burlesque?
Burlesque literally means to parody or to “send up” in a comic fashion. It's a French word derived from the Italian “burlesco” and the Spanish word “burla” which means “joke”.
It’s important to understand that burlesque performers place an emphasis on the ‘tease’ and will often shimmy down to something small and sparkly, but they are never fully undressed.
Burlesque really is for everyone - it doesn't depend on performers being a certain size, shape or fitness level and it's more about grace, posture and the magic you create with your audience.
Brief History of Burlesque
Burlesque is certainly nothing new and dates back to ancient Greece when Aristophanes (446-386BC), an extremely influential gentleman of his time, used burlesque to mock anybody from the authorities to the Greek Gods!
Burlesque crossed the Continents and arrived in Britain in the late 18th century. It was aimed at the educated middle classes who understood the jokes about literature, theatre and music that burlesque encouraged. Acts were full of "double entendres" and female stars played lead male roles which proved popular and risqué.
In 1868, a British actress called Lydia Thompson, formed a group called the British Blondes entertained the American stage with bawdy performances and in skirts above the knee - oh the shock!
It was a huge sensation and theatre owners soon realised the audience appeal (and the profits!) from these cross dressing, quick witted women and their sexy costumes.
"Hootchy kootchy" dancers joined in with oriental inspired dances and hip shimmying and so in its heyday, American burlesque was a world apart from what was known as "classical" or "traditional British" burlesque.
The Minsky Brothers’ opened their first burlesque clubs in 1912 where the infamous Gypsy Rose Lee became one of burlesque's first stars. Another famous burlesquer was actress Mae West who was classed as just too blue for the American Vaudeville theatres!
By the 1930s burlesque relied more on the female form and the focus became the striptease. Sadly though, the quick witted humour and short routines became classed as obscene. Theatres were eventually outlawed, which gradually lead to their demise.
The current burlesque revival was pioneered in the mid 1990’s by troupes such as ‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’ in Los Angeles and by stars like Kylie Minogue and Paloma Faith bringing fan dances and showgirl glamour into their acts.
More info coming soon!