Burlesque Performer Vs. Stripper

"Bon Ton Burlesquers - 365 days ahead of ...

Of all the things in the world why do Burlesque?  Sometimes, I’ll get an idea of some historic or cultural icon I’d like to see on stage.  Other times a song really makes me feel something & I want to create a performance to it.  Perhaps, there is a statement I’d like to make.  There could be a  joke to tell.  Burlesque, after all does have historical roots in satire.   Mostly, I revel in the adrenaline filled rush from dancing while creatively, teasingly taking my clothes off on stage.  I enjoy providing the audience with entertainment that can bring their minds away from “real life”.  Now that I’ve started writing, I’m pretty sure I don’t  even have the proper language to explain that onstage feeling.  Other creatives will know what I mean.

The girly side of me revels in the costumes, crystals, feathers &  glitter.  Ironically, when I first learned in the BGB Broad Squad Institute that many performers make their own costumes, I felt like I would faint.  Domestic nor designer am I.  However, the universe stepped in.  A friend moving to Europe gifted me her sewing machine & glue gun.  I started to experiment.  Now, I have to stop myself from going into fabric & trim shops.  New York City’s garment district is a new addiction.  I LOVE the creativity of figuring out how the pieces will come off & building them to suit.  Attaching crystals is soothing to my soul like meditation.  Thank goodness because it can take hours.

Josephine Baker

Publicity photo of Lena Horne from her own sta...

A customer tipping a dancer via the waistband ...

Now, stripping…  It was the easiest hard thing.  I say that because it is not “easy” work.  I was looking for work that would earn a livable wage, allow me to keep days open & allow much flexibility in scheduling.  Please e-mail me with other options for work that provide all these elements.  There is no story telling.  The job is a sales job.  Story telling or a teasing strip with elaborately planned costuming is not important.  Seduction & sales is.  The product is sexual fantasy, attention & dances.  How clothes come off as a stripper doesn’t require thought or planning in the same way it does in burlesque.  The mindset of a successful stripper has to be entrepreneurial.  Strippers are independent contractors who pay rent in the form of house fees for use of the strip club to sell their product.  Yes, strippers pay the club to work.  Sales is work.  I laugh when people say stripping is “easy” money.  They have visions of some mythical stripper goddess that shows up fills the purse with $1000  each night then leaves.  Anyone who has done sales knows how many no’s one has to go through to close a sale.

I’ve come across strippers who do burlesque on the side “because burlesque just doesn’t pay that much”.  Quietly, I’ve even come across successful burlesque dancers who supplement their burlesque careers with stripping.  Stripping is quite capable of being a stand alone career from day 1.  No one will tell you you have to pick up the other strippers clothing to work your way up to being a stripper.  Yet, stripping carries a negative stigma that burlesque does not.  Though to some people anything involving a woman taking off her clothes in public is viewed negatively, burlesque is classy in the eyes of many.

ForStripper the onlooker, stripping is a more raw & explicit sexual experience than burlesque.  However, to the working stripper, I’d venture to say very little of it is sexual.  It is, quite bluntly, sales.  There is constant negotiation, up selling & add ons (such as VIP Rooms, bottle sales & tips).  There are times where I’d be engaged in conversation with a potential customer & keeping my peripheral vision keenly aware of the floor in case a regular or more lucrative looking prospect arrives.  There is none of this worry in burlesque.  The pay is negotiated or known before one arrives.  One shows up to give a polished, rehearsed performance.  Stripping did not take rehearsal.  It took knowing how men are wired & getting an understanding of why the man you are talking to came into the club.A silhouette of Stripper on a Pole

Burlesque & stripping are sisters but not twins.  One strips when doing burlesque.  One can even choose to be referred to as a stripper if one dances burlesque.  The way in which strippers in strip clubs are compensated make it very different from burlesque.  The historical & performance elements of burlesque make it very different from stripping.  Burlesque is an on stage performance piece.  Strippers are  independent contractors who  must “always be selling” the fantasy of their flirty attention to the customers.  I could do a burlesque show & never engage with the audience one-on-one if I choose.  Both I find liberating.  I found stripping financially liberating.  I find burlesque creatively liberating especially with my Brown Girl’s Burlesque sisters.  In a world that shames women for being in any way sexual, I think they create affirming &  useful outlets for women to choose to wield sexual energy on their own terms.  Yes, yes, yes, there are situations where stripping can be far from empowering.  That other side of it has been documented ad nauseam in the media so there is no need for me to cover that here.  Besides, tis a blog  & I am speaking from my own experiences.

