Burlesque Crackdown: Expression Of New Puritanism?

Illustration for article titled Burlesque Crackdown: Expression Of New Puritanism?

A delightfully old-fashioned London Council has classified burlesque as "adult entertainment," sparking a retro debate!


To us soigné sophisticates, since the 90's the burlesque revival movement has been synonymous with a particular sort of riot-grrl empowerment, a conscious cooption of old-fashioned sex appeal with a new approach to burlesque as a tongue-in-cheek art form that promotes body acceptance. Dita Von Teese is an icon of old-fashioned glamor; urban clubs play to hipsters and sophisticates; burlesque fitness and dance classes proliferate (and are, ahem, awesome.) As distinct from modern exotic dance, neo-burlesque has always depended on an element of subversion, consciously tipping its hat to the entertainment's seedy origins, and then turning the notion of objectification on its head.

Apparently London's Camden council didn't get the memo. Instead, says The Guardian, they've told the three-year-old Proud Gallery that it needs to suspend all "Gypsy" activity or get an adult entertainment license, as would any strip or "gentleman's" club. Of course, neo-burlesque has always had a tenuous relationship with some feminists who feel that, however you dress it up (or down), it can't be separated from Ariel Levy's "raunch culture," however laudable the movement's goals. It is certainly true that, at an ironic Hannukah burlesque show a friend of mine performed in a few months ago, there were a couple of Hasids in the corner who didn't get that the gelt striptease and "Hava Nagila" dance were ironic and were, instead, masturbating. And it doesn't do to romanticize the genre's heyday; if you've ever caught Liz Goldwyn's burlesque documentary Pretty Things on HBO, maybe you, like me, are struck by the former dancers' stark pragmatism contrasted with the filmmaker's insistence on viewing them as artists.


Even so, it's been a while since anyone suggested neo-burlesque was downright scandalous! It's practically quaint! The Guardian suggests that this crackdown is a gloomy harbinger of a new puritanism (although in our historical experience, economic downturn and decadence have never exactly been in opposition) and will damage its rep for artistic validity. We say, to the contrary; everyone knows it's the arts that suffer; isn't sin recession-proof?

Burlesque: performance art - or stripping? [Guardian]

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nora charles

There's no one form of burlesque—it can be rather coy or it can be rather explicit. I don't think that the more explicit forms are any different than exotic dancing, and they shouldn't get any preferential treatment just because it's a different aesthetic with the same level of nudity. But it seems sort of silly to lump all burlesque shows in under that umbrella.

One of my friends was the entertainment manager of a bar. Most of the time they had live music, but I remember showing up one night to say hi to her and finding her freaking out because the supposedly rather tame burlesque show she had booked for that night was currently on stage totally topless and fairly graphic. They didn't have the license for that kind of stuff, and if the wrong person had been there that night, they could have been shut down.