What is Burlesque? What do you think it is?

‘Burlesque’ actually relates to a form of art, such a literature, dramatic play or musical work that is intended to be amusing by emulating a more known serious artistic presentation. The source of the word derives from the Italian ‘burlesco’, which is derivative of the Italian word ‘burla’, meaning a joke, a ridicule or mockery. As such, the term use to be used to describe the comedies of Shakespeare or the writings of Chaucer.

Yet, to the modern ear, the word conjures the description of a variety show, still with the expectation of comedy, but with the stronger audience anticipation of nudity – normally through the creative expression of a striptease.

For generations this style of show was taken as being ethically questionable to a society, morally dubious to female equality and poor representation of theatrical art. Yet, for the past 25 years, it appears a social element in society is changing. Women are supporting this style of performance both as audience members and performers, defending their involvement not to be seen as using their bodies for attention, or for statements against being seen as an extreme example of a feminist but as a process of finding and securing self-confidence.

This new wave of interest and recognition has created a new genre of this style of show, namely; Neo-Burlesque. Where, in a world that still promotes beauty is thin, only pert breasts are desirable and confidence is slutty, Neo-Burlesque blatantly faces those opinions and screams a happy song right through them – and audiences appear to be loving it!

So has the prejudice of culture slipped, has this Neo-Art been accepted on its own merit? Is any merit accepted, or do many think that culture is just stopping us from expressing our opinions, and that our opinion is that we have just found a new excuse to be unethical, blatant and attempt to justify soft porn and titillation? Does prejudice exist because of a mis-understanding of a preconceived idea or expectation? Or because it is seen as just wrong?

‘Emerald Kitty Entertainment’, who started not with the intention of being successful, of not to break cultural protocols, they simply wanted to produce Burlesque Shows, because they saw it as art and thought enough of the public would accept it as such. Yet, their growing success has exposed them to see both the evidence that Neo-Burlesque really was a growing element in real theatrical art, but also discovered that society was not totally ready to accept it. They never expected to have to defend their art, they just assumed those not interested would just ignore them, but in producing shows these producers, directors, choreographers and performers found themselves having to face the questions of the public and, at times, the questions in themselves – they knew putting on Burlesque shows was more than just taking your kit off, but as an art there was more they had to question and understand – and continue to learn.

Like any part of society, especially controversial areas, there is no single point of view for those both inside that area and those outside of it. There are those in Burlesque because it’s a business, there are those who want to perform because they ‘want’ to be seen and desired. There are those who like the power of showing but allowing to disappear off stage – leaving an audience literally wanting more. There are those who used it to almost overcome a phobia, to find themselves, or their inner strength, or acceptance or value. Equally there are those outside of the industry stunned and passionately emotive to feel sorry for such individuals, convinced that there is a better way of finding a value to your life, or gaining confidence in yourself and your body without taking your clothes off in public or for money. Many equally see it as exploitation of this concept, that vulnerability is the device of the industry, to lure not just the performers in, but also the audience. Equally there are those who became disillusioned by the art, after being part of it – like Laurie Penny, who wrote an article on the subject for the Guardian.

(Link – https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/may/15/burlesque-feminism-proud-galleries)

Yet, equally, there are those who claim, Starla Haze who eloquently argues for the opposite perspective.

(Link https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/jun/04/burlesque-dance)

A question could easily exist as to how many Burlesque performers are willing to admit they are such artists? What is your opinion? Is Burlesque art or exploitation? Is it offering support to the women of a society, or corrupting the ethics of a community to offer such a show in a local theatre?