The A-Z of burlesque

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As the London Burlesque Festival shimmies into town, let Time Out guide you through its myriad forms, from bearlesque to grotesque. Not forgetting the nipple tassels and frilly knickers, of course

  • For the best in burlesque every week, click here for all Cabaret and Burlesque events.

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    It's showtime! (image © Rob Greig)

    A is for…

    Adult entertainment

    Burlesque is strictly for grown-ups. Put simply, it’s a striptease to music with props. Remember, though, that the genre originated in the days of vaudeville and music halls – it’s all about the wink and the tease.

    B is for…

    Broken Hearts

    are Amber and Nisha, both 24-year-old Londoners, who dress as tiny showgirls and DJ at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and The Rakehell’s Revels. Their 1950s polka dot record boxes are chock-full of period-influenced swing and rock ’n’ roll, and the girls use a red telephone handset rather than headphones because it doesn’t mess up their hair. ‘I Hate My Evil Friend’ is their debut record (influenced by Phil Spector and 1960s girl groups, produced by Nathan J Whitey); it’s out on Mute’s Irregular imprint this summer (www.myspace.com/2brokenhearts).


    Bearlesque

    Think burlesque and the safe money says that hairy gay blokes performing a Viking Pole Dance doesn’t spring immediately to mind. It should, though, because this burly, bristly burlesque troupe are hot, hot, hot. See them every Thursday at VauxhallVille Cabaret at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

    Bethnal Green Working

    Men’s Club Home to Whoopee’s Hip Hip and Tournament of Tease, and no stranger to bizarre burlesque turns on its broken love heart-lit stage.

    C is for…

    Carbon Zero

    Burlesque is going eco-friendly. Supper club Bonobo Presents’s next event at the Café Royal’s Grill Room features the Bees Knees on May 17 and will be ‘carbon zero’. Money from each ticket will go towards offsetting the eleven tonnes they estimate the event will cause.

    Classes

    The Burlesque Factory starts on May 9 (www.burlesquefactory.com); Jo King’s School of Burlesque hosts the drop-in Razzle Dazzle every Thursday at the Dance Attic, and Tease ’n’ Twirl, a one-day workshop, on May 20 at their Ballards Lane studio (www.londonschoolofstriptease.co.uk).

    Classic routines

    Famous and regularly used performances include the fan-dance [see Amber Topaz, above left, and Sally Rand, above], wearing a costume of balloons and the reverse striptease.

    D is for…

    Dita Von Teese

    The ex-Mrs Marilyn Manson caused a near riot at her London shows last October. Didn’t see it? Blow $85 and console yourself with a pair of her used nylon stockings, available from her website (www.dita.net).

    E is for…

    Exotic World Museum

    That’s right – burlesque has a museum. But you have to go to Las Vegas to see it (www.exoticworldusa.org).

    F is for…

    Fancy Chance

    The self-proclaimed ‘burlesque terrorist’ Ms Chance dominates the comic burlesque scene with performances about the consequences of eating magic mushrooms and being jilted at the altar. She will be performing the finale at the V&A’s Friday Late Surrealist Ball on May 25. ‘Think seafood and dialtones,’ she suggests.

    Fetish

    Unsuprisingly, burlesque features big on the fetish scenes. Look out for the Pearl Necklace, Torture Garden’s Burlesque Ball and part of the London Fetish Weekend, on May 20 (www.torturegarden.com).

    G is for…

    Grotesque burlesque

    Otherwise known as carnivalesque, as invented by the high-end artist, Marisa Carnesky. Her edgy, political performances include one in which she plays Eve, eats an apple and strips while it’s squashed in her mouth. For her famous VE Day show she pulled a Union Jack out of her vagina.

    Gwendoline Lamour

    Think Britain can’t do pin-up glamour? A few slack-jawed moments watching Miss Lamour’s ‘Crystal Shoe’ performance might just change your mind. She shares the knowledge, running the School of G’lamour (www.gwendolinelamour.com).

    H is for…

    History

    As in ‘know your’. Influential names to drop include: Lydia Thompson and her blondes – in 1860s New York, this British troupe became the city’s biggest Broadway sensation, and also shared stage space with a baby hippo; Sally Rand who made the ostrich feather fan dance famous in 1933; and Gypsy Rose Lee, one the biggest stars at NYC’s 1940s seedy burlesque den, Minksy’s, and frequently arrested as a result, Lee made the tease casual and even more saucy as a result.

