An Abbreviated History of Burlesque
“Burlesque dancing is Broadway style, seductive dance with a little flirtation added in.” said Logan Andersen, an 18-year-old, Dance and Civil Engineering major.
And that is generally the view of what modern day burlesque is, thanks to movies like Chicago and Christina Aguilera’s Burlesque.
But burlesque originated as an entertainment dating back to the early 1800s, not as a striptease art form, but as an outlet to satirize the Black community.
“The earliest burlesques were portions of minstrel shows,” said Professor James Kolb, a drama department teacher at Hofstra University. “It was white men in black-face making fun of the way the Black community behaved and it really was some nasty stuff.”
Burlesque was originally intended as cheap entertainment for lower class society, with theatres mainly in the lower east side and downtown areas of New York City
As the 19th century continued, burlesque moved away from its original intents and focused more on being parodies of theatre and being scandalous in dress. Burlesque became more commonly known as “leg-art” as the women performers became more scantily-clad.
The Black Crook (1866) and Lydia Thompson and her Imported English Blondes (1868) are two burlesque shows that popularized the art form and brought it to more upper-class locations.
From there, burlesque gave way to Vaudeville, which was a more family-friendly, less crude form of burlesque. Burlesque still cornered the adult market. If one was in the mood to see a striptease, they would go to a burlesque show.
From there, it was all about upping the ante on sex appeal.
“In the 1970s, if you weren’t showing it all including the pubic hair, it wasn’t burlesque.” Kolb said.
And in recent years, with musicals like Chicago, Gypsy, and Burlesque gracing both Broadway and Hollywood, burlesque has become more popularized, though people still remain sensitive to the matter of its inherent tendencies for nudity.
“Eventually it will lose its fame and there will only be strippers.” Said Andersen.
But even in with its racy connotations, people still consider it art.
“Burlesque is empowerment.” Danielle Kent, an 18-year-old, business-marketing major, said, “Unlike stripping which is all about getting naked, burlesque is about the tease. It’s not just to please men. It’s an art.”
Hofstra University’s Entertainment Unlimited hosted its second annual Burlesque Show on Friday evening April 26, 2013 at Hofstra USA.
The show stopped unexpectedly over the years for an unidentified reason. Hofstra’s special events co-Chair of Entertainment Unlimited, Jennifer Pernaiciaco, decided to bring the Burlesque show back.
Many Hofstra students were concerned about the purpose of the show which gave them more reasons to attend the show in order to find out what it was all about.
“I was sitting in the special VIP section,” said Kevin Williams, a sophomore studying Dance Education at Hofstra University. “People had to spin a wheel at the ticket booth when they bought tickets so they could win V.I.P sections to the show, candy, and condoms.”
The show was indeed a little overwhelming for some students and there were many mixed reactions about having the show on campus.
“The content was a bit inappropriate for a school campus,” said Abigail Maria, a sophomore studying Child Development Education at Hofstra University. “Hosting this Burlesque show can cause conflict to the reputation of Hofstra University which can be a reason why the show unexpectedly stopped over the years before.
The shock value of the performance was not lost on the crowd; the newcomers especially found the sexually charged act to be a surprise. Freshman Jimmy Trull, a native of the state of Washington, found himself astonished by the end of the night.
“I thought it was going to be different,” Trull said. “I’ve never seen a burlesque show before. I didn’t know they were going to do that. You definitely couldn’t do that in other states; New York is special, Long Island at least.”
The Burlesque show was for entertainment purposes. The show developed in the United States and was originally intended for male audiences. The show included filthy jokes, chorus numbers, and solo dances which consist of female nudity and promiscuous behaviors.
Many students were able to get fun and enjoyment from the burlesque performance; some even obtained inspiration from it.
“They’re not strippers,” said Dana Gibbs, a freshman studying communications at Hofstra. “They’re high class professional female dancers. These professional NYC burlesque dancers were beautiful, long haired, bodacious, elegant, and just the right amount of sexy.”
A recap of some of the events that took place at the event April 26, 2013 the Entertainment Unlimited hosted. A night that most students will never forget.
–Arielle Burton, Cortney Cordero, Teairra Price, Lauren del Valle