The Roots and Routes of Burlesque and New Burlesque

This is one of my three reading lists for my Second Examination in the Ph.D. Program in Theatre at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Read more about this project on my website.

Burlesque is a genre that seems to have had nine lives, and historians and critics have kept defending its legitimacy. It has repeatedly been declared dead, taken up again, re-performed, picked apart, scorned, and reclaimed. It has been defined as pure comedy, erotic entertainment intended solely for men, but also offensive, feminist, and a queer art form.

The striptease and the figure of the stripper are usually regarded as central tropes of the genre. For example, during the “Golden Age” of burlesque — the 1910s–1930s — Gypsy Rose Lee is well-known for her attempt to legitimize the element of the stripper by renaming herself an “ecdysiast.” But according to most historians of burlesque, the stripper and the striptease came about only later in the development of the form. The striptease is often blamed for bringing the genre’s Golden Age to an end, with closings of burlesque theaters in many cities around the end of the 1920s and the early 1930s; in New York, specifically, in 1937. But it is also integral to the millennial burlesque (or what has been referred to as “neo-burlesque”), indeed what defines it.

This historical field, then, will examine accounts of the roots of burlesque in Europe, particularly late 19th Century England and France, as well as its later history in New York City and around the United States. In addition to examining the way striptease functioned in burlesque, I am interested in pursuing such questions as: What was burlesque’s relationship to vaudeville and how was it circulated among other and later popular entertainments, including the musical revues, film and early television? What role does nostalgia play in “re-performances” of burlesque in the later the 20th century with shows such as Sugar Babies and Ann Corio’s This Was Burlesque as well as the popular neo-burlesque movement?

Adviser: Professor James Wilson.


  1. Adams, Katherine H., Michael L. Keene, and Jennifer C. Koella. Seeing the American Woman, 1880-1920: The Social Impact of the Visual Media Explosion. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012.
  2. Allen, Robert C. Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
  3. Brooks, Siobhan. Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010.
  4. Buszek, Maria Elena. Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.
  5. Davis, Andrew. Baggy Pants Comedy: Burlesque and the Oral Tradition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
  6. DesRochers, Rick. The New Humor in the Progressive Era: Americanization and the Vaudeville Comedian. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  7. Egan, R. Danielle, Katherine Frank, and Merri Lisa Johnson, eds. Flesh For Fantasy: Producing and Consuming Exotic Dance. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006.
  8. Erdman, Andrew L. Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals and the Mass Marketing of Amusement, 1895-1915. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2004.
  9. Frankel, Noralee. Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  10. Friedman, Andrea. Prurient Interests: Gender, Democracy, and Obscenity in New York City, 1909- 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
  11. Glasscock, Jessica. Striptease: From Gaslight To Spotlight. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2003.
  12. Latham, Angela J. Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2000.
  13. Lewis, Robert M. From Traveling Show to Vaudeville: Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830-1910. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
  14. Liepe-Levinson, Katherine. Strip Show: Performances of Gender and Desire. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
  15. McNamara, Brooks. The New York Concert Saloon: The Devil’s Own Nights. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  16. Miller, Neil, and Peter Johnson. Banned in Boston: The Watch and Ward Society’s Crusade Against Books, Burlesque, and the Social Evil. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.
  17. Price-Glynn, Kim. Strip Club: Gender, Power, and Sex Work. New York: New York University Press, 2010.
  18. Roach, Catherine M. Stripping, Sex, and Popular Culture. New York: Berg, 2007.
  19. Rodger, Gillian. Champagne Charlie and Pretty Jemima: Variety Theater in the Nineteenth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010.
  20. Ross, Becki. Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex and Sin in Postwar Vancouver. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2009.
  21. Sanders, Teela, and Kate Hardy. Flexible Workers: Labour, Regulation and the Political Economy of the Stripping Industry. New York and London: Routledge, 2014.
  22. Scott, Shelley, and Reid Gilbert, ed. “Burlesque.” Special issue, Canadian Theatre Review, no. 158 (Spring 2014).
  23. Shteir, Rachel. Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  24. Sterry, David. Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skates & Chippendales. Edinburgh and New York: Canongate, 2007.
  25. Willson, Jacki. The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2008.

