Category Archives: HISTORY


The Skits

From the 1880s onwards, burlesque comedy was built around settings and situations familiar to lower and working class audiences. Courtrooms, street corners and inner city schoolrooms were favorites, as were examining rooms ruled over by quack physicians. Sexual innuendo was always present, but the focus was on making fun of sex and what people were willing to do in the pursuit of it.

Many burlesque routines spoofed social conventions and linguistic idiosyncrasies. The most famous was Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s glorious “Who’s On First,” which had fun with the sometimes confusing nicknames given to popular baseball players. It was the descendant of several earlier routines that involved two men exchanging an intricate series of misunderstood words.

In the 1920s, the old burlesque circuits closed down, leaving individual theater owners to get by as best they could on their own. The strip tease was introduced as a desperate bid to offer something that vaudeville, film and radio could not.

There are a dozen or more popular legends as to how the strip was born – telling how a dancer’s shoulder strap broke, or some similar nonsense. In fact, it had been around since Little Egypt introduced the “hootchie-kooch” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and had always remained a mainstay of stag parties. Burlesque promoters like the Minsky brothers took the strip tease out of the back rooms and put it onstage. While stripping drew in hoards of randy men, it also gave burlesque a sleazy reputation. As moralists once again expressed outrage, male audiences kept burlesque profitable through most of the Great Depression.

Strippers had to walk a fine line between titillation and propriety – going too far (let alone “all the way”) could land them in jail for corrupting public morals. Some gave stripping an artistic twist and graduated to general stardom, including fan dancer Sally Rand and former vaudevillian Rose Lousie Hovick – better known as the comically intellectual Gypsy Rose Lee.

The strippers soon dominated burlesque, and their routines became increasingly graphic. To avoid total nudity but still give the audience what it wanted, the ladies covered their groins with flimsy G-strings and used “pasties” to cover their nipples. This was usually enough to keep the cops at bay, even though pasties were far more vulgar that a plain naked breast.

To be continued…


Leave a comment



Most people think that “burlesque” means female strippers walking a runway to a bump and grind beat. But that only fits the form in its declining years. At its best, burlesque was a rich source of music and comedy that kept America, audiences laughing from 1840 through the 1960s.

Some sources try to wrap burlesque in a mantle of pseudo-intellectual respectability. Yes, it involved transgressive comedy and songs, but the primary attraction of burlesque was sex . . in the form of ribald humor and immodestly dressed women. Although many dismissed burlesque as the tail-end of show business, its influence reaches through the development of popular entertainment into the present.

In the 19th Century, the term “burlesque” was applied to a wide range of comic plays, including non-musicals. Beginning in the 1840s, these works entertained the lower and middle classes in Great Britain and the United States by making fun of (or “burlesquing”) the operas, plays and social habits of the upper classes. These shows used comedy and music to challenge the established way of looking at things. Everything from Shakespearean drama to the craze for Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind could inspire a full-length burlesque spoof. On Broadway, the burlesque productions of actor managers William Mitchell, John Brougham and Laura Keene were among Broadway’s most popular hits of the mid-19th Century.

By the 1860s, British burlesque relied on the display of shapely, underdressed women to keep audiences interested. In the Victorian age, when proper women went to great lengths to hide their physical form beneath bustles, hoops and frills, the idea of young ladies appearing onstage in tights was a powerful challenge.

Suggestive rather than bawdy, these shows relied less on strong scripts or songs than on sheer star power. When Broadway’s The Black Crook became a massive hit in 1866, its troop of ballerinas in flesh-colored tights served notice that respectable American audiences were ready to fork over big bucks for sexually stimulating entertainment. All it took was a daring producer to take things to the next level.

Leave a comment



Immodesty Blaize, born Kelly Hitchin in 1978, is probably Britain’s most successful burlesque performer of the 21st Century. Combining her hypnotic routines with a mix of burlesque and beauty, as well as winning titles such as Miss Exotic World in 2007, Immodesty is framed for bringing burlesque back to its best.
She was the first performer to bring burlesque back to the historic landmark The Windmill Theatre in 30 years in 2005 where she had the headline role in 5 month running West End show ‘Burlesque”.

The dancer had a best selling book in May last year, with another book in the pipeline later in 2010.

On the matter of holidaying Immodesty says “Sometimes I have to get away from the feathers and rhinestones. My ideal holiday involves sun on my body and sand beneath my stiletto-less feet. My last total switch-off trip was to Tobago, which was stunning. The only downside was that, as in much of America, topless sunbathing is forbidden.

Leave a comment



A is for…
Adult entertainment Burlesque is strictly for grown-ups. Put simply, it’s a striptease to music with props. Remember, though, that the genre originated in the days of vaudeville and music halls – it’s all about the wink and the tease.

B is for…
Broken Hearts are Amber and Nisha, both 24-year-old Londoners, who dress as tiny showgirls and DJ at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and The Rakehell’s Revels. Their 1950s polka dot record boxes are chock-full of period-influenced swing and rock ’n’ roll, and the girls use a red telephone handset rather than headphones because it doesn’t mess up their hair. ‘I Hate My Evil Friend’ is their debut record (influenced by Phil Spector and 1960s girl groups, produced by Nathan J Whitey); it’s out on Mute’s Irregular imprint this summer

C is for…
Carbon Zero Burlesque is going eco-friendly. Supper club Bonobo Presents’s next event at the Café Royal’s Grill Room features the Bees Knees on May 17 and will be ‘carbon zero’. Money from each ticket will go towards offsetting the eleven tonnes they estimate the event will cause.

