I’ve just realized I’m always here throwing the word “burlesque” here, “burlesque” there, “burlesque” this, “burlesque” that and… I never really talked about what burlesque is.
First, I wanna say it’s not one thing. There’s several facets to what burlesque is, and I’ll just give you a few ideas here. If you just google it, you’ll find hundreds of resources and definitions, and, genuinely, I think it can be very personal if you want it to. Just like other things. I’m a very light soul, and I don’t carry weight which is not mine. I’m just not designed for that. So if you want, you can go deep into dark dark stories of segregation, sexism and all things not nice. Or you can look at it from how it has helped people everywhere to have an outlet for their creativity and expression, and see the light. You can even navigate both. I walk the walk of being aware of the shortcomings but celebrating its successes, and here’s what I have to say given my choice.
What does “burlesque” even mean?
Burlesque comes from the word Burla, which means “mock”, “make fun of”. I believe it held quite a lot of this meaning and it carries it until today. So when you see someone like me or even someone like Dita Von Teese dressed from head to toe in rhinestones and the most uncomfortable attire ever that just looks absolutely stunning — and incredibly impractical, we’re telling a joke. It’s so gorgeous it’s borderline ridiculous. The idea is to push the ideals to the extreme, so much, it becomes ridiculous. We’re making fun of our extreme beauty standards, which are, in fact, ridiculous.
But… isn’t it a kind of dance?
Burlesque has some classic dance moves, but it’s not necessarily a kind of dance. I say “dance burlesque” a lot, and what I mean is hip circles, bump and grinds, shimmies, provocative moves. Striptease. Burlesque is stripTEASE, emphasis on the tease. A burlesque dancer/performer is, at heart, a stripper. Cabaret style. Many people have dance background in burlesque, but this is by no means a must. I didn’t start dancing until I was an adult.
Burlesque is more an outlet for creativity. There is, and this list is by no means exhaustive, boylesque, draglesque, horrorlesque, nerdlesque, geeklesque, cheesecake burlesque, classic burlesque and etc., etc., etc. You can be the 50’s Hollywood diva or the mother at the supermarket with a political message. There’s no limits.
So there’s always nudity?
Most burlesque acts do, but this is by no means necessary. The artist owns the stage and may do as they please — it’s their body and their show after all. What is customary can also change from country to country, in France for instance it’s common for women to go completely bare chested, while here in Switzerland most will wear pasties. Some traditional venues also have their signature style, like the Crazy Horse in Paris and their wigs, or the traditional Moulin Rouge and the can can.
As a performer, I feel really empowered by reclaiming my own sensuality and I just love how sultry my personality can be, and I let it go free. I feel it’s very empowering, especially for women, to feel in control of what she wants, what she shows or doesn’t show, and just do it all in her terms. And honestly, it’s super fun!
So if it’s not the nudity, why is a burlesque performance different from other types of performance?
Many things, I hope you can come watch one soon! But what I’d say makes it really special is it’s open to interaction. There’s no 4th wall so the audience is invited to participate. It’s not like a ballet you come to watch and whether you’re there or not, the show is exactly the same. I personally choreograph my acts in a way I can always shake things up, move around and be spontaneous when I’m on stage, as the audience’s engagement is what turns me on the most. You’ll never see two completely identical shows from me, and I love that fluidity instead of rigidity.
Where can I see shows, then?
In Zürich we have the amazing Ohh! La la! Chérie! every first Saturday of the month, my favorite prohibition era cocktail bar Gypsy Rose besides some other bars and restaurants that host burlesque nights. I write a newsletter with all of this info and more a couple of times a month, if you’d like me to send it to your inbox, you can subscribe here.
Of course, if you’re not in Zürich or Switzerland you can rest assured that you can also find shows wherever (or at least near) you are!
Sounds so cool! Can I try it myself?
Of course!! I couldn’t recommend burlesque classes enough. They’ve changed my life, as I wrote on this post and it’s just so much fun. I’m a burlesque teacher myself and if you’d like me to guide you, you can catch me at Danse Partout for courses and workshops or at my private studio for bespoke lessons alone or with your bestie — I offer a free “burlesque discovery” class for newcomers who subscribe to my mailing list, if you’d like me to show you how we burlesque, you can join here!
That’s all I can think of for now. If you have any other questions about burlesque, just feel free to ask! I love sharing!