Articles and Chapters

  1. Ashby, LeRoy. “‘The Billion-dollar Smile: From Burlesque to Vaudeville and Amusement Parks.” In With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830, 107–142. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006.
  2. Aston, Elaine, and Geraldine Harris. “The Ghosts of New Burlesque.” In A Good Night Out for the Girls: Popular Feminisms in Contemporary Theatre and Performance, 134–158. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  3. Bachman, Merle. “A Real ‘Yankee’: Yekl as a Yiddish Burlesque.” In Recovering “Yiddishland”: Threshold Moments in American Literature, 43–80. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008.
  4. Bradley-Engen, Mindy S., and Jeffery T. Ulmer. “Social Worlds of Stripping: The Processual Orders of Exotic Dance.” The Sociological Quarterly 50, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 29–60, doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2008.01132.x.
  5. Bratton, Jacky. “The Business of British Burlesque.” In Women and Comedy: History, Theory, Practice, edited by Peter Dickinson, Anne Higgins, Paul Matthew St. Pierre, Diana Solomon, and Sean Zwagerman, 79–96. Lanham, Maryland: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2013.
  6. Brown, Jayna. “‘Egyptian Beauties’ and ‘Creole Queens’: The Performance of City and Empire on the Fin-de-Siècle Black Burlesque Stage.” In Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern, 92–127. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
  7. Burfoot, Annette. “From La Bambola to a Toronto Striptease: Drawing Out Public Consent to Gender Differentiation with Anatomical Material.” In Gender, Health, and Popular Culture: Historical Perspectives, edited by Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, 175–192. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011.
  8. Commane, Gemma Ruth. “Bad Girls and Dirty Bodies: Performative Histories and Transformative Styles.” In Queering Paradigms, edited by Burkhard Scherer, 49–64. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.
  9. Elledge, Jim. “‘Artfully Dressed in Woman’s Clothing’: Drag Queens on Chicago’s Burlesque Stage; An Account from the Summer of 1909.” In Literature, Pop Art, and Performance, edited by Jim Elledge. Vol. 2 of Queers in American Popular Culture, edited by Jim Elledge, 211–228. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010.
  10. Ewing, Tabetha. “Bad Places: Sedition, Everyday Speech, and Performance in the Café of Enlightenment Paris.” In The Thinking Space: The Cafe as a Cultural Institution in Paris, Italy and Vienna, edited by Leona Rittner, W. Scott Haine, and Jeffrey H. Jackson. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013.
  11. Hanna, Judith Lynne. “Dance and Sexuality: Many Moves.” The Journal of Sex Research 47, no. 2/3 (March–June 2010): 212-241.
  12. Holland, Samantha and Feona Attwood. “Keeping Fit in Six Inch Heels: The Mainstreaming of Pole Dancing.” In Mainstreaming Sex: The Sexualization of Western Culture, edited by Feona Attwood, 165–182. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009.
  13. Hubbard, Phil. “Opposing Striptopia: The Embattled Spaces of Adult Entertainment.” Sexualities 12, no. 6 (2009): 721-745.
  14. Lipton, Martina. “Localism and Modern British Pantomime.” In A World of Popular Entertainments: An Edited Volume of Critical Essays, edited by Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow, 55–67. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012.
  15. Mansbridge, Joanna. “The Comic Bodies and Obscene Voices of Burlesque.”  In Women and Comedy: History, Theory, Practice, edited by Peter Dickinson, Anne Higgins, Paul Matthew St. Pierre, Diana Solomon, and Sean Zwagerman, 97–110. Lanham, Maryland: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2013.
  16. Nally, Claire. “Cross-dressing and Grrrly Shows: Twenty-first Century Burlesque.” In Naked Exhibitionism: Gendered Performance and Public Exposure, edited by Claire Nally and Angela Smith, 109–136. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013.
  17. Owen, Louise. “‘Work That Body’: Precarity and Femininity in the New Economy.” TDR 56, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 78–94.
  18. Pullen, Kirsten. “Burlesque, Breeches, and Blondes: Illegitimate Nineteenth-Century Cultural and Theatrical Performance.” In Actresses and Whores: On Stage and in Society, 93–103. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  19. Ross, Becki, and Kim Greenwell. “Spectacular Striptease: Performing the Sexual and Racial Other in Vancouver, B.C., 1945-1975.” In Journal of Women’s History 17, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 137–164, doi:10.1353/jowh.2005.0012.
  20. Ross, Becki L. “Entertaining Femininities: The Embodied Exhibitions of Striptease and Sport, 1950-1975.” In Physical Culture, Power, and the Body, edited by Jennifer Hargreaves and Patricia Vertinsky, 121–141. New York and London: Routledge, 2007.
  21. Savran, David. “Pandering to the ‘Intelligent Minority’.” In Highbrow/Lowdown: Theater, Jazz, and the Making of the New Middle Class, 103–138. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009.
  22. Saxon, Theresa. “‘A Pair of Handsome Legs’: Women on Stage, Bodies on Show, in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Theatre.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 15, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 27–44.
  23. Stober, JoAnne. “Vaudeville: The Incarnation, Transformation, and Resilience of an Entertainment Form.” In Residual Media, edited by Charles R. Acland, 133–155. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  24. Tapper, Gordon A. “Morton Minsky Reads The Bridge: ‘National Winter Garden’ and the Meaning of Burlesque.” In The Machine that Sings: Modernism, Hart Crane, and the Culture of the Body, 69–100. New York and London: Routledge, 2006.
  25. Wheeler, Leigh Ann. “‘We Don’t Want Our Boys and Girls in a Place of that Kind:’ Women’s Burlesque reform, 1925-1934.” In Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935, 96–114. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.


