Burlesque vs. Stripper: What is the Difference?

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It may not seem like it in today’s world, but there are many differences between burlesque performances and the art of the striptease. The term “burlesque” has an etymology that shows the essence of the act; burlesque comes from the Italian word “burla” which means a joke or a mockery. A burlesque show is a musical event that mocks and teases serious entertainment events. While burlesque often involves laughter from the audience, stripping does not. The act of stripping is only about removing clothes in an exotic way.


Stripping but with Attitude

The two performances do have the act of stripping in common, but where the exotic dancer/stripper is quite serious and sexy in the way she removes her clothes the burlesque dancer will remove her clothes in a mocking way with the intent to elicit laughs rather than the intent to turn on. Both shows involve an artistic form of removing clothes, but it is the style of removing clothes that makes the two shows so different. In today’s world, the stripper will remove more clothes and will dance much more suggestively than the burlesque dancer.

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Burlesque History

Burlesque has a long history, dating back to the 1600s. Some burlesque shows have even mocked classic works by William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and the ancient classics from Rome and Greece. While there are shows that mock and joke pieces that are already written, there are some authors who created literary burlesque, like Alexander Pope and his piece The Rape of the Lock. There are also musical burlesque pieces by many other artists likes Bela Bartok, Mahler, and Shostakovich and jazz artists like Rachmaninoff. Burlesque has also infiltrated major motion pictures, like All That Jazz from 1979 and Burlesque from 2010.

History of Stripping

The art of stripping also has a long history, with early records dating back to Biblical times and ancient mythological stories. Some of the early stories of stripping involve the myth of Inanna and the story of Salome and King Herod. However, one of the earliest modern stripteases took place in the play Salome written by Oscar Wilde where he told the story of the ‘seven veils’ dance from the story of Salome.

Striptease usually involves music and an exotic dance, but burlesque can involve speaking along with music and dancing. In a burlesque show, there would be a story that would involve speaking, music, dancing, and most importantly, comedy. For example, in a burlesque that would mock a Shakespeare play would mock the couplets and the serious parts of the story by playing on the words that have multiple meanings.

Burlesque Mockeries and Satires

While the burlesque shows had a clear story with the purpose to ridicule or mock the serious literature or music, striptease shows did not do any form of mockery. Strippers might try to be silly in the way they remove their clothing, but there is not story to tell. The music, setting, and clothing would determine the style of the striptease. Some of the stripteases might be purposefully silly where the dancer might make funny faces while removing her clothes or she might tease about removing her clothes to get a response from the audience.

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Trouble with Nudity Laws

Both entertainment styles have had trouble with those who are against public nudity. Many strip clubs are limited regarding where they can be located in cities. Some cities have rules against full nudity and others have rules where customers cannot come within six feet of the dancers. Some areas in the United States have rules against showing women’s nipples, but men’s nipples are fine to show; these women must wear pasties over their nipples. Some cities have even banned showing any part of the breast, so women would strip down to bikini tops. There are also cities that have enacted bans against dance moves that involve excessive leg spreading or other overtly sexual moves.

Changes in 1900s and 2000s

The world of burlesque has changed significantly over the past 100 years. In the early 1900s, burlesque included shows that were more like variety shows that just singing and dancing shows. Many early actors got their start in burlesque stages shows were they acted as comics or M.C.’s. These actors include famous names like Mae West, Abbott and Costello, Jackie Gleason, Al Jolson, Sid Caesar, and Red Skelton. While these actors and actresses were charged with the spoken jokes and mockeries in the shows, the burlesque strippers also took the stage.

Burlesque did suffer during the age of Prohibition, when clubs stopped serving alcohol. Mayor LaGuardia in New York City put the burlesque shows out of business in the 1940s and over the decades, burlesque was only known as an odd entertainment style from the early 1900s. Now, the pomp and circumstance of burlesque has come back to life in the United States and in Europe.

Popular Burlesque Shows

With the advent of shows in New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans and names like Dita Von Teese and bringing the classic form of entertainment back to life. There are burlesque festivals and shows like Super Happy Fun Time Burlesque and Cabaret Red Light that are drawing in new fans and new acts. The vintage clothes, satirical shows, and clever dance moves are bringing burlesque back to the general public.

Reputation Differences

In the world of performance stripping, burlesque shows have a more respectable reputation that striptease shows do. Strip clubs tend to be in shadier parts of the city and it seems like more desperate women have to choose to be strippers when they cannot find better work. Pole dancing, lap dancing, and table dancing are more ways that strippers can entertain their customers.

Another way that burlesque and stripping are different is that in the world of stripping men can also perform. It is uncommon to find male burlesque strippers, but the world of striptease is open to men. While women are looked down upon for stripping, there is no problem with men who strip.


 written by Kristen Bentley



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