Burlesque Style Belly Dance

A BRIEF ! History of Burlesque

Burlesque Dancer with veil
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, and Britain audiences laughing from 1840 through the 1960s.

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.

In the late 1860s, Lydia Thompson's British burlesque troupe became New York's biggest theatrical sensation. Their first hit was Ixion (1868), a mythological spoof that had women in revealing tights playing men's roles. 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.

Underdressed women playing sexual aggressors, combining good looks with impertinent comedy – in a production written and managed by a woman? Unthinkable! No wonder men and adventurous wives turned out in droves, making Thompson and her "British blondes" the hottest thing in American show business.

As male managers took over the form in the 1880s, feminine wit was gradually replaced by a determination to reveal as much of the feminine form as local laws allowed. But obscenity and vulgarity were avoided – the point was to spoof and (to a limited extent) titillate, not to offend.

The biggest burlesque star of the early 20th Century was dancer Millie DeLeon, an attractive brunette who tossed her garters into the audience and occasionally neglected to wear tights. Such shenanigans got her arrested on occasion, and helped to give burlesque a raunchy reputation.

Belly Dance/Burlesque
Both burlesque and Oriental dance are “kind” to women with real bodies. Diversity in shape, size, height, weight and age is not just accepted, it’s applauded. Despite all the glitz inherent in both styles, the real inner spirit and beauty pours out though the performer’s aura or stage presence. Attitude scores way more points than a wasp waist or perfect butt. Other women consistently identify with, aspire to and cheer on this type of body confidence.

Just the process of learning belly dance or burlesque gives women a huge boost of self-esteem, as well as a license to “play”. Whether dancing with feather boas or veils, most women get all giggly like little girls pretending to be princesses, and promptly toss aside body issues, day-to-day stress factors or “outside world” problems. Both dances are extremely aerobic, without being punishing to the body. They promote strength and flexibility. The isolations and combinations are never boring, and engage healthy, challenging physical co-ordination as well as brain activity.

Both are ultra-feminine forms of expression, and the ensuing spiritual effect they have on the dancer is incredible. The female bonding in a classroom situation - or backstage at a show - is beyond therapeutic.