What's the Diff? Request Your Input!

'What is the difference between burlesque and striptease? I don't really like to say that burlesque and stripping are totally different. I know a lot of burlesque dancers like to make sure you know that they are not strippers, they are burlesque artists, but I don't really agree with that. I don't think the term stripper is a bad word. Gypsy Rose Lee called herself a stripper, so if it was good enough for her it is good enough for me.'
Dita Von Teese, the 'queen of burlesque', on fame, fortune and feminism

'"People want to see burlesque as classier than contemporary striptease, and that's absolutely not the case. That demonstrates a total lack of knowledge of the history of burlesque," Butler says. "Burlesque halls were tough places for the time. These were raunchy performances, and these were women transgressing the norm of their time, challenging norms about beauty and what a woman could do. These were tough, tough ladies."'
The meaning of burlesque

'Most of the time they know what burlesque is. But the ones that don’t just ask what it is and you have to explain that it’s not stripping. It’s more like Vaudeville entertainment. What you usually get is “What’s the difference?” Burlesque is more the whole tease, what’s coming off, what’s underneath? Strippers are just in it for the money.'

On March 12 I'll be giving a presentation on a panel at NYU titled 'What is Burlesque? Art or Erotica or Ars Erotica?' My discussion will concern the differences between strip joint stripping and burlesque, and that's what I often end up discussing, not just in the articles I publish and during the panels in which I participate, but every single time I'm interviewed. I'm interviewed for an article or documentary frequently, sometimes several times a week, and I have yet to experience an interview where that question doesn't arise.

Personally, I don't think I can answer it by myself. All of the perspectives reflected above, whether or not they suit me, have some meaning, they come from somewhere.

So I'd like to include some perspectives other than my own about the differences between burlesque and strip joint stripping. Feel free to post in the comments, or to email me personally at schoolofburlesque@gmail.com. The panel is on Wednesday, so the sooner I get it the better I can apply it. A sentence or two would be very useful. Also, if you'd mention the basis of your perspective--such as whether you're a burlesque performer, producer, audience member, friend, etc., and where you've seen burlesque and where you've seen strip joint stripping, that would be great!

And if you worry about offending me, you might not give me the diversity I need, so let 'er rip.


Susan said…
Modern stripping and classic burlesque have similarities. I'm sure performers then dealt with obnoxious drunks for money and managers who weren't on the level, and wanted to go to work and get paid. Their choices (costuming, music, themes, gimmicks) were informed by what was profitable and successful for them.

As a strip joint stripper I am concerned with getting customers to tip me on stage, buy a lapdance, or go to VIP. I'm not concerned with having an interesting theme on stage, being seen at the back of the room, music cues, or the removal of elaborate costume pieces -- the things I focus on when doing a burlesque performance.

So for me, stripping = sales. Burlesque = performance. Sorry I used more than a sentence or two, but you well know it can take some explaining.
Anonymous said…
To me, the main difference between strip joint stripping and burlesque is that stripping is performed with the goal of stimulating or satisfying the audience (not the performer), whereas burlesque allows for a level of self-expression that serves the needs of the performer first and the audience second. This understanding between the performer and the audience allows for the performance to focus on storytelling, humor, and challenges to socially accepted norms (with respect to gender roles, concepts of beauty, etc.), elements that are discouraged in strip joint stripping. This may not be historically accurate and limited to the neo-burlesque scene, but it certainly reduces judgement of performers by the audience and contributes to the astounding variety and creativity in burlesque acts.
Glamourpuss said…
I wrote a post about just this a while back but I can't find it for the life of me. ESsentially, I see Burlesque as a form of theatrical entertainment - it's cheeky and can involve nudity, but it uses elaborate props and costumes, characterisation and themes. Stripping is less complex in this respect. I'm not saying it can't or deosn't use the above, but the range is narrower and the object is to titillate alone, whereas burlesque seeks to amuse, entertain, provoke a reaction as well as titillate.

I also believe that because of the above, burlesque mediates female sexuality in a way that straight stripping doesn't and I wonder if it is that which makes it more socially acceptable...

Good luck on the panel - sounds fascinating.

Tess Madrone said…
It's hard to not be reminded of the porn versus erotic debate here.

Of course there are differences between the two such as working environments, pay, costumes, audience, expenses, etc.

There is also one main similarity: the removal of clothes and the expression of sexuality. One thing I have appreciated about Dita is that she reminds people that at the heart of it she is still stripping. She tries to make the point of not separating herself from other sex workers.

I never assume a burlesque dancer sees herself as a sex worker, and in fact I know some that try very hard to separate themselves from that. For the most part they can get away with it as well nowadays. I don't think the same is true of strippers and I can't help but think about how class and race are intertwined with this.
Anonymous said…
I wrote a pretty long post about "Stripping vs. Burlesque" a few days ago. You can find it here. I think it's a very interesting question and I am glad that the community is addressing it (again). The more the public learns about our own definitions of what burlesque is, the more perspective it will have about the art form. I also think it is very interesting how differently the Living Legends talk about burlesque compared to the New Burlesquers.
Anonymous said…
I have done both, Burlesque and Strip tease (as well as Belly dance and Afro Brazilian Samba). I researched Burlesque before ever going on stage with props, costume and 6 piece jazz band backing me up.
The major difference for me was that I could support myself and son as a stripper. I treated my chronic lung dis-ease, practiced alternative healing methods, bought tools and art supplies, even self educated myself and son off of the earnings I made as a stripper.

