40 years ago, when the women’s movement attacked burlesque clubs for their objectification and exploitation of women, it did not seem that the protesters and the performers had much in common. But the ideals of feminism are found throughout the history of burlesque. The Burlesque Hall of Fame’s new ongoing exhibition Dancing the Revolution: Feminism in Burlesque History explores the feminist ideals that flow through and from the burlesque stage.
In the 19th century, when women were better appreciated as unseen, unheard helpmeets and homemakers, burlesque performers made women and women’s place very visible. They not only performed on stage, itself an affront to Victorian sensibilities, they owned their companies, traveled alone, and enjoyed a freedom few women of the time could imagine. Later stripteasers presented ideas about women’s bodies and sexualities that would not become mainstream until the late 20th century. Today, women in burlesque again create their own acts, produce their own shows, and speak their own minds – and use the stage to celebrate all bodies and sexualities, regardless of body shape, age, color, or physical ability.
Dancing the Revolution: Feminism in Burlesque History opens May 31, 2019, and will be on display indefinitely. It is included in the cost of admission.