Is there a difference between burlesque and stripping? Of course there is. There are actually countless differences, too many for me to relate at this time. In fact, Jo Boobs, headmistress of the NY School of Burlesque, has spent countless hours discussing this very topic on everything from blogs to TV shows to NYU panels. (More on this at the end of the post.) But the real fact of the matter is that anyone who calls a performer a stripper is, clearly, just an insecure human being. And besides, what is wrong with strippers anyway?
Allow me to make one thing clear: I am not a stripper. In fact, I was just nominated for an award for some of the contributiona I make in my community. Not that strippers are “bad” or that I have anything against them as people at all, it’s just that when you work with children as I do, I believe that being an excellent role model is of the utmost importance. But please allow me to share that some of the nicest, smartest and most talented women I know have been “exotic dancers” at one point in their lives and are not the stereotypically drug-addled, abused mess of a woman many ignorant people seem to believe them to be. In fact, I would wager that some of the women I know who have “shaken their money makers” to get through school are probably treating your children when they sprain their ankle, have written the book you’re reading right now, are standing in line next to you at the Food Co-Op or are even in a laboratory researching cutting edge science to prevent you from getting breast cancer. Strippers are people, too. And it might surprise you if you knew who, on a daily basis, you encounter that may be or have been strippers. This goes for men, too!
But please allow me to get back to my point. What is the main difference between stripping and burlesque? Let’s start with strippers.
Strippers work in strip clubs for typically a six-hour shift and dance on stage, typically in three-song sets with more skin revealed as each song ends. Her clothing usually consists of a single dress – long or short gown depending on the rules of the club – high heels and a g-string. The goal of this nine-minute “preview” is to showcase the dancer’s body, moves, personality, sensuality, etc to pique the interest of a man in the room. A man who paid a cover to get into the club. A man she hopes will buy lap dances from her or, ultimately, pay to bring her into a private room for a minimum of an hour for private dances. Not sex, mind you. Just one-on-one time. MOST strippers are not prostitutes. MOST nurses are not prostitutes. MOST mothers on the playground who you see are not prostitutes. But yes, some are. (An investigation for my thesis about underground prostitution in NYC is a blog post, albeit an interesting one, for another time). Strippers, and I do hope this is still true for them in this shaky economy, make a pretty good amount of money each night. They must pay a “house fee” ranging from, depending on the club, anywhere from $20 to $300 a night, sort of like a hairstylist paying for a chair at a salon. The dancer (as I prefer to refer to these women) is also obligated to “tip out” the bar staff, security staff and DJ. So at the end of the night, you can wager that this type of entertainer, especially in NYC, is leaving with at least a few hundred dollars. Not bad for a night of no-touching dances. It’s not an easy job, but it is a legitimate way for a woman to earn money.
Next, let’s talk about burlesque performers. Now, I need it to be known that I am not a burlesque performer, either. I know this may confuse many simpletons out there who find it easier to label people and assign them to what I refer to as a “psychic box”, but my art is a lot harder to compartmentalize and package so easily. Thankfully so.
Burlesque performers, I find, are inspired by a concept or a piece of music and create a theatrical, comedic or classic “striptease” to the piece of music. This involves a costume that is usually pretty detailed and comprehensive, and the act tells something of a story. Most performers do one to two acts in a night at a venue designated for the show with others performing the same style of acts. For one act a performer can make anywhere between $20 and $100 depending on the show and venue. These performances never include a lap dance or private time with an audience member, although in THE SUNDAY SHOW the grand prize of the raffle is a comedic, choreographed “lap dance” delivered by whatever character is hosting (e.g. Sarah Palin, Amy Winehouse, Anna Nicole Smith, Judy Garland). As a side note, I included this in my show for three reasons: as a nod to my feelings on the exploitation of women, the history of burlesque and its roots in striptease and basically as a joke, de-sexualizing the idea of a lap dance. In the beginning of my show back in 2008, a few people, performers, who had not even seen it but had heard about the lap dance in the show were up in arms about it, even wicked in their behavior and actions. The stigma associated with the concept was fascinating to me to say the least, and now that it is a revered part of every show I am grateful for my diligence and dedication to my ideas and work.
I always understood that the difference between strippers and burlesquers is that strippers dance to earn a living, support a lifestyle or save for a cause and the money made by burlesquers typically goes into purchasing materials for their next costume. They’re not in it for the money but the art of it. There are very few burlesque performers who earn their living solely from performing burlesque.
But despite the differences, the haters hate on. It’s funny how people can spin their own warped version of the truth and actually begin to believe it. Regardless of age or accomplishments, some people live in such a state of denial and delusion about their own lives that they fail to recognize how lucky they actually are, instead wasting their precious days on earth slandering, attempting to destroy others who are actually out of the house, into the fold and improving not only art but their own world around them. Wicked, as we all know, never really wins in the end. But it sure is fun watching the wicked fail. Who doesn’t cheer a little every time the witch melts into a puddle in The Wizard of Oz? (Reference: http://www.movieclips.com/icda-im-melting/) Lucky for me, I feed off of negativity and darkness. That’s why I am a comedienne. Or…am I?
For further information on the differences between stripping and burlesque, please visit http://coilhouse.net/2010/01/jo-boobs-teaches-the-va-va-voom/ to find a wonderful interview with Jo Boobs on the subject.
And tell me, just for a laugh, is the stripper the problem in this picture?