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.