“It’s not what I do, but the way I do it. It’s not what I say, but the way I say it.”
Iskra Valentine is a neo burlesque and performance artist specialising in riot grrrl
rockaburly and bollywood burlesque. With a background in Indian Kathakali dancing,
a passion for performance art and a penchant for all things vintage, she has a unique
perspective on burlesque in today’s world.
Brief History of Burlesque
The literal meaning of Burlesque is ‘to send up’. In the early 18th century, the term Burlesque was used throughout Europe to describe musical works, in which comic and serious elements were combined to achieve grotesque effect.
In 19th century England, serious or romantic opera or a piece of classical theatre was adapted in a risque style that ridiculed stage conventions. Traditional British or Classical Burlesque parodied widely known works of literature, theatre or music but didn’t contain striptease. Women were often cast in the lead male role and double entendre was the performance style of the time. Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes toured the United States in the 1860’s instigating the bawdy style of variety theatre that existed from the 1870’s to the 1920’s. American Burlesque was heavily influenced by British music hall and variety shows of the 19th century. The Victorian era, was a time where there were major clashes between the aristrocracy and working classes, and comic sketches were developed ridiculing the upper elite.
In the early 20th century Burlesque re-emerged as a blend of satire, performance art and adult entertainment, featuring striptease and comedy acts. The term Burlesque was used to loosely describe these acts where striptease artists performed but striptease and hootchy kootchy dance were already forms by
themselves. Burlesque shows incorporated elaborate sets, gorgeous costumes, mood music and dramatic lighting. Novelty acts were often included, such as fire eaters, contortionists and other circus performers. Pastiche, parody and wit, accompanied with dancing girls, chanson singers, comedians, mime artists made up the typical American Burlesque show. The popular Burlesque show of the early 20th century eventually evolved into striptease which became the primary focus by the 1930’s, heralding the end of Burlesque and the birth of striptease!
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