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Burlesque: Some History

It’s pandemic-blog-writing today. I think Covid-19 is now the biggest epidemic since HIV/AIDS, which killed over 32 millions people since the 1920s (and counting..). 

On that happy note, and with a government lockdown in place, I can confidently say that my party-review posts will be on hold indefinitely. This means, that my upcoming blog posts will be most likely movies or topics related.

Today I thought of writing about Burlesque!

Burlesque, which derives from the Italian ‘burlesco’ meaning joke, ridicule or mockery, is a performance art intended to make you laugh, by turning pretty much anything into a parody. It embedded itself in the European theater and music world in the early 1600, particularly in the U.K. Then, in the late 1800, it took on a more ‘variety show’ format in the U.S., where it featured bawdy comedy and female striptease.

In the early 1940s, the burlesque world took a setback in the U.S. with Prohibition, particularly in NY where it was pretty much put out of business by the authorities. It lingered on elsewhere in the U.S., but not for long, and by the 1970s it met its own end.


Advertisement for a burlesque troupe, 1898.

In the 1990s, burlesque was reborn like a phoenix from its ashes, on both sides of the Atlantic. Neo-Burlesque was born. The new generation was nostalgic and craved the classic American burlesque glamour. It developed into a cult with the support of New York producer and artist Billie Madley (and the help of a clandestine cabaret experiment, called the Dutch Weismann’s Follies).

Notable Neo-burlesque performers helped this form of art become more and more mainstream. “Queen of Burlesque” Dita Von Teese, Julie Atlas Muz, and propaganda groups like Cabaret Red Light, incorporated political satire and performance art into their burlesque shows making both modern and relevant.

Dita von teese

Von Teese is a prominent Neo-Burlesque performer.

But what does Burlesque looks like today?

Well, it looks wonderful, empowering, and sassy 🙂

Modern burlesque has taken on many forms, with its performances putting emphasis on style and sexiness rather than sexuality. Think striptease, expensive costumes, cheekiness, cabaret, circus skills, aerial silk, and more. With a balanced mix of sensuality and humor, the performances move past the simple, sexual aspect, to instead focus on the artists self-expression and women’s empowerment


Tempest Rose from House of Burlesque (UK’s leading burlesque performance house).

One of my favourite (and UK’s top) burlesque production house is House of Burlesque (HOB).

Run by international showgirl Tempest Rose, HOB have been featured in numerous press features, have run the LGBT stage at Erotica and organised performances for Google UK; Time Out Live; Gong Bar at The Shangri La Hotel at The Shard; The Park Hotel in Kolkata, India; and The Courtauld Gallery, amongst others.


Reclaims burlesque for the female empowerment it should be

The Stage

Did you know?

House of Burlesque also runs an Academy to teach burlesque both for fun and for those who wish to perform.


Burlesque, a musical film starring Christina Aguilera and Cher, is available on Netflix.

(Not exactly an Oscar-winning movie, but fun to watch.. don’t say I didn’t warn you! 🙂 )

Neo-burlesque is open to everyone, including men! (YES!!) Drag queens in particular made it their own. Shows that feature male-body roles can be traced back to the early 1980s with performers like John Sex. And with that, two new sub-genres were born: Boylesque encompassing all men under the age of 30, and Male Burlesque encompassing everyone else.

In the 1990s, it become more widespread and accepted due to changes in gender roles and identities, and today there are shows all around the world.

Another one of my favourites, and world known burlesque production house, it’s Briefs Factory. This Australian, all-men, creative collective, manufactures and presents evocative, irreverent, and (very) physical performance. Inspired by circus, but also drag, and also dance, and obviously burlesque, and of course music, and (duh!) comedy, Briefs take you on a journey to discover ever changing world around us. Love them, and seen them many times at the Underbelly.