Burlesque

By | Mar 21, 2008

Burlesque is a direct descendant of the Commedia dell’arte. In this form of entertainment principal characters would carry a “burle”, a stick with a padded end, with which they would slap the other players for comic effect. This also formed the origin of “slapstick” comedy.

Burlesque means “imitation”. Burlesque encompasses pastiche, parody, and wit. The genre encompasses a variety of acts such as dancing girls, chanson singers, comedians, mime artists, and strip tease artistes.

Originally Burlesque featured shows that included comic sketches that often lampooned the social norms of the upper classes. It developed alongside vaudeville and ran on competing circuits.

It was common for burlesque stars to move into vaudeville, however vaudevillians considered it a disgrace to appear in burlesque. They felt that only those who were “washed up” would stoop so low. However, many a vaudeville veteran hit the burlesque wheels during dry spells, appearing under an assumed name.

With the introduction of radio and the cinema, many of the individual owners were required to do the best they could as the Vaudeville circuit declined. The strip tease was enhanced to offer something that vaudeville, film and radio could not.

There was a fine a fine line between titillation and propriety that the strippers had to follow to prevent them from going to jail for corrupting public morals. Some like the famous fan dancer Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee gave stripping an artistic twist and graduated to general stardom.


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