The history of burlesque

The history of Burlesque is long and varied but really got going back in 17th Century Europe where a mix of bawdy satire with a healthy dollop of sauce and parody kept the theatre going public well satisfied. The Spanish writer Cervantes was a master of the art.

Burlesque was extremely popular during the period between 1860 and the 1940s. Held in cabarets and clubs and theatres, this new art form featured bawdy comedy and female striptease.

dita von tease
Dita von Tease

But the burlesque we know today really established itself in the United States and refers to performances in a variety show format – all legs, fishnets, dry ice and décolletage .

Its popularity with the public led Hollywood to try and take on the spirit of burlesque performance from the 1930s onwards. Just think of films like Cabaret and All That Jazz or Charlie Chaplin’s A Burlesque on Carmen or the film with Cher and Christina Aguilera, Burlesque.

The Striptease element entered burlesque gradually starting with dancers and singers showing off their figures while performing. Elaborate stage costumes began to be included. Some strippers included Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, became incredibly famous – household names. A typical burlesque show in the 1930’s would have up to six strippers supported by one or two comics and a master of ceremonies.

Comics who appeared in burlesque early in their careers included Mae West, Abbott and Costello, W. C. Fields, Jackie Gleason, Al Jolson, Phil Silvers, Danny Kaye, and Sophie Tucker. So burlesque clubs worked something like the comedy club circuit does today for getting a comedians career up and running.

Since the 1990’s a revival of burlesque, sometimes called Neo-Burlesque, has made waves on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australia.  A new generation, nostalgic for the spectacle and perceived glamour of the classic American burlesque, developed a cult following for the art. Neo-burlesque performers include the great Dita Von Teese, and Julie Atlas Muz. Agitprop groups like Cabaret Red Light incorporated political satire and performance art into their burlesque shows. Annual conventions such as the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival and the Miss Exotic World Pageant are also must go events for the burlesque aficionado.

Two of the Best Burlesque Shows in Sydney

Crystal Boudoir Burlesque Cabaret Show
Lower Ground Floor,
Sydney GPO Building,
1 Martin Place, Sydney
+61 2 9229 7799


crystal burlesque


The incredibly sexy dancers wear handmade sequined costumes and are seduction incarnate.

The Crystal Boudoir Cabaret & Burlesque Show in Sydney was created to showcase the best of Australia’s Contemporary Dancers and entertainment in an innovative and creative way and it does just that.

The show is choreographed by top talents including Sydney Dance Company and Royal Ballet choreographers and customers have included Hollywood mega stars, supermodels, Australian actors, business people and other celebrities.

41 Oxford St, Darlinghurst
Opening hours: Wed-Thu & Sun 7pm-late; Fri-Sat 7pm-3am
+61 2 8915 1899


Slide BurlesqueSlide turns up the heat with a regular rotation of sexy neo-burlesque productions that slink and swing between aerial routines, erotic shadow projection and downright saucy striptease. Their roster of shows include Parisian-themed Risqué Revue, boylesque night Voyeur plus cabaret, contortion and trapeze in El’ Circo.


Slide is camp, yet classy as all get-up – a veritable Shirley Bassey of a venue. This former bank is one of the most beautifully decked-out bars on the strip. Slide’s signature serving is its unique degustation menu night called El Circo where guests are treated to a nine-course meal-athon in front of a cavalcade of entertainment that consists of a different act throughout every course, such as trapeze artists, contortionists, and even full-body shadow puppetry.

After midnight, Slide scrubs up nicely as a cool little discotheque.

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