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The Shimmy Shake Protest: Queer Femme Burlesque as Sex-Positive Activism
Unformatted Document Text:  dress, performance, and collection and donation of tips is typical of queer burlesque performances. While all erotic performances may be described as “pro-sex,” the queer context of these performances places the dancers within a historical debate within feminist and queer communities on the ethics of sexual representation. Although the exchange between queer burlesque dancers and audience members is sometimes quite conventional (erotic performances for payment in the form of tips), I ultimately argue that their performances are part of a broader protest of sex negativity, repression of queer sexuality and understood notions of feminine expression. In this way, their performances benefit queer communities in an abstract and profound way. BURLESQUE, QUEER FEMININITY, AND SEX RADICAL CULTURE Burlesque is a vaudevillian inspired strip-tease that utilizes extravagant costumes, dramatic makeup, and humorous skits to entertain audiences through a merging of erotic display and wit (Allen, 1991; Baldwin, 2004). According to Allen (1991) classic burlesque performers transgressed appropriate prescriptions for femininity through their independent erotic performances; its popularity in mainstream culture subverted normal sexual relations of its day. According to Baldwin (2004), “The Golden Age of Burlesque,” a time when every major U.S. city offered burlesque venues, was as long ago as the 1920’s and 30’s. The cultural context of the 1920’s and 30’s, with its lavish cabaret entertainment style and experimental sexual culture, aided the popularity of burlesque performances (Allen, 1991). Moving out of its “Golden Age,” burlesque had devolved into shows that demanded less wit and more clothing removal during the 1940’s and 50’s. In the introduction to Baldwin’s (2004) book on neo-burlesque’s emergence, burlesque performer, Dixie Evans 2

Authors: Ryan, Maura.
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dress, performance, and collection and donation of tips is typical of queer burlesque 
performances.  While all erotic performances may be described as “pro-sex,” the queer 
context of these performances places the dancers within a historical debate within feminist 
and queer communities on the ethics of sexual representation.  Although the exchange 
between queer burlesque dancers and audience members is sometimes quite conventional 
(erotic performances for payment in the form of tips), I ultimately argue that their 
performances are part of a broader protest of sex negativity, repression of queer sexuality 
and understood notions of feminine expression.  In this way, their performances benefit 
queer communities in an abstract and profound way.
BURLESQUE, QUEER FEMININITY, AND SEX RADICAL CULTURE
Burlesque is a vaudevillian inspired strip-tease that utilizes extravagant costumes, 
dramatic makeup, and humorous skits to entertain audiences through a merging of erotic 
display and wit (Allen, 1991; Baldwin, 2004).  According to Allen (1991) classic burlesque 
performers transgressed appropriate prescriptions for femininity through their independent 
erotic performances; its popularity in mainstream culture subverted normal sexual relations 
of its day.  
According to Baldwin (2004), “The Golden Age of Burlesque,” a time when every 
major U.S. city offered burlesque venues, was as long ago as the 1920’s and 30’s.  The 
cultural context of the 1920’s and 30’s, with its lavish cabaret entertainment style and 
experimental sexual culture, aided the popularity of burlesque performances (Allen, 1991). 
Moving out of its “Golden Age,” burlesque had devolved into shows that demanded less 
wit and more clothing removal during the 1940’s and 50’s.  In the introduction to 
Baldwin’s (2004) book on neo-burlesque’s emergence, burlesque performer, Dixie Evans 
2


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