    I is for…

    Immodesty Blaize

    As seen recently on ‘Faking It’, Britain’s queen of burlesque commands big bucks on the corporate circuit. Famous for her giant rocking horse prop and fabulous, Liberace-like costumes, you’ll have to wait until October for the next series of public dates.

    J is for…

    Jokes

    Comedy. Spoofs. Pastiche. Slapstick. It’s what burlesque is all about.

    Julie Atlas Muz

    At last November’s Immodesty Tease, Muz stood in the middle of the stage, which was dark save for the harsh spotlight, tied from neck to toe in bondage cords. She wriggled and seemingly dislocated joints to the sounds of ‘You Don’t Own Me’ before tearing off her blindfold and sticking her middle finger up. Jaded, cheap thrills burlesque? Miss Muz is going to have you for breakfast (www.julieatlasmuz.com).

    K is for…

    Koko

    This opulent, multi-tiered music hall is where Dita Von Teese did her only official public performance last year. (www.koko.uk.com). See also Royal Crown Revue.

    L is for…

    London Burlesque Festival

    Las Vegas has Miss Exotic World, NYC has the New York Burlesque Festival, now London has a burlesque festival to call its own, thanks to Chaz Royal. Running from May 9-12, with showcases at Madame JoJo’s, the Soho Revue Bar, Neighbourhood and Bush Hall (www.londonburlesquefest.com).

    M is for…

    Ministry of Burlesque

    Started in Glasgow, this is an online burlesque collective without equal (www.ministryofburlesque.com). Male Tournament of Tease The final burlesque frontier is men doing burlesque for women, something this talent show is hoping to rectify at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club on May 30 and June 27, with the grand final on July 19. To enter: www.thewhoopeeclub.com.

    N is for…

    Nymphaeum

    Burlesque in the water. Inspired by Busby Berkeley’s 1930s-’40s mega-aqua musicals, the Whoopee Club’s ode to synchronised swimming wowed sold-out crowds last November at the Porchester Baths, Bayswater. Expect the show to move to outdoor lidos this summer.

    O is for…

    Oh My God I Miss You!

    This monthly burlesque club at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club flips between hellfire and damnation (The Hellfire Club) and a circus theme (Get In The Ring). The next date is May 25.

    P is for…

    Pasties

    Those things the tassels hang off? They’re called nipple pasties.

    Props

    Fans, stockings, boas, gloves and hats. Also giant bubbles, oyster shells, martini glasses, birdcages and underwear covered with balloons.

    Q is for…

    Queerlesque

    Burlesque with a queer twist. Specifically, Killpussy’s ‘It’s My Birthday Slut Suit’ performance, as seen this Saturday at Club Wotever at The Master’s Club in Soho.

    R is for…

    Royal Crown Revue

    Promising ‘a sensational summit meeting of swing and burlesque’ on May 10, the Ministry of Burlesque co-presents this Vegas-sleaze event at Koko with turns from Kittie Klaw, Venus Envy and the Hurly Burly Girlys.

    S is for…

    Shimmy

    One of the most famous burlesque moves. Throw your shoulders back and shake what God gave you.

    Soho Revue Bar

    Once an erotic centre of the world, always an erotic centre of the world. Pole-dancing clowns, international drag queens and burlesque beauties by the barrel-load.

    T is for…

    Tassels

    Which famously swing around during a performance’s finale, and sometimes even in opposite directions at once. £14.99 a pair from www.nippletassels.co.uk

    U is for…

    Underwear

    As in, a girl’s gotta have great… Frilly French knickers are more popular with performers than dental-floss G-strings, and vintage lace beats modern fibres hands down. See www.opheliafancy.com

    V is for…

    Volupté

    A pretty Holborn basement supper club, home to the fortnightly Afternoon Tease, which combines tea, cakes and burlesque performances and the weekly Burlesque is Booming!

    W is for…

    The Whoopee Club

    There are numerous strings to the Whoopee Club’s (www.thewhoopeeclub.com) bow: agency for several hundred burlesque, circus, cabaret and ‘curiosity’ performers; burlesque try-out nights such as The Tournament of Tease (see also Male Tournament of Tease); ‘anarchic cabaret’ events like Hip Hip this Friday at the Cobden Club and May 25 at BGWMC; and themed opulent mega-productions every few months (see Nymphaeum).

