These days, the word ‘burlesque’ conjures up images of feather boas, sequined bras and the raven-haired performer Dita Von Teese. But before Dita started gracing the covers of our magazines and dazzled audiences with her giant Martini glass routine, burlesque was a form of entertainment virtually unknown to the masses. Aneequa Bhatti takes a look at its history.

Before it became associated with striptease, in 18th century Europe burlesque was a form of humorous and exaggerated musical theatre, often parodying an existing play in a daring style. 

It was only in 20th century America that striptease became an important part of burlesque as we know it today. Originating in vaudeville and music hall entertainment, early American burlesque shows would feature striptease and comic performers much like in adult revue shows.

The Minsky Brothers’ burlesque clubs, first started in 1912, were hugely popular and featured girls such as the infamous Gypsy Rose Lee. Lee, who went on to become a film actress, was one of burlesque’s first stars. She was famous for both her witty, sharp humour on stage, as well as her seductive style of striptease.

Although burlesque shows were mainly focused on striptease by the 1930s, quick-witted humour and short routines remained an integral part of the show.

However, during the 1930’s, there was a social crackdown on burlesque clubs as local citizens accused them of being obscene. They were eventually outlawed, which gradually lead to their demise. 


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