Superstars of Burlesque: Sally Rand

Our celebration of burlesque queens from yesteryear turns this week to one of the most influential and iconic stars of 20th century burlesque. Although she had an extensive career, spanning over half century onstage and screen, she is most widely known for a single type of dance, which became her signature piece. To this day, if you mention her name it immediately brings images of the classic fan dance to mind. Who else could it be, but Sally Rand and her gorgeous, giant, luxurious fans.

Sally Rand 2Who was Sally Rand?
Born in 1904 (real name Helen Gould Beck) Sally Rand was a burlesque dancer and actress who rose to popularity in the early 1930s and remains an iconic and much-celebrated figure in the history of burlesque today.
She worked in burlesque right up until the early 1970s as well as continuing to act in plays and appearing on television throughout her career.

How did she get into burlesque?
Sally’s stage career began at a relatively young age. When she was just 13 years old, she landed a role as a chorus girl at the Empress Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. She studied ballet and drama before setting her sights upon the glittering lights of Hollywood. She worked her way across the country, heading west with a circus, where she was an acrobat, as well as working with travelling theatre companies. She spent the Roaring ā€˜20s plying her trade as an actress, appearing in a number of silent movies before turning her attentions to burlesque and fan dancing.

Sally Rand performing with her giant bubble.
Sally Rand performing with her giant bubble.

What style of burlesque did she perform?
As mentioned, the fan dance was Sally’s most famous burlesque act (so much so, that in the modern day, many performers actually do tribute fan dances in the classic style in homage to Miss Rand. One of the most famous of these is contemporary burlesque queen Michelle L’Amour’s tribute). In addition to her fan dance, Sally is also noted for conceiving the ‘Bubble Dance’, incorporating a giant five foot balloon; another classic act which is still recreated today in burlesque.

Some interesting facts about Sally Rand

*In addition to her notorious fan dance performance at the 1933 Chicago World Fair, she also participated in a publicity stunt that year which saw her emulating Lady Godiva, by riding seemingly naked upon a white horse. This led to her being arrested for indecent exposure, although she was later released.

*Prior to the invention of ‘talkies’, Sally had led quite a successful acting career. However, with the advent of sound, her lisp became a problem when casting for roles, which prompted her move into the world of burlesque.

*In 1936 Sally bought her own venue, The Music Box burlesque hall, located in San Francisco. It was later renamed the Great American Music Hall.

*Still performing well beyond retirement age, Sally once stepped in to take the place of another legendary burlesque star, Ann Corio, when she became unwell during a tour of her infamous revue ‘This Was Burlesque’ in the 1960s.

And so we reach the end of another titillating peek at one of burlesque’s legendary queens. So famous was her fan dance, Sally Rand’s other achievements are often side-lined and for many people, all that they know of her is the iconic fan dance. So we hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse behind those luxurious feathers at the life of this wonderful lady.
Join us again next week for another sizzling, strip-teasing superstar. In the meantime, catch up on our series so far below….

Gypsy Rose Lee
Imogen Kelly
Dirty Martini
Michelle L’Amour
Catherine D’Lish
Dita Von Teese