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ESSENCE REVEALED - Essence Revealed is first generation Bajan born & raised in Boston.  She got her BFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and MA at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education.  Her writing has appeared places such as $pread Magazine, Corset Magazine, BurlesqueBible.com and 21st Century Burlesque.  She’s been published in two anthologies: Pros(e) &  Johns, Marks, Tricks & Chicken Hawks.  She now performs & teaches nationally and internationally both solo and as a member of Brown Girls Burlesque.  Her favorite thing to do besides reading is to lay on the beach in Barbados to rest up for a night of calypso dancing.  Help Essence get to the Milan Burlesque Awards!

27 thoughts on “Burlesque Performer Vs. Stripper

  1. LM says:

    This was a great and informative read! Thank you so much for the explanation. As a lover of the arts in all forms, I do enjoy viewing the envelope pushing of storytelling from Burlesque and also enjoy the straight forward in your face world of stripping.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. There is so much more I could say but this was getting to be a term paper in length…lol So, it heartens me to know at least one person got thru my diatribe :-D

  2. This is a really well done piece! Thank you. I think you put it very well why I love doing Burlesque! I would do (and have done) local theater productions but I just simply don’t have the time to block out for the two or three months of prep and production. I can rehearse burlesque pieces at home or with other dancers and while I spend a lot of time making my costumes and researching pieces it is much easier to fit that into my schedule. Really enjoyed reading this!

    • Thanks Meredith,

      Yes and when doing theatre there is not the creative license that there is in burlyq… The script is the script. I’m about to go rehearse Burlesque in my living room a little later ;-)

  3. GREAT blog piece! This is a fantastic, straightforward discussion of the pros and cons of each side. I’m totally pointing people this way the next time they drag out the ol’ stripping vs. burlesque debate.

    • When I told a friend of mine I was working on this she replied thank goodness…lol I didn’t realize it was such a debate. People always ask me about the differences, so this was my reply. I appreciate you popping by! Point this way all you want :-)

  4. Jenni Crowgrl says:

    Great article! I, too, have done both. And also have found that both have their merits. But it’s true, stripping is sales. And there is nothing worse than a crappy sales night! I tried a few burlesque type numbers back when I was stripping (in the stone age), and people just didn’t get it. I was trying to be fun and entertaining, they just wanted to see my boobs! Live and learn!

    • HAHAHAHA @ they just wanted to see my boobs. The only place I saw acts work were in Vegas in between the strippers. Some of the house strippers had silk routines, hula hoop, elaborate magic acts, fancy group show girl numbers. Other times outside performers would be hired to do acts in between. I think it flew because it was Vegas and the club was “upscale” and this was their differential advantage in a town over run by strip clubs ;-)

  5. laika fox says:

    thank you so, so, much for this. i do burlesque and have many friends that strip in clubs or do other kinds of sex work, we all do what we have to to get by, have fun, and feel safe while doing it. it’s been so annoying constantly having conversations with other burlesque dancers (or anyone else) in which they put down stripping, like they’re above it or morally superior in some way. you’ve summed up my arguments in a really great way and i’m going to send everyone to this article. thank you for sharing your story so eloquently and honestly.

    • There is much I am better than you in the world of sex work. Burlyq think they’re better than strippers. Strippers think they’re better than escorts. Dommes think they trump all etc, etc, etc. It’s really silly. No matter what, “society @ large” bundles us all in the same category… Why not be supportive of one another? Thanks for reading.

  6. Miss AuroraBoobRealis says:

    Rock on Essence!!!! I was never a great stripper, because I wasn’t that good at the hustle (the sales bit) I got by on my dancing skills in that world, that was my special thing that would draw the more “cultured” customers to me, but the women who excelled at selling a fantasy walked away with way more then me. Essence, I would love to talk with you more about this topic as I’m sure we’d have some great stories to share.
    Look the way you are repping BGB strong in NYC, miss you all very much!!!
    much love,
    Miss AuroraBoobRealis

    • Hey Ms. BoobRealis, I definately would love to trade stories! I’m grateful to BGB for teaching me how to make burlyq :) cuz ahhh there is a difference. Thanks for reading & taking the time to chime in :-)!!!

