Spotlight on: The New Orleans Burlesque Festival

As new burlesque has grown since the beginning of the 21st century, so too have the number of festivals around the world celebrating the art form. With the long-standing Miss Exotic World (now The Burlesque Hall of Fame) setting the bar, producers and performers around the world have a high standard to aspire to. With burlesque festivals growing and multiplying every year, we decided to dedicate a new blog series to these festivals.
This week we’re kicking off the series with a spotlight special on one of the most recent international festival of the annual burlesque calendar: The New Orleans Burlesque Festival.

History and Background

Burlesque queen Blaze Starr.
Burlesque Queen Blaze Starr.

Founded in 2009, the New Orleans Burlesque Festival drew upon the rich history of its setting and the roots of traditional burlesque and jazz there in the mid twentieth century. For over two decades spanning the 1940s to the 1960s, burlesque saw a roaring trade in the French Quarter, with shows featuring touring stars as well as home grown talent, such as legend Blaze Starr, who would perform alongside live bands. Add to that the plethora of jazz clubs and the popularity of the music genre, and you have a melting pot of creativity that spawned a scene whose influence can still be felt today in the modern burlesque revues of New Orleans. The 1990s revival of burlesque reflected this, with the city being one of the original birthplaces of contemporary burlesque.

The New Orleans Burlesque Festival returned in 2014 for their 6th annual event with participants from around the world. The festival is produced by Rick Delaup, burlesque historian, speaker and also the brains behind the highly-rated Bustout Burlesque, which hosts monthly shows in New Orleans. Working alongside him is bandleader, musician and arranger Matt Bell, bringing the element of live jazz into the mix. This year, the festival spanned four days from the 18-21 September, offering workshops and live shows.

The main event on the Saturday invited performers of the classic ilk to compete for the crown of ‘Queen of Burlesque’. Competitors for the crown this year included the UK’s own Havana Hurricane (who made a guest appearance in our Tricks of the Trade series earlier this year).
In addition to the live shows, special guest Rita Alexander the Champagne Girl made an appearance, signing her classic glamour photos. Also in attendance, was Leslie Zemeckis, author of ‘Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America’.
This year’s winner of the competition for the crown was New Orleans based Elle Dorado, who wowed the judges with a spectacular performance which merged ice-skating with classic striptease.

Burlesque Festivals in the 21st Century
The importance of these festivals to the modern incarnation of burlesque is huge; they bring together performers from around the world, with hugely differing backgrounds and styles, to present mixed shows which offer their audiences a taste of different kinds of burlesque. They also help to solidify the burlesque community on an international scale; creating friendships and working relationships which span the globe and create a momentum and enthusiasm that helps burlesque continue to grow and diversify.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this first installment in our series on festivals. We’ll be back next week with a spotlight on the world-renowned New York Burlesque Festival which has just returned for its twelfth year.

If you’d like to find out more about the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, you can visit their website here: