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The Rise of the New Burlesque   
by Croydon J Hounslow

The closure of the Lord Chamberlain's office in 1968 marked the abolition of formal censorship in the UK theatre and a widespread relaxing of restrictions on the nature of material available for public display on the stage. This stroke more than anything else paved the way for entrepreneurs such as Peter Stringfellow and Paul Raymond to bring strip bars featuring full nudity into the mainstream where they found a receptive and affluent audience ready to spend exorbitant amounts of money on sex entertainment and fund the industry's rapid expansion into the multi billion pound market of today. Before the restrictions were lifted, however, the sex entertainment industry took a very different form, and one of the unforeseen effects of deregulation was that a certain singular and esoteric style of performance dropped rapidly out of vogue, and for a number of years pretty much died out.

They type of burlesque of revue theatre that developed as a response to the regulations and restrictions imposed by the Lord Chamberlain's office on theatre performance, had a peculiar charm that is about as far from the predictable and soulless routines favoured by modern strippers as is possible to get. In a world much less saturated with sexual imagery than the one in which we live today, a society indeed which now looks quite coy and prim from our 'sophisticated' viewpoint, burlesque striptease emerged as a means of exploiting the loopholes left by the censors rulings to create a type of show that was sexually titillating but stopped short of any illegality. Thankfully for those involved in the industry the public's threshold of sexual stimulation in those days was considerably lower (due at least partly, no doubt, to the restriction of sexual material in daily life by censorship laws) and so shows which would no doubt be viewed as unbearably tame by the average customer at Stringfellows or Sophisticats today were viewed as scandalously lurid and explicit which, of course, is the main selling point of sex entertainment in general.

The charm of these performances, brought about by this social conflict between the firm, proscriptive hand of the state and the human impulse toward sexuality and sensuality, is something almost entirely lost in modern day striptease. It may shock you to learn this, dear reader, but in the course of my career as an investigative journalist I have, on occasion, visited strip clubs. The modern strip bar, unencumbered by any concerns of censorship finds itself able to cut straight to the chase; the point of the exercise is, of course, to exploit the wallets of the (almost exclusively) male clientele as quickly and for as much money as possible. The consensus seems to be that the best way to do this is via a mechanically performed unimaginitive routine that dispenses with all artfulness and subtlety and cuts straight to the pink bits as quickly as possible. In fact these days we seem to get all of the strip and none of the tease.

Thankfully, as fashion's fickle finger slowly rotates looking for a new muse, the early 20th century is emerging as this years new source of inspiration and/or shameless pilfering. With high-profile artists such as Christina Aguilera and Outkast making forays into the gin-joint iconography of prohibition-era America and longer-standing clubs and bars such as Lady Luck and Volupte enjoying a surge of mainstream popularity on this side of the atlantic, the phoenix of burlesque is beginning to rise from the ashes and its singular charm and humour, along with an old school sex appeal that revolves around that which is left to the imagination, rather than flashed in the face.

C J Hounslow

______________________
Copyright 2006

 


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