    • ThatGirlWhoDanced says:

      Yeh, Miss AuroraBoobRealis…that was me, too! I was the girl who danced. That was how I got by, and I was so bad at the hustle…the bar begging…it was ridiculous. There were people who really appreciated what I did, and I was a stickler for the rules, mostly (which got me fired from a few places!). When the Russian wave came in in my area, the shift pay went down, the illegal stuff went up, you had to do more to earn tips, and I couldn’t survive anymore. I really wish I had gone the way of the burlesque dancer. I was so naive…I thought I could easily do the strip job because I thought all you had to do WAS dance! Eventually I learned to play the game, just wasn’t very good at it…
      Thank you for this, Essence. This blog is just great! Very enlightening, and very happy to see it from the two perspectives.

      • Thanks SO Much for your comments, ThatGirlWhoDanced! I feel like a dinosaur sometimes with the *stereotypical granny voice – Back in MY day* stories of what dancing WAS when I was doing it full time vs. what it has become in so many places now… Funny tho, perspective is something, huh? I never looked at what i was doing as begging. I was providing a service. There was equal exchange in my mind. And like all sales, some folks want your product and some folks don’t – no foul, no harm, next move on :-)

  7. autsel988 says:

    nice article, but the photo you included of a “stripper getting tipped” is quite clearly an egyptian bellydancer receiving customer tips in her dance belt. bellydancers are not strippers either, and frankly they often have to fight the same stereotypes as burlesque dancers. this is especially unfair to bellydancers since they never remove their costume onstage. please change the photo to remove this unfortunate accidental reference to bellydancers as strippers. thank you!

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I hope you got from the article that I was NOT saying that burlesque is good and stripping is bad. I live in a no good or bad just different space of mind. Something is for you or not for you but that doesn’t automatically make it negative. I got the picture from public domain. The photog named it stripper. He/she/they were there. We were not. I’ve seen strippers & burlesque dancers all in this type of costume. I apologize that you take offense to belly dancers (who are NO WAY referenced) being lumped in with “the strippers”. No injustice intended. But I do need to make it clear in my world strippers, burlyQ dancers & even belly dancers, who I was in no way discussing or commenting about, all get the same LOVE!

  8. donna maddi says:

    im 45 in great shape. mom of 5. my older children are out of college and live indpendantly my 17 yr old graduates high school soon. my 14 yr old is an all star athlete. well mom loves dancing. started dancing since i was 3 and love burlquese. im interested in taking lessons. its classy and beautiful. not so in ur face ya kno. i love wat u wrote also. im a woman of color myself. and im loving the historical facts of woman period in burlquese.

  9. [...] wrote a blog about the difference, called burlesque performers vs. strippers. While both strip, one is mainly a salesperson the other is mainly a stage performer. Burlesque [...]

  10. [...] wrote a blog about the difference, called burlesque performers vs. strippers. While both strip, one is mainly a salesperson the other is mainly a stage performer. Burlesque [...]

  11. […] Essence: I promised not to answer this question anymore.  Here are the cliff notes: Both involve stripping.  Burlesque can be theatrical, include storytelling and has a history in satire.  Exotic dancing in a club is a strictly a sales job.  See my blog post http://essencerevealed.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/burlesque-dancer-vs-stripper/ […]

  12. I enjoyed your writing! In my “day” burlesque and stripper were interchangeable terms. But, we didn’t have “gentleman’s” clubs way back then either!

  13. Kim Possible says:

    Thank u so much for writing this truth!!

  14. Opinioni says:

    This is so old but someone might read it

    What I’m reading here is that burlesque and stripping are the same thing only set in different places with different motives. Put them both in the same room have them both perform no money etc involved and there’s not really any difference besides one shows nipple etc. and the other almost does.

    Iv seen a lot of that burlesque dancers hating on strippers thing, even from on girl who had always wanted to be a stripper. So unusual.

    • It would depend on the style of burlesque being done. Classical would look most like club stripping. Neo Burlesque would look more like a theater/storytelling/strip tease mash up. But yes the divide and conquer that shows up is mind boggling to me. smh…

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