    X is for…

    X-Rated

    Something burlesque isn’t, as the underwear and nipple tassels stay on. Unless, of course, there’s been a wardrobe malfunction.

    Y is for…

    Yelling

    Whistling is fine, clapping expected… but yelling ‘Get your kit off’? We think not.

    Z is for…

    Ziegfeld

    Follies A series of Broadway shows ran which from 1907-1931 and ‘celebrated the live female form as art’. Read: hundreds of pretty and elaborately-dressed chorus girls doing syncronised high-kicks.For the best in burlesque every week, click here for all Cabaret and Burlesque events.

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Users say

24 comments
c adams
c adams

C is for Chrisalys circus sideshow freak artist

EL NINO
EL NINO

HI YA COULD WE BE LISTED IN THIS SECTION PLEASE FOR BURLEQUE CLUB & DJ EL NINO - LADY KAMIKAZE CHEERS LADYLUCK NINO

burly Q
burly Q

wonderful A-Z . I must say, I have heard of everyone you mentioned - yet I have never heard of anyone being "begged" for in the comments. seems you did a great job. Now if only Time Out New York would run a similar feature.

Jojo
Jojo

Dusty who?

Des O'Connor
Des O'Connor

While I'm on the subject, you seem to have forgotten that D is for Dusty Limits. He may be a gin-soaked antipodean louche but he is the beating heart of the burlesque scene.

Des O'Connor
Des O'Connor

An A-Z of burlesque with no mention of Des O'Connor, ukulele wielding tit-singer for the noughties, is incomplete. I am sorry to have to draw this to your attention, but I trust that note will be taken in order to avoid the embarrassing recurrence of this error. Mr Des O'C

Chesty La Rue
Chesty La Rue

i think , for Ian Single to use the word Amateur in a derogatory sense, is poor research on his part. Burlesque is not neccessarily grounded in lavish, choreographed, glossy acts, but cheeky, often low budget, sexy, funny, even disturbing performances, which traditionally didnt have vast quantities of money thrown at them. Amatuers formed the roots of burlesque, and thats what a lot of these nights are celebrating. Lost Vagueness -another amazing event, wasnt mentioned either, but it wasn't an a-z of burlesque clubnights. Whilst many of the bigger events are amazing, size doesn't always matter. As Burlesque has become more mainstream im sorry to say that people have become a lot less friendly. The folks at Oh My God! I Miss You and Whoopee! for example have not lost sight of these values.

weesycrustybun
weesycrustybun

Hmmm.... Denise, there are 5 different people asking why the Flash Monkey were omitted from Simone's article- don't think that constitutes a mail out request for support! A mate told me about Simone's article on the TO website, and as a FM show attendee I quite rightly wondered why it wasn't mentioned. Nothing more sinister there. And I'm certain you haven't been cos I've never seen any city boys there- maybe you're thinking about another club? Anyway, there are plenty of good clubs/ shows to go round and it looks as if perhaps Simone hasn't seen them all yet- what other explanation can there be for missing out the FM show?? Hey ho!

Denise
Denise

Have Flash Monkey sent a mail-out to their friends asking them to comment weekls after the article came out?! Not smart advertising for their club night - you might meet these people there!!! Better to go to real burlesque shows like Whoopee and the Hellfire Club, leave Flash Monkey to the city boys. Bethnal Green 4eva!

chantelle duncan
chantelle duncan

Where is The Flash Monkey in this article? They are one of the initiators at bringing burlesque back into fashion and run a superb night at Cafe De Paris. Methinks either one hasn't done ones research or there's something fishnetty going on here.

suzy bowden
suzy bowden

Neo-Burlesque... 'Brechtian cabaret' be damned! What a load of intelectualising nonsense! You can't sub-divide Burlesque into tedious little categories: embrace it in all its guises and stop being so anally retentive!

weesycrustybun
weesycrustybun

Good to see that other people are singing the praises of the fab Flash Monkey shows- what a treat in a classic, classy west end venue. Any chances of an article about them soon? We know plenty now about the other prentenders to the throne, time to celebrate The Flash Monkey too!!

Ian Single
Ian Single

Patricia please read my comments I am agreeing with you I think that Flash Monkey is the best burlesque club in the world full stop. Who I am or my club is irrelevent. However I attend Flash Monkey all the time.