As a Burlesque performer, I was able to hang onto the part of my ego that needed societies approval. Not that society actually approved of Burlesque, but as an artist who came from theater, performance art and dance (technically trained), burlesque seemed more legit.

It's not. Not really.
It can be more fun and less stressful, but it's more expensive and more inclusive. It's more of a collaboration than stripping. The huge upside of burlesque was less mingling with the customers, but, if you want to make good money with it, you have to feed your audience, you have to mingle in some way.

Success in Burlesque meant not being anonymous and as a mom, I chose the anonymity of the Gentlemen's clubs and VIP rooms verses features with autographed photo ops.

Thanks for the opportunity to process and voice that here.
I also think it is very interesting how differently the Living Legends talk about burlesque compared to the New Burlesquers.'

And I always wonder what Lydia Thompson would have thought about Carrie Finnell's tassel-twirling.
Anonymous said…
Honestly... I dont think any strip club would hire me. My perception is that strip club owners want women who fit the cultural ideas of beauty- no hair, no cellulite, no fat ass, etc. While I'm incredibly gorgeous, I do not have "a stripper body."
Anonymous said…
I always love this topic, instead of giving my opinion, I will provide a conversation I had a couple of months ago with my brother on this exact subject. I come from a very old-fashioned Greek household and my 27 yr old brother never knew of my burlesque hobby until he did the ole myspace search and voile discovered something about his sister that he had no idea about. He was so enraged because he felt there was no difference between burlesque and strippers and that the fact remained that I reveal myself on stage, he just kept saying over and over but it's still a Reveal, a Reveal!! I just responded, well darling that's so great you've done your homework *~
Anonymous said…
i've written about this a bit on my blog as well.

personally, i find all the differing opinions on burlesque aesthetic quite interesting, whether it's legends vs. neo-burlesquers, or even within the neo- community itself (city to city, troupe to troupe, etc.)...

while i generally don't fuss too much about the fact that what i do is a type of stripping, i think the fundamental difference has to do with intent and expectation. a sort of understanding between the performer and audience as to what to expect in each form of entertainment.
Susan said…
So, Jo, how was it? Tell us about the presentation.
From a Black feminist perspective on my blog BurlesqueAtlanta:
Elle_Dritch said…
In my experience of watching both varieties of performance, and to a lesser extent being invloved with both, the main thing which appears to be jey to Burlesque, but of far less importance to strip joint stipping, is to make the audience laugh as well as titilate them.

- Burlesque is more about fun and having a good time then simply looking sexy.
Honey B.Goode said…
I'm a burlesque performer, and come from a dance/theatre arts background. I haven't seen too many strippers aimed at men, so I don't feel too informed on that side of the debate. But from where I sit, I still regard myself as a stripper, because part of what I aim to do is present myself as a sexually alluring woman. I feel that certainly the scope of expression I have is wider than if I worked in a strip joint, because audiences don't expect to be entertained by only "tits and ass" dancing. The difference for me is that I don't design my work in order to garner the most cash I can from my audience - i get paid by the venue that has hired me. I get tips from students when I do burlesque life-drawing classes, but that is not my focus.

Another difference that I find is the audience - we get so many women coming along to gigs, sometimes more than men. I design my work with women's sexuality in mind more so than men. On the occasions when we have stag nights in where I work regularly, I often wonder why they're there, because they behave in much the same way I imagine they would at a strip club, without the same level of titillation. Perhaps it's a cheaper night for them, because they only have to pay for entry and drinks?

It's a really good question Jo, one I'm still trying to sort out the answers to for myself!
When a customer goes to a strip joint, they are usually male. They go in whenever they want, interact one on one with the performer of their choice until they are done, then leave.

When someone goes to a burlesque show, they usually go in right beofre show time, watch the show, usually don't interact with the performers, and after the show maybe have one more drink and then leave.

These are generalizations, and as someone who has toured for decades as both a strip joint stripper and a burlesque performers, you can assume I know of exceptions. But generally speaking, strip joint strippers play to individuals, and a burlesque performer plays to the entire room. Strip joint strippers are paid by individuals, and burlesque performers are paid by the house. That's a generalization, but it's true enough.

Some people say it's all about the tease, but I love to think of it as being centered around the reveal. A tease that never leads up to a delivery is a disappointment to me.
Unknown said…
The best sound bite I've heard on this subject comes from Torchy Taboo (I hope I'm spelling that right.)

She said "Stripping is about performing other people's fantasies, burlesque is about performing your own."
I'm not sure this applies to old school burlesque but it sums it up for me.

I'm not sure there's anything that can be said on the subject that won't have exceptions. There probably are strippers who feel that stripping is an honest expression of their sexuality. And there are definitely burlesquers who only do burlesque to get attention, not to express themselves. So any generalization will be just that. But for me, personally, Torchy really nailed it.

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