I have been encountering, with increasing frequency, what I call "burlesque snobbery". And frankly, I don't particularly care for it.
There are a lot of people who like to tell you what burlesque is and isn't. Or should and shouldn't be. It should always be glamorous or it should always be to a certain type of music or it should be only certain types of dancing.
Well, I think that's total bullshit. I'm sure all 4 of my readers are pretty aware of the history, but I hope you'll indulge me in a brief timeline.
Approx 1880's - Burlesque begins as women in tight clothing parodying the attitudes and social and gender roles of the upper class. Often women playing men's roles, doing parodies of popular opera or music of the time.
1900's - Theater owners begin circuits - Burlesque shows become touring casts with usually a 3 act show. First act is usually the entire ensemble doing some sort of parody in formal attire. 2nd act is solo or small group performances, anything from skits, to stand-up comedy, to magic, to dancing girls. Red Skelton was a burlesque performer. As were Laurel and Hardy. 3rd act is usually a full 1 act musical comedy - a play. This was generally the training camp for vaudeville, and vaudevillians would often return to burlesque if they weren't making any money. It wasn't classy, but it was fun.
1930's - As all the comedy acts start to drift to radio, movies, and eventually television, theater owners revamp burlesque to include only the dancing girls in a desperate attempt to keep afloat. This is where the strip tease becomes the biggest part of burlesque....some 50 years after the art began.
So, class, what did we just learn? Comedy, singing, acting, and various other forms of entertainment once made up the meat of burlesque.
So why are we now telling people that if they don't do a traditional bump and grind, and aren't traditionally glamorous, they aren't burlesque?? Who the hell gets to decide that??
A lot of modern day performers hold to the traditional bump and grind jazz style act. And that's absolutely just fine. But some people don't....and yes, I am talking about myself and the Heathens here, amongst others. Anything that was once called burlesque, in my opinion, is still burlesque. I think of what I personally do as a mixture of all the different eras of burlesque, set often to modern music. Comedy, parody, social commentary, and boobies all rolled into one little package. Sometimes it's not glamorous, because that wouldn't make the point I'm trying to make, or fit with the story I'm trying to tell. Sometimes, to be honest, the costumes aren't glitzy and showy because some of us just don't have all day to sit around gluing rhinestones on shit.
Aurora and I hit on the term "outlaw burlesque". Like country artists who didn't make it in Nashville because they were a little too rock n roll...some of us don't always quite fit in. But you know what? That's fine, because we have hell of a lot more fun doing it exactly the way we feel like doing it. We take chances. We bomb. We get back up and try again. We do free shows. We make stupid faces. We dance with the audience. And we have fun doing it.
I'll be damned if anyone is going to force me to call myself a "performance artist".
I am a burlesque performer.