Burlesque Roundtable: The Classic Debate

Welcome to the Burlesque Roundtable. (Did you miss the first? Or the second?) The hope is to create an open dialogue to discuss relevant burlesque questions in an honest manner.  Have a question you would like to propose or two cents you would like to throw into the ring?  Please do so via comments; we would love to hear from you!

Q: What is billed “classic burlesque” is actually a really small portion of burlesque that was popular in the US from 1920-60. Burlesque performances of that time were set to modern music of the time and not all of it was glitzy- some was “exotic,” “comedic,” “satirical,” etc.  Why then in the modern burlesque revival does “classic burlesque” have to fit in such a narrow window, and is neo-burlesque to modern music that pushes societal norms, and plays to a modern audience actually more in the spirit of “classic burlesque”?

Jo Weldon (NYC) I call it “showgirl burlesque.” I personally am a fan of striptease and while I’m happy to acknowledge that striptease was not always a part of burlesque, it’s what I care about the most. It’s the part that was first when burlesque circuits died down, while the comics and musicians and other variety performers had the opportunity to move into radio, television, film, and family entertainment if they wished. I agree that in the mid-twentieth century the performers were also topical, comedic, themed, and used the celebrities and pop culture of their era. However, the biggest difference is that in their time there wasn’t an entrenched retro culture, or such a long and photo-documented and video documented history to hearken back to, so they were less likely to have a distinction between old-school and contemporary burlesque. There were full-on nostalgic recreations such as Sugar Babies and This Was Burlesque, but the audience they sought wasn’t the same.

Roxie Moxie (Austin) This is a big divide in some sectors of the community but I really think should just be a matter of personal taste. “Classic” bump and grind burlesque is not my favorite genre, but it’s counting angels on the head of a pin to start arguing about the merits of neo-burlesque vs. classic. I don’t care much for death metal music, but I recognize the people who love it REALLY love it. And the people who love classic burlesque should continue to love it if that’s their thing. There are a million shades of (sparkly) gray when it comes to burlesque performances – to get caught up in neo vs. classic is shortsighted and not giving enough credit to the flexibility of the art.

Trixie Minx  (New Orleans) It always makes me laugh when people ask if I’m a classic or neo performer. Does it really matter what you call it? Isn’t it all burlesque in the end? I have many opinions on the subject but honestly as long as the audience gets a chance to see a sparkling pastie or a twirling tassel they will probably be happy no matter how you title your specific style of burlesque.


Miss Violet O’ Hara (Dallas) I think film and media have had a lot to do with those definitions. It’s up to us at the local level to educate our fans and communities about the long, rich and diverse history of burlesque.


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