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Monday, August 4, 2008

Robert Adler burlesque photos, and thoughts on burlesque then and now

As I was doing a search for burlesque stuff in Google, I came across some old notices announcing that there was a showing of Robert Adler's burlesque photos in San Francisco in April/May of this year.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the exhibition. but I did find his site at, which features some of the photos and a text description of his experiences at the Trocadero in Philadelphia in the early 1970s.

What strikes me as I read it is how burlesque seems to have changed in the almost 40 years since he took those pictures. Well, the pasties are still there. And the emphasis on performance and dancing skills is still there. Some things seemed to have changed, however.

These days, it seems--at least in San Francisco--that there are often more women in the audience than men. In the 1970s, Adler implies that mostly men watched the performers, as well as preyed upon them.

Also, the performers had a circuit in which they travelled from city to city, performing at different theaters to eke out a living. Now, it seems like many of the women have regular day jobs--where they eke out a living, hehe--and perform in shows at night as a form of artistic self-expression.

Which is not to say that there aren't performers who travel to different cities to shake and shimmy. Many of them do, and some of them make a living being in burlesque. The impression that I get, however, is that being in burlesque in the 1970s was a pretty grim kind of existence, where the women were exploited by men as they tried to survive.

Now, however, it seems that the performers are empowered by performing, and enjoy it immensely. Perhaps that is why burlesque has enjoyed a revival. It's been a renewal of an art form powered by women, for women and men.

If you are currently a burlesque performer, how would you describe your experience in burlesque? I'm not directly involved with burlesque, but from the people I've talked to and from what I've read, burlesque has evolved into something different from it's last incarnation.
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