Think Outside the Burlesque Box

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One of the first chorus lines – what lookers! Image Source:

Ask 10 different people to define burlesque and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

The Oxford dictionary defines burlesque as ‘an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.’  It can also mean ‘a variety show, typically including striptease.’ 

I think that most people have come to associate burlesque (or neo-burlesque) in SL with the latter definition.

When I first joined SL, most burlesque places were full of solo artists.  Some stripped to full nude, some to pasties and g-strings, and others were horrified at the very notion of stripping.

But it was all lumped as ‘burlesque.’

Still is, mostly.

If you go back to the beginnings of burlesque, the emphasis was on parody and exaggeration.  Comedians and actors making fun of something.  (Think of SNL today.)

Add in music and then dancers.

Then it became more vaudeville than the original idea of burlesque.

A variety show – musicians, comedians, jugglers, singers, dancers, strippers – all in one show.

Perhaps what we see in SL is more cabaret than burlesque. defines cabaret as ‘a floor show of dancing, singing, or other light entertainment at a nightclub or restaurant.’

I think that definition fits the bill pretty well for most of what is labeled ‘burlesque’ in SL.

Do the definitions matter?

Probably not.

But it’s always interesting to see people arguing over what is ‘true’ burlesque in SL.  😀

For me, call it what you want. If there’s dancing, I’m happy.

Just remember not to lock yourself (or those you work with) into a little box labeled ‘burlesque’ or ‘true burlesque.’  Personally, I think doing so stifles the creativity of many people.

I’ve seen many a dancer leave a troupe over ‘creative differences.’

Let people be creative.

Isn’t that what SL is for?


8 thoughts on “Think Outside the Burlesque Box

  1. What we call burlesque in SL is (loosely defined as): “dancing on stage solo or in group, to music, in costume, with a set”

    I agree it can and should be anything people want it to be, but then I think there should be broader term (different term?) applied, substituted. I also agree that what we do in SL more closely resembles cabaret than burlesque. I’ve always thought that.

    “My dog behaves like a cat so I am calling him a cat. People need to be more opened minded about what is a cat” Okaaaaaaaaay….well we got to draw the line somewhere.

    Burlesque is a sexy term. I think it is owed some modicum of authenticity (addingin more real sexiness and humor be it satire or otherwise) and when you stray too far from that, then rename what it is that you do. Neo-Burlesque? Faux-Burlesque. Orangutan Burlesque?

    “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.

    Without question, however, burlesque’s principal legacy as a cultural form was its establishment of patterns of gender representation that forever changed the role of the woman on the American stage and later influenced her role on the screen. . . The very sight of a female body not covered by the accepted costume of bourgeois respectability forcefully if playfully called attention to the entire question of the “place” of woman in American society.”

    “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. ”

    “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.”


    1. Is there a level beyond naked? If burlesque is the art of the tease, how does nudity fit in? Or does it?
      You can call what you do whatever you want – burlesque, neo-burlesque, cabaret, variety – whatever. My point was that perhaps the label being used stifles the creativity of those wearing it.
      I’m sure not everyone feels stifled, but I know many who have, including myself.

      1. The level beyond naked is a live sexual encounter as part of live entertainment. Nudity is what they would have done if they could have…laws and social morays being the inhibitors of the day back then. Its all about giving the people what they want, no more and no less.

        So yes lets come up with a new label. I say “neo-cabaret” perhaps? But yeah we don’t want to bastardize the term to mean ‘anything we want to do’. Maybe Performance-Art is a better ‘umbrella” of term. This allows for damned near anything. Its how i like to think of it so that it is less limiting with regards to expectations..

  2. The word “burlesque” in SL has been butchered by every person that’s forced their idea of true burlesque down people’s throats for years. Burlesque is a many faced performance I RL. It always has been. The “we do true burlesque” types have done more damage to SL burlesque and stifled creativity for so long I do not believe it will ever change. I would say it’s one of the saddest parts of the dance world in SL.

  3. Oh god, I hate genres and labels. Almost as much as I hate the arguments the attempts to define those genres and labels will cause.
    The form of comedy, entertainment or art known as ‘burlesque’ is a term heterogeneous enough in RL, and its definition depends on the point of time (there’s burlesque of the Lost Generation and then there’s Victorian burlesque and contemporary neo-burlesque) and geographical location (North America, the UK, Germany, Italy… I bet there’s been something burlesque-related even on the flippin’ South Pole) you’re focusing on, so one can only imagine what happens when such a loose genre gets transferred into SL where meanings and concepts and ideas change and shift much faster. Sadly, I think – as Naiki wrote – those who try to impose their limited idea of “traditional burlesque” on “SL burlesque” are messing with what people think as burlesque. But so are those who only saw that damn Christina Aguilera film and ran to SL to establish their own burlesque venue, thinking that whatever semi-erotic hole in the wall ran by a rubber-faced madame who looks like Cher can be a burlesque club.
    I also have to add that due to the popularity of burlesque in SL, some people have started to think of it as a synonym to show dancing, which then creates all sorts of further misunderstandings. I’ve seen shows at places that call themselves ‘cabaret’ or ‘variety shows’ or just ‘dance shows’ and seen some audience members frown at the performers and say “This has nothing to do with burlesque! Sacrilège!” Well… no one ever claimed it was supposed to be burlesque.
    Anyway, I agree with the aforementioned. Think outside the box. Toss the terms even you yourself don’t understand (or even if you do understand them, toss them anyway). And let’s come up with a better umbrella term. Performance Art, as Yummy said. Perfect. Though that does remind me of one performance hud everyone’s talking about…

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