Friday Update: June 19

I haven’t done a Friday update in the past two weeks as I have been working hard (for the past three weeks) on my summer fellowship with The Futures Initiative. I have been creating a draft of an annual report, working on website and print graphics, and made big strides in establishing a visual identity for the organization. It has been an intense three weeks of working but for the two months, more or less, I am wholly focused on my second comprehensive exams. The Friday updates for the next two months or so, thus, will most likely focus on my reading strides, reflections on what that process is like for me, and potentially even some attempts by me to synthesize the material I am covering.

Trouble with Geotagging Tweets with Users

In my initial mapping project Boylesque in the Twitter World, I used TAGS to scrape tweets mentioning boylesque, then matched those tweets with their respective user and the user’s location (something TAGS can’t manage yet) via Twitter’s REST API. The method poses a number of problems, which I will describe in this blog post. Please note that the post is not complete and that I invite comments from you below if you think of other problems.

Detailed Method Description

Tweet —> scraping (TAGS) —> CSV file —> database (local script) —> if no tweet geotag: query REST API (100 requests/time) for user location (local script) —> insert into database (local script) —> export tweets matched with locations from database (local script) to CSV) —> import CSV into CartoDB —> map

Problem: Locations Do Not Necessarily Match Tweet Location

The method described above doesn’t account for tweets that a user posts while traveling, unless the tweet is already geotagged. (that’s a problem because only 1% of tweets are geotagged, according to “Only 30% of Messages on Twitter Are From the U.S.”1) They get tagged as if the tweet was posted in the user’s hometown. This means that the map currently really shows where users are located who tweet about boylesque. Help: Is there a way to get around this problem? If you think of anything, please comment below.

Friday Update

First, a note on the format of these updates: This project may be in its beginning phases but I am intent on following up weekly on here. I am inspired by Amanda Visconti’s (Literature_Geek) suggestion after having finished a digitally-born dissertation to have weekly updates sent to your advisers. She talked about it during the event “Evaluating, Valuing, and Promoting Digital Scholarship” at The Graduate Center on April 21, 2015 (see livestream from it here). Visconti not only sent her advisers updates every week but also tracked all her writing on GitHub to convey the time she spent on her dissertation.

If you’re interested in reading the tweets from the event, the wonderful Ben Miller (benmiller314) put together a Storify afterwards.

This week has been hard to get on top of my work because I just came back from a full week in Lansing, MI for the 2015 HASTAC conference, had Monday and Tuesday off with flu-like symptoms, and then attended a Strategy Retreat with HASTAC and The Futures Initiative for the past two days. Yet:

This was also the two weeks when the real planning and implementation of this site came about. While I had registered the domain names and a while back in the Spring, I hadn’t really gotten anything up and running yet. My goal had been to get the website running before the HASTAC conference, as I presented on digital scholarship (follow #remixthediss on twitter for the long conversation that started in September 2014!) at the conference but wasn’t ready to launch until after the conference. Darn — because of course at least one tweeter during the conference wanted to link out to my work and was only able to find a very early work-in-progress-ey site that I had created on the CUNY Academic Commons. Oh, well! Now there’s at least one place in the cyberverse where the project can be found.

Though technically it was last week (depending on what weekday you use to start counting), on Sunday I submitted a proposal to the American Society for Theatre Researchers, and their working group on Collaboration, Evaluation, and Access in Digital Theatre Scholarship. Clearly (considering my presentation on digital scholarship at the HASTAC 2015 Conference), this working group is just right for me at this time, and I really hope my proposal is accepted.

