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Has the shine come off burlesque as it mainstreamed? Chloë Emmott revisits her views

About two years ago, I wrote a piece for The F-Word, called ‘Can Burlesque be Feminist?’ I’ve been spurred on to revist the issue by an article in The Guardian by Laurie Penny, bemoaning the state of burlesque, questioning its feminist content and charting its shift from “social satire to simple stripping”.

I hate to admit it, but a lot of what Penny writes rings true. I have fallen out of the burlesque loop and I have become somewhat disillusioned. I have seen less innovation and celebration, and more plain stripping, albeit it in a nice retro outfit. However I don’t feel you can blame this on the art form itself. I sense a tragic inevitability of success in which any somewhat ‘underground’ activity becomes diluted to appeal to the ‘mainstream’.

Dita Von Teese, the Pussycat dolls and the ‘vintage’ look; these have all blossomed in popularity over the last few years. I fear people have got caught up in the excitement and have forgotten why women found burlesque such a refreshing change from the norm. It seems as if burlesque is quickly losing any associations with satire and this is a sad thing. Sometimes we need to get inside something to show it up. Burlesque could be perfect to question and distort our accepted views on what it is to be ‘sexy’, yet as it moves further into the mainstream and becomes little more than a fashion tribe I see these opportunities becoming overshadowed by what we are trying to subvert.

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