D is for…
Dita Von Teese The ex-Mrs Marilyn Manson caused a near riot at her London shows last October. Didn’t see it? Blow $85 and console yourself with a pair of her used nylon stockings, available from her website

E is for…
Exotic World Museum That’s right – burlesque has a museum. But you have to go to Las Vegas to see it

F is for…
Fancy Chance The self-proclaimed ‘burlesque terrorist’ Ms Chance dominates the comic burlesque scene with performances about the consequences of eating magic mushrooms and being jilted at the altar. She will be performing the finale at the V&A’s Friday Late Surrealist Ball on May 25. ‘Think seafood and dialtones,’ she suggests.

G is for…
Grotesque burlesque Otherwise known as carnivalesque, as invented by the high-end artist, Marisa Carnesky. Her edgy, political performances include one in which she plays Eve, eats an apple and strips while it’s squashed in her mouth. For her famous VE Day show she pulled a Union Jack out of her vagina.

H is for…
History As in ‘know your’. Influential names to drop include: Lydia Thompson and her blondes – in 1860s New York, this British troupe became the city’s biggest Broadway sensation, and also shared stage space with a baby hippo; Sally Rand who made the ostrich feather fan dance famous in 1933; and Gypsy Rose Lee, one the biggest stars at NYC’s 1940s seedy burlesque den, Minksy’s, and frequently arrested as a result, Lee made the tease casual and even more saucy as a result.

I is for…
Immodesty Blaize As seen recently on ‘Faking It’, Britain’s queen of burlesque commands big bucks on the corporate circuit. Famous for her giant rocking horse prop and fabulous, Liberace-like costumes, you’ll have to wait until October for the next series of public dates.

J is for…
Jokes Comedy. Spoofs. Pastiche. Slapstick. It’s what burlesque is all about.

K is for…
Koko This opulent, multi-tiered music hall is where Dita Von Teese did her only official public performance last year. ( See also Royal Crown Revue.

L is for…
London Burlesque Festival Las Vegas has Miss Exotic World, NYC has the New York Burlesque Festival, now London has a burlesque festival to call its own, thanks to Chaz Royal. Running from May 9-12, with showcases at Madame JoJo’s, the Soho Revue Bar, Neighbourhood and Bush Hall

M is for…
Ministry of Burlesque Started in Glasgow, this is an online burlesque collective without equal (
Male Tournament of Tease The final burlesque frontier is men doing burlesque for women, something this talent show is hoping to rectify at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club on May 30 and June 27, with the grand final on July 19.

N is for…
Nymphaeum Burlesque in the water. Inspired by Busby Berkeley’s 1930s-’40s mega-aqua musicals, the Whoopee Club’s ode to synchronised swimming wowed sold-out crowds last November at the Porchester Baths, Bayswater. Expect the show to move to outdoor lidos this summer.

O is for…
Oh My God I Miss You! This monthly burlesque club at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club flips between hellfire and damnation (The Hellfire Club) and a circus theme (Get In The Ring). The next date is May 25.

P is for…
Pasties Those things the tassels hang off? They’re called nipple pasties.

Props Fans, stockings, boas, gloves and hats. Also giant bubbles, oyster shells, martini glasses, birdcages and underwear covered with balloons.

Q is for…
Queerlesque Burlesque with a queer twist. Specifically, Killpussy’s ‘It’s My Birthday Slut Suit’ performance, as seen this Saturday at Club Wotever at The Master’s Club in Soho.

R is for…
Royal Crown Revue Promising ‘a sensational summit meeting of swing and burlesque’ on May 10, the Ministry of Burlesque co-presents this Vegas-sleaze event at Koko with turns from Kittie Klaw, Venus Envy and the Hurly Burly Girlys.

S is for…
Shimmy One of the most famous burlesque moves. Throw your shoulders back and shake what God gave you.

T is for…
Tassels Which famously swing around during a performance’s finale, and sometimes even in opposite directions at once.

U is for…
Underwear As in, a girl’s gotta have great… Frilly French knickers are more popular with performers than dental-floss G-strings, and vintage lace beats modern fibres hands down. See

V is for…
Volupté A pretty Holborn basement supper club, home to the fortnightly Afternoon Tease, which combines tea, cakes and burlesque performances and the weekly Burlesque is Booming!

W is for…
The Whoopee Club There are numerous strings to the Whoopee Club’s ( bow: agency for several hundred burlesque, circus, cabaret and ‘curiosity’ performers; burlesque try-out nights such as The Tournament of Tease (see also Male Tournament of Tease); ‘anarchic cabaret’ events like Hip Hip this Friday at the Cobden Club and May 25 at BGWMC; and themed opulent mega-productions every few months (see Nymphaeum).

X is for…
X-Rated Something burlesque isn’t, as the underwear and nipple tassels stay on. Unless, of course, there’s been a wardrobe malfunction.

Y is for…
Yelling Whistling is fine, clapping expected… but yelling ‘Get your kit off’? We think not.

Z is for…
Ziegfeld Follies A series of Broadway shows ran which from 1907-1931 and ‘celebrated the live female form as art’. Read: hundreds of pretty and elaborately-dressed chorus girls doing syncronised high-kicks.

Leave a comment



I just came across these vintage covers from Eyeful magazine, the american magazine from the 50’s that ‘glorified American women’ or so it said on the cover. Created by pin up artisit Peter Driben, these front covers should be framed and put all over my bedroom. Tres’ sexy, also love how the caption at the bottom celebrates these ‘corset cuties’, let me be one please! 🙂 x







Leave a comment