Having devoted our last few blogs to unveiling some of the lesser-known stars of the burlesque stage in our ‘Forgotten Innovators’ series, it seemed fitting with our historical journey to continue on through the years with burlesque and see what happened as the tease was increasingly forsaken in favour of the strip. There are many debates in contemporary burlesque regarding the difference between burlesque and stripping, but nobody can argue that the two are intrinsically linked. Burlesque was the historical precursor to club stripping.
By the 1950s, burlesque was but a shadow of a memory on the Broadway stage, having found its new home on the nightclub stages and on the road at carnivals and fairs. In New York City, there still existed a handful of burlesque houses but their numbers were on the decline. However, burlesque in nightclubs was a booming industry and the number of performers was on the rise. One might think this a good thing, but in reality, some historians have argued that this deluge of new acts was one of the primary reasons burlesque fell from its former glory. Rachel Glasscock, author of ‘Striptease: From Gaslight to Spotlight’, argues that the talent pool within the scene became diluted, and that performers with no notable skills began to populate the stages.
The big props and exciting gimmicks of yesteryear were abandoned as performers began to focus more and more on the strip element of the show.
The shows in the nightclubs were a far cry from the glamour of the Broadway days; instead of being set on the pedestal of the vast stages of grand theatres, the performers found themselves on much smaller stages and often only inches from their audience. No longer were burlesque performers untouchable, iconic goddesses, beautiful and out of reach of the common people, instead they were suddenly right there. It could be argued that some of the allure and magic faded, due to this simple change in staging and atmosphere.
We don’t need stars… we need girls, girls, girls
As performers struggled to outdo one-another with more exciting props and gimmicks, they struggled too, to find their footing on the ladder of fame and the coveted crown of ‘burlesque queen’ became a nostalgic memory. As topless go-go dancing took hold, the pasties came off and pretty soon the panties were cast aside too. After all, who wants the tease when they can see it all?
As the 1960s and 1970s led into the 1980s, the iconic image of the ‘All-American stripper girl’ became the face of ecdysiastic art of the time and it was all about the high-waisted thongs and fishnet stockings.
Burlesque, meanwhile, was but a rose-tinted memory for those who were there at the time. Some performers retired and moved onto other work, some made their way into the world of strip clubs.
However, burlesque may have been long gone from the stages and all but forgotten except by a select few, but nobody could predict how the art-form would make a return in the 1990s and 2000s and become the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.
If you’ve enjoyed this little snippet of burlesque history, why not check out some of our other blogs in our History section?