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xmag.com : June 2006 : Strippers vs. Burlesque

What’s the difference between burlesque and stripping? The answer to that depends on whom you ask. If you ask the strippers, answers vary from “money” to “intent.” Burlesque performers tend to talk about “showmanship” and “class” (ouch). The frat boys in the U-District unanimously agree, with beer-tinted breath, that the only difference is “titties.”

With such a wide range of answers and differences of opinion, I decided to find out for myself. I needed a refresher course in stripper technique, so a friend of mine and I went into the seedier part of town on a stale Tuesday night.
The first thing I noticed was the atmosphere. The girls were waiting around listlessly, talking among themselves in hushed voices. It was obvious they were bored to death. Granted, it was a slow night, but I immediately thought, “this doesn’t
happen in burlesque.” As my eyes began to focus in the dark,
I started noticing shadows in the corners, black-light reflective bikinis grinding against tan trousers, the dead eyes of a girl doing her job. That definitely doesn’t happen in burlesque. Burlesque performers are viewed at a distance, in more of a stage setting, while strippers have to get up-close and personal. So the first notable difference is contact with the audience.
This is directly related to the second major difference, money. There’s an understanding in the burlesque community that you “don’t get into it for the money,” whereas the stripping community is known for its big paychecks. There are always exceptions to every rule, but I don’t know of any strippers that would continue to offer their services for free, especially considering the key to financial success in stripping: the lap dance. Talk about torture. This gorgeous girl comes out and rubs her half-naked body all over you, sticking her ass right in your face—and you’re not allowed to do a thing about it. You could spend your next paycheck in a strip club and leave just as sexually frustrated as you were when you walked in. Indeed, strippers are the greatest con artists in the world. Burlesque is guilty of the same trickery, just on a different level. Where burlesque performers coyly hint to men what they can’t have, strippers generously rub it in. Where the burlesque dancer alludes to full nudity, strippers allude to sex. They’re both making promises they don’t intend on keeping, and men continue to fork over loads of money for absolutely nothing.
As I sat and watched the girls come out on the stage one at a time to grind on the floor or spin on the pole, the differences in the actual body movements became clear. Burlesque is about the tease, the hiding of key body parts. Stripping is about the flaunting and accentuation of those same body parts. There are specific moves used in burlesque, such as the shimmy or the old-fashioned bump n’ grind that would appear very out of place on the stripper’s stage. Similarly, if one of the Glitzkrieg girls dropped into the splits and started humping the floor, she would probably be asked where she used to work and told to refine her act.
Another obvious difference between strippers and burlesque dancers is the costumes. For strippers, the point is to show as much skin as possible, leaving as little to the imagination as they legally can. Most strippers come out on stage in a tiny bikini with simple colors and simple lines, perhaps with sexy knee-high socks and mile-high stripper shoes. If a burlesque dancer came out in that, her act would be over. For the most part, strippers pick up where burlesque dancers leave off.
The purpose behind the burlesque dancer’s costume leads us to our next major difference, the story. Burlesque originated in late 1800’s theaters as a mockery of society and public figures. The burlesque revival has stayed true to those roots. There is almost always a storyline, a definite beginning, middle, and end. The end usually includes pasties. Burlesque is also tightly choreographed. With stripping, the beginning, middle, and end are pretty much the same, the only difference being a two-inch G-string. There is a definite air of showmanship in burlesque reminiscent of cabaret. We have to keep in mind, however, that at the turn of the nineteenth century when it was at the height of its popularity, burlesque was as raunchy an act as public audiences could handle. Strippers have been created by society’s need for more. More skin. More crudeness. More sexuality.
There are, of course, similarities between stripping and burlesque. Both professions use sex, implied or otherwise, to further the performer’s career. Both styles of dance can be considered an art form. I know it takes serious talent to be able to walk on the ceiling like some pole dancers can do. Both professions force women to own their sexuality, for better or worse, and women quickly realize that it’s up to them how far they take it, sexually or professionally.
In summary, there are so many differences between burlesque and stripping they appear to be from different worlds. Does any of it really matter? Girls are on a stage and they’re taking their clothes off. All in all, maybe the frat boys are right. Maybe it is all about the titties.




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