The word “burlesque” is derived from the Italian “burla”, which means “ridicule or mockery”. Originally very popular in Victorian England, the typically one woman risque performances quickly escalated to full shows. The shockingly comedic performances were also mired by their scandalous sexuality and depravity. In the 1880s these lustful extravaganzas began featuring original scores. Before that time, they were spoofs of operatic ballads. Mirroring famous plays and stage shows using busty and curvacious women playing both the male and female roles, these performances incorporated dance numbers, singing, contortionism and other such spectacles designed to show off and accentuate the performers physical attributes. For a time, they were even considered the pop culture and sometimes political satire of its time. Derived from a time of body houses and brothels and vulgar persuasions to the upper class, burlesque offered the some of the first and most prolific examples of classy female performances that both upper and middle class could rally behind. Even though the subject matter was aimed solely at the narrow demographic of the highly literate upper middle class. By the 1880s, nearly every truly popular opera had become the subject of a burlesque. Skits and performances would follow opera performances to hold the audience I awe. This became the common practice. Evermore elaborate and detailed costumes began to appear in burlesque performances the world over. Italian, Spanish, French, English, German and other Eastern European performers were adorned with fine silks, elaborate bead work, tassels, expensive feathers and furs. Often times the clothing on stage cost more than the clothes seen worn by the audience members.
American Burlesque inevitably arose and took its influences from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall performances and minstrel shows. Becoming popular in the 1860s, it evolved to feature wildly lewd jokes and female striptease. By the early 20th century, burlesque in America was presented as a populist blend of satire, performance art, music hall and adult entertainment, featuring striptease and broad comedy acts.
Let’s skip the rest of the history lesson for a moment. Burlesque’s humble beginnings paved the way for female performances on stage which beforehand, were not taken seriously. This brings us to present day. Burlesque troops are popping up in every major city in North America mixing gothic subculture, modern belly dancing, cabaret and old school Texas brothel esthetics. Hilarious and sexy performances run the gambit from political satire to vintage 1930’s fan dances. The modern Burlesque subculture has sought to empower a generation of women of all ages, races, creeds and sizes. Defying the unrealistic and barbaric social standard of scary slim being the only path to beauty, burlesque dancers display curves and confidence in glorious celebration of class and elegance.
Ive always maintained that Ottawa has some of the best artists in the world; in every possible medium. This is no exception. Any one who has ever seen Shade Nyx, MissVixen Vega or the incomparable Kosten Kreme on stage knows exactly what I mean.