What is Burlesque?

Black Performer with long curly hair is on stage dancing with veil fans. Which hide her chest

Welcome to burlesque rocks.  Burlesque is an art form that well and truly rocks!  But what is burlesque? From it’s roots in satire and social commentary burlesque has become a powerhouse of storytelling and striptease. But I guess that really doesn’t answer the question does it.  What does the Oxford dictionary have to say about it?


What is Burlesque?

an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.
“a novel which is a burlesque of the literary life”
a variety show, typically including striptease.
“burlesque clubs”
Well,  “An absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something”  when burlesque first became a thing it was short plays, dances, poetry, even operas which imitated life or other literary works.  When you go to see a modern burlesque show almost every performance includes some form of comedy.  Be it a cheeky wink or playful smile to the audience. There are many acts which take the “Mick” of politics and provide a social commentary of what is happening in the world.
Which leads very nicely into  “a variety show typically including striptease.”  Yes burlesque includes striptease.  Rumour has it the striptease was added when the blonde bombshells travelled to America.  The Blonde Bombshells caused uproar by dancing in tights and showing off their legs!  It is around this time the striptease element was added.  There is much debate over if it was actually added by the Americans, Brits or the French.

In modern burlesque we embrace our curves and show off our assets.  Performers aim to entertain and empower their audience.  We want you to embrace your body and love it too!  Anyone can do burlesque no dance experience or acting experience is necessary.  All you need to do is be ready to explore and discover your inner diva.  You can take that diva to the stage or bring them out in everyday life, by strutting to the bus stop or holding your head up high when you enter a room.

So what is burlesque dance?

Burlesque dance does involve the basics of dance, like moving time with the music, classic poses and struts. The difference, for me, is it is more about attitude and selling what you do.  I’ve worked with students who have had no dance training but can move to music and use cues within the music to create a fun and fabulous routine. I teach basic routines in my classes and allow my students to adapt the routine to them and their burlesque persona. A standard routine begins with a little intro and strut around the stage (mainly so the audience can ooo at the beautiful costume on display), then the tease begins working the removal of each layer to the music and ending with a big reveal or dramatic pose.
Now not all burlesque routines involve strip tease.  The middle section may not involve a tease at all but build to an eye watering and dazzling final pose. The great thing about burlesque is the rules are meant to be broken and can be broken regularly.

The 5 things I love about burlesque


1)  The Inclusiveness

Burlesque is for everyone, it is one of the most inclusive and welcoming art forms. A great show includes varying body types, POC, and LGBTQ+ artists. Frequent messages of acceptance & love are told. Even hard hitting topics like bigotry, discrimination and racism are presented in an entertaining way that make you think and present a new understanding on the subject.  You are guaranteed to leave a burlesque show not just thinking about how amazing the performers are and how there are body types similar to your own, you also leave with questions and thoughts on various political and social themes.

2) The story telling

This leads me to story telling.  There are not many performance styles where you have between 3 – 7mins to tell a story.  Each act is a mini story with a climactic finish.  The wonders of modern burlesque have taken the story telling to a whole new level.  Voiceovers and sounds bites help to put across the message, of an act, that in the past would get lost in the tease or dance movements.  Producers such as House of Burlesque and Clandestine Cabaret regularly use projection throughout their shows which expand on the visual aspect of a performance.  As technology evolves so does how artists use technology to tell their stories.  As an audience member I love an act that involves a bit of a story.

3) The Love and friendship

It doesn’t matter who you do your 1st burlesque show with you are part of a moment together that won’t be forgotten.  I had the privilege of watching and help cultivate many friendships.  Some of these friendships are friends for life or lead to friends starting a business together or friends who get together and have a baby. If you are moving to a new city and are looking to make new friends take up a course in burlesque.  You won’t regret it!

4) The attitude

Burlesque promotes body confidence and the performances especially help you regain control and fall in love for your body.  The act of showing off your body to a crowd cheering you on, can only boast that confidence.  One of the things to help get you up on that stage is an attitude and finding the attitude that suits you.  I’ve always seen the four styles below as the main attitudes of burlesque:

  • Comedic
  • Sensual/Sexy
  • Cheesecake/Cute
  • Powerful

You can commit to one attitude or incorporate all four into an act.  When you move using these attitudes you move with purpose and I love seeing these attitudes expressed on stage.  A cute wink, sensual stoke of the thigh, an oops I tripped and powerful poses that make you want to shout out “Raaah!” fill me with a lot of joy.

5) The community

We are going a little full circle with this one back to the inclusivity.  Cabaret, burlesque and drag are all very family oriented.  We have Burlesque mamma’s, Burly Godmothers, and Burlesque siblings, those who strip together stay together!  It is one of the most beautiful and joyful communities around.  Move to a new town/city and if there is a burlesque school join and you will find a welcoming and loving bunch of people who will help you with your lost pair of pants or help you with that tricky bit of costuming.  This is not an exclusive business it’s an inclusive, loving, friendly and beautiful community.

So after all of that what is burlesque?

Burlesque is an empowering art form where you get up on stage and tell a story through dance and optional striptease, with plenty of posing and strutting. It also uses various extras like projection, sounds bites, mixing of songs & costuming to tell these stories.  But most of all burlesque is fun, welcoming and a joy! Plus it Rocks!
If you enjoyed the read you can donate via my PayPal link or if this has inspired you to take up a class you can come along to an online class every Wednesday at 7pm.  In 2023 I will have a series of online beginners workshops.
Thank you for reading!
Luscious Love,
Emily aka Little Lady Luscious

Published by Emily

Burlesque Teacher & Cabaret Performer living Up North