lydia_thompsonI started out wanting to write a quick post about the history of burlesque and then show off our new pasties. But as I researched online I found so much interesting stuff this will have to be a series!

Burlesque has been evolving for centuries and the meaning of the word has changed along with it. In literature it means a comic imitation of a serious form, similar to parody. Early examples are the comedies of Greek playwright Aristophanes (way back in 400 BC) and English dramatist John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), which had the longest run of any theater production up until that time.

The evolution of burlesque into a type of risque entertainment got started around the time of the Cancan. This wild, high kicking dance appeared about 1830 in the working-class ballrooms of Montparnasse in Paris. It got rave reviews and was frequently banned as lewd and immoral. It was originally a couple’s dance but as more chorus lines took it up, it lost it’s participatory form. It’s popularity generally encouraged more skin to be shown on stage and more provocative movements to be choreographed around Europe in the following years.

In 1863 Adah Isaacs Menken rode bareback across a San Francisco stage dressed only in pink tights and a short tunic, as part of the shockingly violent (at the time) Russian opera Mazeppa. Adah’s routine included some disrobing which is said to have been the first public striptease. Her life was fascinating, scandalous and tragically short. You can read a 1905 article about her here.

Burlesque was officially introduced in New York in 1868 by Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes, a troop of chorus girls. Their show included cross-dressing and a lot of leg. It was a version of the popular minstrel show and had several regular parts which were later established as a burlesque formula:

– A series of coarse humorous songs, slapstick sketches, and comic monologues;
– Several variety acts with acrobats, magicians or singers. This part was called the Olio;
– Chorus numbers with an occasional burlesque (meaning a parody) on current events
– The show ended with either an exotic dancer or a boxing match (a sexy shimmy or two dudes punching each other bloody, which would you prefer?)

That’s Lydia in the top picture. Read more about her as a pioneering drag king here .

Next installment: the Folies Bergere,┬ávaudeville, the 1920’s (Moulin Rouge), and the Depression.

And here are the promised Organic Armor pasties as modeled by the lovely Ashley. We’ve just gotten started with these, sold out of the 1st small batch. Would love your input on them.

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