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Burlesque vs. Cabaret – What is the difference?

“What I love about Cabaret and Burlesque is both shows allow the performers to be on same level as the audience. When I’m dancing for you its like 3d, right in your face.”

-Jennifer Kennedy

What is the difference between a Burlesque show and a Cabaret Show???

According to Wikipedia Cabaret is:

Cabaret is a form of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue—a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables (often dining or drinking) watching the performance being introduced by a master of ceremonies or emcee (MC).

Cabaret also refers to a Mediterranean-style brothel—a bar with tables and women who mingle with and entertain the clientele. Traditionally these establishments can also feature some form of stage entertainment, often singers and dancers.

In the United States, cabaret diverged into several different styles of performance mostly due to the influence of Jazz Music. Chicago cabaret focused intensely on the larger band ensembles and reached its peak in the speakeasies, and steakhouses (like The Palm) of the Prohibition Era.

New York cabaret never developed to feature a great deal of social commentary. When New York cabarets featured jazz, they tended to focus on famous vocalists likeNina SimoneBette MidlerEartha KittPeggy Lee, and Hildegarde rather than instrumental musicians. Cabaret in the United States began to decline in the 1960s, due to the rising popularity of rock concert shows and television variety shows.[citation needed] The art form still survives in various musical formats as well as in the Stand-up comedy format and in popular drag show performances.

Cabaret is currently undergoing a renaissance of sorts in the United States, particularly in New OrleansSeattlePhiladelphia and Portland, Oregon, as new generations of performers reinterpret the old forms in both music and theatre. Many contemporary cabaret groups in the United States and elsewhere feature a combination of original music, burlesque and political satire, as can be found in such groups as Cabaret Red Light and Leviathan: Political Cabaret. In New York City, since 1985, successful, enduring or innovative cabaret acts have been honored by the annual Bistro Awards.[1]



New Burlesque According to Wikipedia:

Burlesque is a humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody and sometimes extreme exaggeration.

New Burlesque

A new generation nostalgic for the spectacle and perceived glamour of the old times determined to bring burlesque back. This revival was pioneered independently in the early 1990s by Billie Madley’s “Cinema” and later with Ami Goodheart in “Dutch Weismann’s Follies” revues in New York, Michelle Carr’s “The Velvet Hammer” troupe in Los Angeles, and The Shim-Shamettes in New Orleans. In addition, and throughout the country, many individual performers were incorporating aspects of burlesque in their acts. These productions, inspired by the likes of Sally RandTempest StormGypsy Rose Lee and Lili St. Cyr, have themselves gone on to inspire a new generation of performers such as Dita Von Teese. In the case of such performers as Julie Atlas Muz and Agitprop groups like Cabaret Red Light, the revival of burlesque has also provided a new vehicle for political satire and performance art. The revival of roller derby also features elements of burlesque.[11]

Today New Burlesque has taken many forms, but all have the common trait of honoring one or more of burlesque’s previous incarnations, with acts including striptease, expensive costumes, bawdy humor, cabaret and more. There are modern burlesque performers and shows all over the world, and annual conventions such as the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival and the Miss Exotic World Pageant are held. In 2008, The New York Times noted that burlesque had made a comeback in the city’s art performance scene.




What is Burlesque?



Development of American burlesque

According to Wikipedia This is the definition of American Burlesque. What do you think?

While the American form of burlesque has its origins in 19th century music hall entertainments and vaudeville, in the early 20th century American burlesque re-emerged as a populist blend of satire, performance art, and adult entertainment featuring striptease and broad comedy acts that derived their name from the low comedy aspects of the literary genre known asburlesque. Here the term “burlesque” was used loosely to describe these adult revue shows in which striptease acts would perform—often with themes, characters or gimmicks—but classic striptease and “hootchy kootchy” dance were already forms in themselves and not automatically “burlesque” by default.

In burlesque, performers, usually female, often create elaborate sets with lush, colorful costumes, mood-appropriate music, and dramatic lighting, and may even include novelty acts, such as fire breathing or contortionists, to enhance the impact of their performance.

Put simply, burlesque means “in an upside down style”. Like its cousin, commedia dell’arte, burlesque turns social norms head over heels. Burlesque is a style of live entertainment that encompasses pastiche, parody, and wit. The genre traditionally encompasses a variety of acts such as dancing girls, chanson singers, comedians, mime artists, and striptease artistes, all satirical and with a saucy edge. The striptease element of burlesque became subject to extensive local legislation, leading to a theatrical form that titillated without falling foul of censors.

The American form also was highly influenced by 19th century English variety and music hall shows as developed in the 1840s, early in the Victorian era, a time of culture clashes between the social rules of established aristocracy and a working class society. Originally, burlesque featured shows that included comic sketches, oftenlampooning the social attitudes of the upper classes and their music (particularly parodies of opera songs), alternating with dance routines. It developed alongside vaudeville and ran on competing circuits. In Britain, burlesque continued its established position in theatreland and enjoyed its own theatres (such as the Olympic Theatre in London) and was largely a middle class pursuit, where the jokes relied on the audiences’ familiarity with known operas and artistic works.

In its heyday, American burlesque bore little resemblance to the earlier literary and musical burlesques of the UK (now known as “classical” or “traditional British” burlesque) which parodied widely known works of literature, theater, or music and did not feature striptease. Possibly due to historical social tensions between the upper classes and lower classes of society, much of the humor and entertainment of later American burlesque focused on lowbrow and ribald subjects.

The popular burlesque show of the 1870s through the 1920s referred to a raucous, somewhat bawdy style of variety theater inspired by Lydia Thompson and her troupe, the British Blondes, who first appeared in the United States in the 1860s, and also by early “leg” shows such as The Black Crook (1866). Its form, humor, and aesthetic traditions were largely derived from the minstrel show. One of the first burlesque troupes was the Rentz-Santley Novelty and Burlesque Company, created in 1870 byMichael B. Leavitt, who had earlier feminized the minstrel show with his group Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels.

Burlesque rapidly adapted the minstrel show’s tripartite structure: part one was composed of songs and dances rendered by a female company, interspersed with low comedy from male comedians. Part two was an “olio” of short specialties in which the women did not appear. The show’s finish was a grand finale.

The genre often mocked established entertainment forms such as opera, Shakespearean drama, musicals, and ballet. The costuming (or lack thereof) increasingly focused on forms of dress considered inappropriate for polite society. The British form, however, carried on much in the same musical-satirical style of the 19th century and is still so today.

Gypsy Rose Lee became famous for her shows in America

By the 1880s, the genre had created some rules for defining itself:

  • Minimal costuming, often focusing on the female form.
  • Sexually suggestive dialogue, dance, plotlines and staging.
  • Quick-witted humor laced with puns, but lacking complexity.
  • Short routines or sketches with minimal plot cohesion across a show.

Charlie Chaplin in his autobiography gives this account of burlesque in Chicago in 1910:

Chicago … had a fierce pioneer gaiety that enlivened the senses, yet underlying it throbbed masculine loneliness. Counteracting this somatic ailment was a national distraction known as the burlesque show, consisting of a coterie of rough-and-tumble comedians supported by twenty or more chorus girls. Some were pretty, others shopworn. Some of the comedians were funny, most of the shows were smutty harem comedies—coarse and cynical affairs.
—Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography: 125–6

The popular burlesque show of this period eventually evolved into the striptease which became the dominant ingredient of burlesque by the 1930s. In the 1930s, a social crackdown on burlesque shows led to their gradual downfall. The shows had slowly changed from ensemble ribald variety performances, to simple performances focusing mostly on the striptease. The end of burlesque and the birth of striptease was later dramatized in the film The Night They Raided Minsky’s.




If you are interested in learning more about this unique art form register for our Burlesque work shop and pin up shoot December 11th & 12th.

Let your inner diva come out to play…

Burlesque Workshop – Saturday December 11TH


Burlesque Photo Shoot – Sunday December 12th




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