53 - Burlesque

A.H. Blackwell

Taking a look at feminine and female dance forms. I’ve done a little bit of research on this and have some past history that I can talk about. One of the things that got me started was a dancer my dad spoke about. He was in WWI in the nascent R.A.F. and he spoke of a music hall turn featuring a lady called Lottie Collins.

I looked up Lottie Collins in Wikipedia and found out that she wore flouncy skirts and kicked very high, revealing her stockings held up by sparkly suspenders. People could see her whole leg! This was scandalous in those days. She was British and a very popular symbol of the Naughty Nineties. Lottie went abroad to dance as well. Her dance was a skirt dance, a sort of Can-Can done as a solo dance with the flouncy skirts and the very high kicks. Here is the song.

Lottie Collins lost her drawers
Will you kindly lend her yours
Cause she’s going far away
To sing Ta-ra-ra Boom-Te-Ay,
Ta-ra-ra Boom-Te-Ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-Te-Ay
and so on.

I looked up skirt dance and apparently even respectable ladies back in the gay nineteys would do a graceful skirt dance, leaving out the high kicks but, perhaps, allowing an occasional shocking glimpse of ankle. Can you imagine!

When I went to youtube.com to try and look up ‘skirt dance’. What came up was belly dancing. My goodness, the costumes those ladies wear! Aside from being a belly dance this dance form, with the costume, and the pompoms and the spangles and what have you, is a skirt dance!

Leaving out the all the percussive effects with the heels and the castanets when you just look at the costume you can see that Flamenco is also a skirt dance.

Now Burlesque, and that is what I am working up to, is not a skirt dance. No, the skirt is off or, if it’s on, pretty soon it is off. My husband and I decided to take our vacation around where we were living at that time, which was Detroit. I had never been to a Burlesque show and wanted to see what it was like. We went downtown to this hall that was like an old movie palace. There was even a pit orchestra, absolutely essential for the timing to emphasize bumps and grinds, and for the drum rolls needed by the comedians for their punchlines.

Comedians like Eddie Cantor and Milton Berle got their start in Vaudeville, which was a theatre show featuring an assortment of short acts sometimes called ‘bits’ or sketches. Burlesque was the last shimmy-shake hurrah of vaudeville. There were actually baggy-pants comedians but I will get to them in a minute, first the ladies.

The ladies wore pasties with tassels on them over their bosoms and one very talented dancer could twirl these tassels in different directions. I wondered if she had a concealed motor or exactly how she did that.

Each artist that came on, as we watched this revue, had a different shtick, a slightly different take on the same old thing and the music from the pit orchestra was a hoot because it was going

Boomp ta boomp!
Boomp ta boomp!
Boomp ta boomp boomp BOOMP!
as they moved their flesh in different directions “Boomp ta boomp” – there goes one hip.
” Boomp ta boomp” – there goes another hip. “Boomp ta boomp boomp boomp!” – a triple pelvic thrust.

I found it entertaining. I wouldn’t say it turned me on but The chaps in the front row were certainly very interested.

Then, they brought on one lady who was certainly well past her prime. Her dimpled flesh resembled cottage cheese due to cellulite and you felt that if you poked a finger into her ample thigh that the impression would stay. She got up there and did basically the same “Boomp ta Boomp” routines as the other ladies but it was really strange to see it being done by this over-the-hill person. She was past her prime, but she knew the moves. She just about made it work because she knew the moves.

Now, the comedians. Oh, my goodness gracious! The reason for their baggy pants was that they did these blackout sketches in which the talent and the comedians would set up various unlikely scenarios with the exotic dancers as their foils (also known in the business as ‘straight men’.) I can tell you that the exotic dancers were much better at bouncing their flesh around than they were at acting. I’ve never ever heard such wooden dialog in my life but there they were. They were beautiful and the comedians just, basically, carried it.

The comics would get up to a point where they were going to do something very,very, very naughty with these ladies. Then they’d reach into their baggy pants, held up by suspenders, searching for something down there and BINGO! The lights would go out. It was a blackout. They did quite a few of these blackout sketches. It was a standard routine.

The comedians were pretty funny, in their own fashion. It wasn’t prime time television humour but it was what it was. the last gasp of vaudeville and vaudeville comedians before their acts were cleaned up and moved to television.

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2006

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