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The 1940s burlesque star, Ann Corio, came up with that cute definition of classic burlesque: deciduous kinesthetics. The lady was a wordsmith. Me and some buddies from my bowling alley days used to drive to downtown LA for a burlesque show at the Follies Theatre on Main Street. That was back about 1957.
It was more of a lark than anything else. At least it was for me. Burlesque never really turned me on. The disrobing was more stylized and artistic than sexy, and the burlesque dancers were usually too old for my taste. (I was about 18 at the time.) But I enjoyed laughing at the baggy pants comedians, and I bonded with my fellow yahoos from Compton by hooting and hollering. We thought we could get the dancers to shed their pasties if we could show enough enthusiasm. (They never did, of course, because as long as they kept their pasties on, they remained on the right side of the law.)
Burlesque at the Follies Theatre retained a taste of its origins in cabaret and vaudeville. The live music was provided by a small band in the pit, though that band often consisted of little more than a snare drum for punctuating the corny jokes (called the sting), and a sax and a piano for accompanying the burlesque dancing. A thrust of the dancer’s hips or groin was often accompanied by a rim shot on the snare.
The show would begin with a 1930s and 1940s movie short, often starring the Three Stooges. Then it would move to live theater, starring a couple of baggy pants comedians and a busty woman in dishabille. Her job was to look sexy and serve as the foil for the comedians’ racy jokes. Then it was finally time for what the audience was waiting for, the main feature, a burlesque dancer.
The Follies Theatre had no shortage of burlesque dancers. LA was right next to Hollywood, with its starlets who, down on their luck, could trade on their looks to make a few bucks in a burlesque house. More importantly, the Follies Theatre was the main burlesque house in LA, so all the big burlesque stars would end up there sooner or later. This was the 1950s, so Betty Rowland (the Ball of Fire), Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, and Lili St. Cyr all played the Follies.
I haven’t given much thought to burlesque in a while, but it is apparently still a thing. In fact, according to Google, we have three or four burlesque houses right here in Portland, so I assume that most big cities have at least a couple. We even had something called the Oregon Burlesque Festival take place last year. And of course, Las Vegas and Reno have some extravagant burlesque shows. Marie and I attended one in Vegas — I think it was in The Flamingo — a few years back.
Burlesque sounds positively old-fashioned, doesn’t it? If a young man today wants to get turned on, he can visit porn websites or engage in cybersex (whatever that is). But if he wants a live show, with music, low comedy, and woman who takes off her clothes in an artistic way, old-fashioned burlesque is his jam.Published in