The ABC Guide to Burlesque: Part 1

The word ‘burlesque’ is often misused in the media; either wrongly applied or simply used to describe a very narrowly-defined style of entertainment, typically the glamorous striptease performances of performers like Dita Von Teese. This is unsurprising, given that she is arguably the most famous ‘burlesquer’ in the world, but burlesque in the 21st century is a widely-encompassing art form that can incorporate many different styles and themes.
Over the next few weeks, we shall be looking at some of the different types of burlesque from around the world today. We’ve already covered the basics of ‘Classic British Burlesque’ and ‘American Striptease Burlesque’ on our ‘What is Burlesque’ page but now we’re going to dig a little deeper; pull back that glitter curtain and find out just how diverse burlesque can be….

Mainstream Burlesque
We’re using this term to describe the mainstream media’s portrayal of burlesque (which many, if not most, contemporary burlesque performers will argue isn’t really burlesque). The prime example of ‘mainstream’ burlesque would be The Pussycat Dolls – before they became a pop group. The stereotypical image of such ‘burlesque’ is sexy, hotpant-clad ladies performing slick, group numbers, like a chair routine, to a contemporary piece of music. Feather boas and corsets are a must! Likewise, the film ‘Burlesque’ featuring Christina Aguilera and Cher offered a similar, glossy, branded image of burlesque in a classic, Hollywood setting. Somewhat clichéd (the whole ‘girl pursues her dreams of being onstage, overcoming hurdles to accomplish her dreams’), many burlesque performers are quick to point out that this is far from the reality, but arguably it has done the art of burlesque some service, by helping to push it out to a new audience, albeit via a somewhat distorted representation.

Neo Burlesque
‘Neo-burlesque’ is quite a widely used term with slightly varying interpretations; it can encompass a very wide variety of styles. Quite simply, it means ‘new burlesque’ and is generally used to describe the majority of contemporary burlesque performances and to differentiate them from historical burlesque. Neo burlesque performers often take inspiration from burlesque of yesteryear, incorporating parody, story-telling and striptease to varying degrees in their acts. However, unlike traditional burlesque, they often use contemporary music and dance styles. Additionally, neo-burlesque acts are becoming increasingly creative, incorporating other artistic disciplines into their acts, so that the routines become a fusion of genres and styles. Skills such as aerial, fire, hula hoop, singing and many more have entire burlesque acts built around them.
Stars of neo-burlesque include Britain’s Immodesty Blaize, whose shows offer a lavish escapism reminiscent of classic, American striptease burlesque, using opulent sets and giant props to create grand, striptease-based numbers.

In the USA, leaders of the neo-burlesque movement include NYC’s infamous Dirty Martini, Michelle L’Amour (Chicago), Julie Atlas Muz who mixes performance art and burlesque and Angie Pontani, all of whom have won the coveted title of ‘Miss Exotic World’ (the ‘Olympics’ of burlesque – a weekend long competition in Las Vegas run by the Burlesque Hall of Fame).

That brings us to the end of this week’s blog. Join us next week, when we’ll be looking at the burlesque sub-genres of ‘Cheesecake Burlesque’, ‘Bump n’ Grind Burlesque’ and ‘Boylesque’.

Part 2 is now live! Read it now: