In recent news, claims have been made that Prince Charles was shocked to find that burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese actually strips (this story actually isn't true); that Representative Pete Sessions was was surprised to learn that the burlesque dancers at Forty Deuce take off their clothes (although this party did happen, I suspect he was not truly all that surprised); and that pole dancing is synonymous with burlesque. Whatever you make of all this, it's interesting that the idea of burlesque without stripping is so available in popular culture that people are suggesting that it could be surprising that burlesque performers are stripping.
In a New York Times article, Dita Von Teese said the biggest misconception about burlesque is "that it’s about dancing around in hot pants with feather boas. Burlesque was about the striptease. The stars of burlesque took their clothes off, end of story, period."
People occasionally ask me if they can do burlesque without stripping; many of the classes I teach, such as fan-dancing and chair dancing, do not involve stripping within the class. I see no reason why people should not take those elements outside of the striptease and incorporate them into their own sensual or exotic dances.
However, what I love about burlesque is that it takes the element of clothing removal and incorporates it into dance and/or story-telling. It makes the everyday act of removing clothing into a theatrical event. This is part of what makes burlesque so special.
For me, the art of striptease is an art unto itself, one that ought to be revered for the effect and the connotations it has, and for its uniqueness to burlesque. I believe in striptease as an art form in its own right, outside of the variety and other elements that make modern burlesque so engrossing.
Perhaps the definition of burlesque is changing yet again, as it has several times over the centuries. Aristophanes may not have expected Lydia Thompson; Lydia may not have expected Lili St. Cyr; and Lili may not have expected Julie Atlas Muz.
As much as I hate definitions, I'm a teacher and I have to give them sometimes. Plus, I have to describe what I do for a living not only to reporters and people making documentaries, but to people who hire me.
I like lots of types of dancing and other variety entertainment in burlesque shows. But for me, if NO ONE takes anything off, it's a bit gentrified--and possibly even a bit insulting to the ladies who did burlesque in the mid 20th century.
What do you think? IS the definition of burlesque changing (or if you prefer, has it already changed)? Does burlesque now mean any sexy moves, style, or clothing that make a reference to exotic dance? And if so, does that change your level of interest in it?
Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for burlesquedaily.blogspot.com.