Often the story of beginning in burlesque, is “I saw it and now I want to do it my own way and make it my own”. The more involved in burlesque you become, the more interested you are in reaching out and finding a sense of community, first regionally, then nation and worldwide. You to learn and grow from those around you as well as those who came before you. Regardless of where you are in your burlesque journey, it is important to have a foundation of burlesque as it was, and an understanding of the brief history of the burlesque revival. Why? Because everyone will look to you. You will constantly be asked by fans, media, students, and potential audience members, and it is important to have the most basic arsenal of knowledge. Ultimately, burlesque, what it was, and what it will become is entrusted to you. You are burlesque. You are the legacy.
There are many, many great books about burlesque and I invite you to leave your favorites in the comments section below, but these are what I have come to refer to as the Canonized Bible of Burlesque. If you are only going to make time to read three books; these are the ones.
Also a film, Behind the Burly Q, is the must read history of burlesque as it was. Leslie Zemeckis spent years researching and compiling the stories of burlesque legends. Given access to performers memorabilia and diaries, Zemeckis has woven the stories into one of the most thorough and entertaining books on the original burlesque movement in America that you will ever read.
From the website: “Full of gossip and firsthand accounts of backstage exploits, heartbreak and success Behind the Burly Q is also a heartwarming and inspiring book about the women and men whose lives have never before been chronicled in such detail.”
If Behind the Burly Q is the must read to learn about the original burlesque movement, Michelle Baldwin’s Burlesque and the New Bump and Grind, is the gospel of the neo-burlesque movement. Baldwin chronicles the early days of the revival in New York and Los Angeles, and how burlesque quickly spread across the country. With interviews from the biggest starts in the current burlesque circuit, brilliant quotes, clever photographs, and tales of the hits and the misses of the early days of the revival, Baldwin’s Burlesque is a staple for any burlesque library.
Now that you have a foundation of where it all began it is time for the mighty Jo Weldon’s Burlesque Handbook. Aptly named, the Handbook is the result of years of instruction handouts from the School of Burlesque and years of stage performance and teaching experience. Divided into four sections: Burlesque Movement, Act Development, Refining Performance, and Take a Bow, Weldon covers everything from technique and music selection, to costumes and backstage etiquette. There is simply no better how to burlesque guide out there.
An incredibly basic timeline of burlesque in America: