The trailer for “Burlesque,” starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, makes the film seem like cheesy fun. What the preview fails to do, however, is explain what actually defines burlesque. Is it strictly a type of dance performed in seedy venues, a fancy word for striptease? Luckily for word enthusiasts, “burlesque” derives from a rich tradition as well as a compelling meaning.
Traditionally, burlesque has been a type of variety show that is both provocative and comedic. It features a female chorus and solo dances, plus bawdy, slapstick skits and songs. And yes, it may feature striptease acts, but not necessarily.
(The amusing origin of “slapstick” can be found here.)
“Burlesque” comes from the Italian and means “mockery.” Historically, it was originally used to refer to an array of entertainment that used caricature, ridicule, and distortion. The word was first used in the 16th century by the Italian Francesco Berni who called his operas
In the United States, stage burlesque, which was usually quite vulgar, began in the mid-1800s. These early shows often ended with either an exotic dancer or a boxing match. Many stars got their start in burlesque, including Mae West and Fannie