by Jeff Booth
Burlesque is back with a vengeance. Burlesque was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in American theater. It began in the early 1900’s and reached the height of popularity from the 1930s until the late 1950s. Burlesque performers were major stars, including Virginia Bell, Betty Howard, Gypsy Rose Lee, Yvette Wilde, Little Egypt, Lili St Cyr, Candy Barr, and many others. This entertainment for the masses with a good dose of skin is experiencing a resurgence, with many new performers providing their updated version of Burlesque.
We had the great opportunity to meet former burlesque star Dixie Evans (above) when she ran Exotic World in California. During her performing career she was billed as the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, and looked just like her. It was an amazing place, with room after room crammed with thousands of photos, costumes, and other memorabilia. She had memorabilia such as Gypsy Rose Lee’s glove collection and Jayne Mansfield’s heart-shaped couch
Exotic World Burlesque Museum
She told us the story of how Sally Rand tried to beat her competitors and wound up helping the war effort in World War II. Since everyone was copying her fan dance, she created a dance with a giant balloon, and patented the balloon design. It turns out that the design was exactly what the War Department needed to use as targets for gun practice, so Sally, who made the balloons herself, produced balloons for the war effort. Unfortunately, the rubber shortage soon made it impossible for her to get the rubber to make balloons for her own act. She had to go back to using fans.
Dixie passed on in 2013 at the age of 86, but her collection is still with us. It resides in Las Vegas at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. They are open every day except Monday. I had the opportunity to interview Executive Director Dustin Wax, and you can listen to that interview below. He talks about both the past and the future of burlesque.
Jeff Booth interviews Burlesque Hall of Fame Executive Director Dustin Wax
They also host the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender, which takes place this year June 2nd through 5th at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It is a convention for burlesque performers, and features live entertainment, vendors, and classes. It includes the 26th annual Miss Exotic World Competition, and the 59th annual Titans of Tease Showcase. The event is also an important fundraiser for the Burlesque Hall of Fame.
There is also a Burlesque convention geared towards the general public. This year’s 8th annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival takes place September 15th – 18th in actual New Orleans rather than a New Orleans themed casino. The New Orleans tie-in makes sense, as burlesque was a main attraction in the French Quarter from the mid 1940’s through the 1960s. Bourbon Street had more burlesque clubs than anywhere else in the country.
In New York, there is the 14th annual New York Burlesque Festival running September 29th through October 2nd. It features shows at several different venues, along with the Golden Pastie Awards.
Show Me Burlesque is a three day event in St. Louis running May 19th through May 21st. It brings a lot of top burlesque performers to the Midwest. It also features vaudeville and variety artists.
My home town of Los Angeles is one of the epicenters of the burlesque revival. There are shows and events just about every single week.
A couple of weeks ago we attended a Burlesque Brunch in Beverly Hills. Presented by Dollhouse Entertainment, it featured the DH Jazz Trio and performers Miss Dakota, Miss Marquez, Jillian Schmitz, and singer Lindsay Haldorson. It was a very traditional and very entertaining burlesque show that moved through and around the audience.
It was a bit strange to watch burlesque outdoors in the bright light in the early afternoon. Once you got past that, though, the performers were all top notch (we do have a rather terrific pool of entertainers to draw from here in L.A.), and it was a fun, sexy, audience interactive show.
As with most shows of this type, nudity is not allowed, but the performers can strip down to pasties. Showing any nipple would require a difficult to obtain adult entertainment license. Of course, burlesque is less about the final reveal than the tease it takes to get there.
If you are in the Los Angeles area, there are a number of opportunities to see a modern or classic burlesque show. Monday Night Tease is L.A.’s longest running weekly burlesque show. Produced by Lili VonSchtupp, the show features music, singers, magic, juggling and beautiful women dancing revealingly. The show has been running for a remarkable 13 years at various venues. There is also Lili’s School for Wayward Girls, which offers burlesque classes.