This week, I have also set up a separate MySQL database where I am trying to keep track of boylesque artists who have participated in shows over the past couple of years. The about page on this website is pulling information from this database and creating a neat looking list of boylesque artists. I wanted to create a page like this to be able to direct folks interested in knowing more about the people in the field of boylesque, and see what they are doing. The list also links out to the artists’ websites, and in the case I haven’t been able to find their websites, to their Twitter, Facebook, and lastly Instagram profiles. Hopefully, all of them have a social media presence in any of those forums. The list is by no means an exhaustive list of the artists active in boylesque shows all over the world. If you’re interested in attending boylesque shows, the easiest way is, of course, to keep an eye on social media such as Facebook and Twitter for the keyword but also to remember to get tickets for one of the annual boylesque festivals (now in New York, Seattle, New Orleans, Vienna, and soon London!).

A Digital (N)Ethnographic Journey through the Roots and Routes of Boylesque

I just submitted my first project proposal ever to ASTR—American Society for Theatre Researchers for this year’s conference in Seattle, WA Portland, OR (edit: June 24). The conference is organized in working groups around certain topics, all with processes and structure for presentations that are different. This year, I want to participate and thus submitted a proposal to one of two working groups on digital humanities: Collaboration, Evaluation, and Access in Digital Theatre Scholarship. The working session will be structured with an hour-long discussion of 10-12 page long papers circulated before the conference, addressing questions of collaboration, evaluation, and access. After that, another hour will follow of digital poster presentations—”a hands-on interactive session during which participants demonstrate (via their own laptops) a particular research methodology that makes use of digital tools, and engage in discussion with attendees,” as the website states.

My proposal, in its entirety, can be read here:

Self-identified male bodies in burlesque has a history that goes further back than is normally considered in accounts of burlesque history and are an under-theorized absence in the many accounts of burlesque. My dissertation addresses the history and political aspects of boylesque—a fairly new genre growing out of the neo-burlesque movement. I contextualize the genre and the employment of the term boylesque in the larger history of male striptease in New York, the US, and globally.

My dissertation is a born-digital project where (n)ethnographic research into social media conversations around the genre governs the formulation of my initial research questions. I am mapping these conversations by scraping Twitter and geotagging the conversations over time in CartoDB. The dissertation is being constructed in the open-source platform Scalar which can integrate the maps and other media into the text.

Methodologically, I want to develop new ways, through technology, to engage with the historical and contemporary subjects of my dissertation in ways that can involve them in the longer process of both participating in as well as creating a research project, and make the project accessible to audiences outside the traditional boundaries of academia. In all, the dissertation project is developed in and with the public, and thus situated in the intersection of Public and Digital Humanities.

For convenience, I have posted the entire Call for Papers request here:

With the proliferation of digital projects in theatre and performance studies, new questions arise about technologically infused research methodologies and the availability of digital tools. How can we properly recognize work by technical consultants and designers? How should institutions evaluate not only the findings of digital projects but also code or other artifacts of digital research? How might digital research restrict access by scholars and students without proper resources (financial, technical, human)? This working session aims both to provide a platform for sharing current digital scholarship and to permit reflection on the political implications of digital research.

The three issues of collaboration, evaluation, and access, while certainly not new to scholars, are particularly poignant in digital work. The problems arise no matter what the content of the material; thus, this session invites the participation of scholars working in any aspect of theatre and performances studies, representing a diverse array of topics and time periods. Digital scholarship challenges a traditional humanist ethos of solitary thought. We will consider how digital scholarship demands that we recognize the wider polity involved in all forms of critical work. Evaluating digital projects raises similar challenges. The multiplicity of skills required for digital scholarship and the necessary division of labor may require assessment more like that for creative work than for a traditional monograph. In both cases, theatre and performance studies’ long commitment to practice-based research may provide a useful model for thinking about collaboration in and the evaluation of digital scholarship. Finally, digital humanities’ utopian vision of open access (free online texts, digital archives) disguises other problems of accessibility: what kind of financial and infrastructural resources are required to support digital work? And how can we ensure that the digital humanities do not reproduce the normatively white, male structure that dominates the tech world in Silicon Valley? Digital humanities invites us to consider these political questions anew.

A First Step

This is the first step that I am making towards my digitally-born dissertation in Theatre and Performance Studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Over the next few years, I will try to spend quite a bit on this blog, both posting (and hoping for comments) on draft writing, but also describe some of the behind-the-stage dissertation work, sharing cool archival finds and artist portraits, and perhaps also, parallel to that, make sure to highlight the often invisible work of digital humanities work (see chapter 2 in this book)!

If you’d like to find out more about my work generally, you can go to my website, read my biography and see my portfolio.