Bombshell Betty writes that the strip-joint or pole dance stripping and burlesque performing (as it is generally considered today) are both descendants of the classic burlesque of the 1950’s, but that they’ve evolved in different directions. She says that a lot of the confusion lies in the fact that burlesque is still very much underground, and that the misappropriation of the term by more mainstream acts and the media tends to blur the issue even more.
Many people responded with outrage and annoyance about the question of how burlesque is or isn’t stripping and how this comes up in the media all the time. Personally, I am glad that this is a question that is addressed in most articles that come up about burlesque in the mainstream media. Why? Because most people in the mainstream culture still don’t know the difference between pole dancing and burlesque!
My life is centered around burlesque, so it is rare indeed these days that I find myself surrounded socially or professionally by people who have no idea what the burlesque scene is about. But the moment that I step outside of this cozy little subculture, it is quite clear to me that the general public has no idea what we are doing.
It is clear to me that although the burlesque scene is tired of being faced with this question and would love to move on to more interesting and worthier subjects, the burlesque resurgence is still very much an underground movement and the public continues to need basic education about it.
I feel that the poledancing stripper and the burlesque artist of today are equally the descendants of the classic burlesque dancer of the 1950’s, though they have evolved in very different directions. So if burlesque and club stripping are so different, why the perpetual confusion and the need to constantly differentiate ourselves to the press and the public? I think part of the problem is that burlesque is still very much an underground movement, and to those outside of the scene, it is largely invisible.
On March 12 I’ll be giving a presentation on a panel at NYU titled ‘What is Burlesque? Art or Erotica or Ars Erotica?’ My discussion will concern the differences between strip joint stripping and burlesque, and that’s what I often end up discussing, not just in the articles I publish and during the panels in which I participate, but every single time I’m interviewed. I’m interviewed for an article or documentary frequently, sometimes several times a week, and I have yet to experience an interview where that question doesn’t arise.
Personally, I don’t think I can answer it by myself. All of the perspectives reflected above, whether or not they suit me, have some meaning, they come from somewhere.
If you’re a performer, producer, audience/fan/friend of burlesque and have some opinion on the matter, hop on over to her blog and throw your two cents into the mix.
Me? I don’t have a problem saying that what I do is stripping. I even jokingly refer to myself as a stripper on occasion, because most of my acts do revolve around taking my clothes off. However, I am quick to distance myself from what I refer to as “regular stripping” (strip clubs, peep show booths, and the like). I differentiate, not because I think one kind is somehow “better” or more important and the other more demeaning or somehow “bad”, but because the intent and expectations of each type of performance varies greatly.
I won’t go too much into what I think burlesque is or what strip joint stripping is. For me, the importance of defining and differentiating has more to do with letting people know what they can expect to see me and others do on stage if they come to one of my shows (or if I invite them to someone else’s). Depending on the conversation, I might even go as far as going into my influences or inspirations (which are often closer to musicals and horror movies than classic burlesque). I talk more about where I’m coming from, and how I fit into the wide world of burlesque.
I saw a show today and I was intrigued by how the director, in her opening speech, told the audience the importance of cheering and hollering as a welcome response, and in the same breath warned the audience not to jump on stage, heckle or throw dollar bills at the dancers. Very interesting. Perhaps because I’ve been in this cushy burlesque world for a time now, I’ve taken for granted certain audience behaviors as being appropriate or inappropriate, and therefore not really worth mentioning. Absolutely we want our audiences to clap and hoot and holler (!!!)– it is how the performer and the audience becomes engaged. It’s very encouraging, and makes us work it that much harder to entertain you. On the other hand, I wondered why the director thought it worth sternly warning the audience about the other things. Why would the audience act that way? It’s a Sunday afternoon show, not an alcohol-fueled bachelor party rager. It’s as if to say: “This is a list of typical asshole behaviors at a strip club, and since this is not a strip club, do not act that way.” I was a little put off and a lot confused by this, because I thought that the warning further put their show out of context– especially because in the end, the performances were more akin to a cabaret/jazz dance show, and no one stripped down to a bra, let alone pasties. It was just a little strange to me.
(And now I want to redo that thought-bubble act I’d been thinking about, into something that’s more like a funny pseudo-educational PSA on “how to be a proper burlesque audience”, including cues on when– and how– to respond appropriately. Ha!)