Patricia
Patricia

Ian who?? Club Noir what????? Maybe variety has been confined to Room 101 in Glasgow... you should come to London sometime. There's a great show called Flash Monkey presents 'Cabaret Casbah' and I'm sure you'd like it.

Ian Single
Ian Single

Again there seems to be ambiguity here. You mention Torture Garden as neo burlesque and allude to The Flash Monkey as not an exclusively burlesque show. I would argue that the shows you've mentioned are not exclusively burlesque either. To say that there is no room for Flash Monkey in a burlesque article on London seems totally misinformed in my opinion. I'm also worried that you should mention the word variety and burlesque in the same breath since variety has been consifned to room 101. You also seem to be saying that Flash Monkey practises the old fashioned variety burlesque show of old which is far from the truth. I would therefore like to hear from the author in print which of the shows you mentioned are exclusively burlesque. Over a cocktail or three is being rather flip I would say.

Jodie Emm
Jodie Emm

"The article does refer to some amateur acts and organisations which are in a diffrent league to The Flash Monkey." Ians having a laugh, right?!

Simone Baird
Simone Baird

Thanks for all of your comments! However the feature was only two pages and couldn't include the many great variety shows we're blessed with in London. While the fab but irregular Flash Monkey do include burlesque performers in their line-up, they're certainly not a exclusively burlesque show. Of course, for the purposes of the two page article, 'burlesque' means modern neo-burlesque and not the traditional, variety-show burlesque of old… but that's a whole other discussion over a cocktail or three!

Dom
Dom

Thanks for the good info. However, it seems that you forgot to mention the Flash Monkey, which to my opinion is one of the best blurlesque shows in town!

Moz Gamble
Moz Gamble

Amazing article - F is for the Flash Monkey Burlesque Bazaar and C is for Cafe de Paris. The Flash Monkey show at the Cafe de Paris is the leading burlesque show in London - bar none - and yet did not appear in the article. The show has migrated from Madame Jo Jos and is regularly sold out (capacity at Cafe de Paris) every time. The band (the eponymous Flash Monkey) is a 9 piece (plus) wonder - all music is live throughout the show which features many many world class acts. I bought the TIme Out for the burlesque feature expecting a review or at least a reference to the Flash Monkey show - I am not sure how the "best of London" burlesque show in London missed out ????

Tony Maggs
Tony Maggs

And 'R' is for Rockabaret - cabaret without the Kitch, Unashamedly Elitist Entertainment For Elegant Superstars. This Saturday 19th May angels rise from the ground and reach for the Grand Hall’s elegantly high ceiling. An abused Hobbit teaches Icarus to fly –with predictable results. Hellfire crackles in the garden of Eden, the terror of an uncertain eternity strikes a deathbed beauty – and we have the return of flaming nipple-tasseled burlesque superstar, Red Sarah. Neo-Burlesque, Brechtian cabaret, fire performances, aerialists, spectacular shows – all this, and so much more, while you party like Rock Stars to glammy, alternative sounds as good and evil, pain and pleasure, heaven and hell, sin and temptation cavort all around, elves of seduction surrounding as you gasp to maintain your pre-eminent sovereignty as undisputed star of the show!

Ian Single
Ian Single

I have just read the burlesque article by Simone Baird and as the owner of the biggest burlesque club in the world I simply cannot believe some glaring ommissions. I would not expect my Club Noir in Glasgow to be mentioned however to omit The Flash Monkey at The Cafe de Paris shows, dare I say it, poor research for the subject. David Wilson is the godfather of burlesque his club is THE burlesque club not only in London but therefore the world and not even a mention. The article does refer to some amateur acts and organisations which are in a diffrent league to The Flash Monkey. I am originally from London and living in Glasgow and have always boasted to my friends about how in the know Time Out is. Unfortunately this article is the exception. Ian Single

Ohmygodimissyou
Ohmygodimissyou

O is for......Oh My God! I Miss You.....Next night is actually 12th May for 'Grind 'A' Go-Go' A 1960s Go-Go extravaganza! and then Friday 18th for 'Get in the Ring' Circus mayhem! All a beth Grn WMC SEE! www.myspace.com/ohmygodimissyou or www.ohmygodimissyou.com for more info!