Burlesque is an 120-year-old, purely American art form, according to The Son of the Creepshow Peepshow executive director Vivian MirAnn.
She said the roots of burlesque began in Great Britain, when performers dressed as the opposite sex and performed comedy skits. The female performers would never show much of their bodies to the crowd, but the performances were still considered raunchy for their time.
“The fact that they had corsets on or they might show an ankle, and that was considered really risqué,” she said.
When the performance style traveled to the United States, Americans took it a little further, flaunting wrists and lower décolletages. Eventually, Americans were baring everything for the world to see. But MirAnn said the idea of teasing the audience with bare skin remains, no matter how far the performer goes.
“The tease was always a principle part of burlesque. It wasn’t ‘Let’s get our clothes off as fast as possible,’ it was ‘Do I show you, or do I not? Do you want to see? Oh no you don’t,’” she said. “It’s always very teasing.”
MirAnn said burlesque used to be accompanied by sideshow acts such as fire eating, sword swallowing and juggling. But when it was revived in the ‘90s, she said the sideshows were left in the dust. MirAnn always tries to include sideshows in the performances she organizes, because she said she wants to stay true to the art form’s roots.
“After a while, people go what they call ‘titty blind,’ so after you stare at girl after girl after girl, you just see a vacuum,” she said. “If you shake it up every few acts, people aren’t expecting it and it’s like ‘Whoa, oh my God, someone’s taking their clothes off.’ It keeps things fresh and they don’t know what’s happening.”
Burlesque has evolved from peeping ankles to almost full nudity, and MirAnn said each state has individual laws that dictate how much skin can be shown. In Tennessee, the crease under the breast cannot be shown in a public venue, but MirAnn said one of her friends is trying to overturn that rule.
“It’s completely illegal to show the crease of the breast, but one of our friends is mired in a court battle to change that,” she said. “She started the underboob liberation front.”