What is burlesque?

The definition of burlesque is ambiguous and can be defined in a variety of different ways. Burlesque’s origin is regularly disputed; with its roots within Ancient Greece, Victorian music hall and the American vaudeville, all containing various different manifestations of the form.


House of Trixie Blue derive their teachings predominantly from the American history of burlesque, where it ‘began in the 1860s when Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes, all of whom wore tights, delightfully shocked New York audiences’ (Sobel, 1956:9). It is clear from this statement that burlesque is transgressive and flaunts censorship, as it pushes the boundaries of what seems to be immoral at the time.


Burlesque was originally a parody of highbrow entertainment in a social/political context, to cater to a mass audience, predominantly male. Burlesque would take popular culture at the time and turn it on its head with bawdy blue humour, variety acts that incorporated the striptease. Given burlesque’s transgressive nature, the form incorporated the striptease from the 1920s onwards, as ‘burlesque was struggling to maintain the audience of working and lower middle class men it had built up since the turn of the century’ (Allen, 1991:247). Incorporating striptease ensured burlesque continued to flourish, until a decline of the stage show in the early 1940s. 


Fast forward to the contemporary, within the early 1990s, burlesque resurfaced as Neo or New Burlesque.  Neo burlesque borrows conventions from the 1920-1950s style and incorporates other creative disciplines, such as circus skills, to compliment the transforming form. This results in ‘many neo-burlesque acts are narrative [based] and the end of a performance is often more about the “twist” than the reveal- that subversion of theme or defying of expectations that makes audience members laugh out loud or groan at the bad pun or, as with all art, think about its meaning’ (Sally, 2009:7).  Such qualities suggest the focus of a neo burlesque performance is the journey to the disrobed body and how the performer manipulates traditional burlesque conventions to eventually reveal.


Due to the commodification of the form and the reclaiming of a repressed sexuality, neo burlesque has successfully re-appropriated burlesque on stage within popular culture predominantly for a female audience.


(Extracts and amendments from Lennon, K. (2015) ‘Exploitation and Glitter: Bettie Page and the Representation of Gender within the Burlesque Film’ Northumbria University Mres Thesis.)



House of Trixie Blue defines burlesque in the following ways:

Burlesque combines comedy, variety acts and striptease into individual or simultaneous performances


Burlesque is the art of the tease, which uses parody, satire and exaggeration to convey your performance


A performance art that celebrates the body no matter age/gender/ability


During this course we look at as many time periods, styles and genres of burlesque as possible and welcome any questions you may have about our favourite subject.