The Bootleg Bombshells Burlesque appear at the Townhouse in Venice, as part of the regular Red Light Wednesdays that feature various burlesque performers. Tease if You Please is a bi-weekly burlesque show at the Globe in downtown Los Angeles. It is produced by dancer and choreographer Donna Hood.
On May 20th at Dragonfly in Hollywood, Devil’s Playground Burlesque presents Star Girls: The Force is a’ Shakin’ Burlesque Show. Produced by Courtney Cruz, she has been staging burlesque shows in L.A. for the past six years. This is part of a series of her monthly themed burlesque shows. On May 26th at the Karma Lounge you can see the Dollface Dames. Together since 2009, they present shows at many other venues every month, so check out their web site for all the places they are appearing (including weekly at Trip in Santa Monica and monthly at Magicoloplis). On May 29th there is the Sultry Sweet Burlesque and Variety Show at the El Cid featuring 9 performers and live music. The link is to the El Cid, since Sultry Sweet Burlesque does not keep their web site up to date.
There are several bars that regularly offer burlesque, including the Speakeasy themed bar The Edison downtown featuring Charleston Q’Tease vintage cabaret show every Saturday night, Harvard and Stone in Hollywood, and Harvelle’s in Long Beach.
We have several Los Angeles area burlesque troupes that work a variety of local entertainment venues. You can keep up with their latest appearances by checking with their web sites. Hells Belles Burlesque is the top rock and roll burlesque company in L.A. They also offer classes and workshops. The LaLas appear all over the country, but you can also see them in their frequent appearances in their L.A. home base.
There are other places around the country you can go to see Burlesque shows.
Like Los Angeles, New York has a lot of talented dancers to draw on. In New York City, Le Scandal offers regular Burlesque shows. The show features magic, performance art, and scintillating strip acts. The best known venue, largely because it was originally designed for burlesque, is The Slipper Room. It was forced to shut down in 2010, but came back with bigger and better show rooms in 2012. Duane Park offers live music and burlesque. They have weekend dinner shows, with the Plume Review on Fridays and the Saturday Tease Ohhhh Rama.
Hotel Channele has a free Friday night burlesque show. Bathtub Gin has burlesque on Sundays and Tuesdays. Nurse Bettie has burlesque shows on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The Box has a regular very late night show. At Hill and Dale they have Victorola Burlesque on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays.
Visitors to Coney Island can see a live Burlesque on the Beach– A revival of the most glorious and notorious of the “girlie revues” in Coney Island history. The show runs through the summer.
In New Orleans, Dirty Dime PeepShow is considered the most outrageous burlesque show in the city. It is held at the All Ways Lounge and Theatre.
Las Vegas, of course, has a number of burlesque shows (but nowhere near as many as L.A. or New York). There is the long running X Burlesque show at the Flamingo Hotel, which is full topless and features six dancers. They also offer X Burlesque University, where students can learn the moves, the makeup and the fashion of a burlesque dancer. Planet Hollywood now has Sin City Comedy and Burlesque. Comedy is the main event, though. A burlesque dancer comes out between the sets of the comedians. Boomers Bar has Saturday Nude Live burlesque shows on the first Saturday of the month.
And finally, back to California, there are many great burlesque shows in San Francisco. The Oakland based Hubba Hubba Review has shows on every Monday and occasional shows on Fridays and Saturdays. The Red Hots Burlesque troupe does regular shows at several venues, including a Burlesque Brunch at Piano Fight, and shows at Beatbox and Cat Cub. The Fishnet Follies takes place at the Garter Room on the first Thursdays of the month.
There are a number of individual performers worth looking for, and thanks to their Web pages, it is possible to find out where they will be appearing.
Dita Von Teese bills herself as a modern Burlesque Performance Artist, and has managed to sky rocket to mainstream fame. Her shows are a blend of eroticism and high class glitzy entertainment done in the traditional style of old time burlesque. She also does her own modernized version of the Sally Rand fan dance.
There are so many that it is really impossible to do a list of even the very best. The few listed here are just ones that come to me off the top of my head- Mimi Lemeaux, Bambi the Mermaid, The Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque Show. The contemporary touring performers is really a topic for another day.