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The history of burlesque and how I became a "conceptual" stripper

Jul. 25, 2017

The word “burlesque” derives from the Italian burlesco, which is derived from the Italian burla—a joke, ridicule or mockery. Miss Glitter Painkiller, named the “funniest performer” at the New York Burlesque Festival 2013, said: "it's funny, a tad ridiculous… burlesque in a word!"  

The world-famous Crazy Horse in Paris is known for its magic shows and nude dancing. It was opened in 1951 by Alain Bernardin, who explained, "Magic is a dream. There is no show that is more dreamlike than a magic show. These are my dreams and fascinations that I put onstage." Bernardin also integrated art and style elements from New Wave, New Realism and Pop Art movements into his stage creations, taking modernity as cues and continually redeveloping shows to reflect contemporary cultural statements and changes.

via: Pinterest

Now, stages across the world are graced by the new queens of Neo-Burlesque strip-tease à la française. Miss Glitter Painkiller uses complex props and unique storylines to create a colorful, retro, rock ’n’ roll universe that is tinged with humor. Then there’s Sucre d'Orge (French for “Candy Cane”), whose acts evoke the charm of silent films actresses, the moves of Broadway dancers, and the graces of Parisian elegance. Their shows, much like those of the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee, are a mix of humor, wit, and sensuality.  

The great Gypsy Rose Lee (born in 1911) performed an almost casual strip style compared to the herky-jerky styles of most burlesque strippers, and she brought a sharp sense of humor into her act as well. She became as famous for her onstage wit as for her strip style, becoming one of the biggest stars of Minsky's Burlesque during the 1950s and 60s.

via: Vavoom Vintage

But while Gypsy Rose Lee is no longer with us, other titans of the burlesque stage remain. Tempest Storm (born Annie Blanche Banks in 1928), famous for her physical measurements (44DD-25-35!) and her naturally red hair, was dubbed the Queen of Exotic Dancers. One of the best known burlesque performers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, she has performed for more than 60 years. 

Today French burlesque is on the rise. Courses are popping up everywhere and are open to all women. Far from the clichés of the striptease world, these burlesque classes do not put any boundaries on women; whatever their size, they are welcome to affirm their identities through their body. "Petite, young, skinny, with orange skin, big boobs, small tummy… in the burlesque, all the shapes of body are expressing themselves,” explains Miss Glitter Painkiller, "and no one is here to judge." 

These days, notable American Neo-burlesque performers Dita Von Teese, Julie Atlas Muz, and Agitprop groups like Cabaret Red Light incorporate political satire and performance art into their burlesque shows.  And burlesque traditions are spreading into other forms of performative art: renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic, celebrating her 70th birthday at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, incorporated pole dancing into the party. She said, “We’ll see if I can dance down a pole from all the way up in the museum. I’m still practicing.” 

via: New York Daily News

Burlesque has continued Bernardin’s Crazy Horse legacy by incorporating satire, political, artistic, and cultural statement into strip performance.  My burlesque has been inspired by the interactive performances of well-known artists Yoko Ono—who uses her work to catalyze highly personal self-confrontation to reveal cultural stereotyping—and Marina Abramovic, whose work reconciles personal truths with internalized social stigma.  

Like these artists, my performance gathers influences from a barrage of historical and contemporary topics to share my story in a tone that is at times humorous and serious; what’s more, I call on audiences to participate in highly fetishized situations to trigger memories, needs, and desires.  This pursuit of connecting with an audience through burlesque, my body, and my personal history forms the backbone of my work.

I believe stripping is much more than merely the revealing of flesh or sex as currency.  Burlesque clubs provide both the performer and audience members with flashy entertainment, a sense of comfort and freedom, and the intoxication of neon and lace. In this setting, I have become an emotional voyeur and contemporary artist. I have been called a “conceptual stripper” who uses personal burlesque performance as an artistic medium to open a dialogue about sexuality and dark comedy, love and longing, cultural stereotyping and societal taboos, death and fetish.  

Burlesque has been a very personal artistic journey for me, making it possible to “turn the mockery and the joke” into an honest, revealing, and sometimes humorous  performance about my life.