Only one of the valley’s museum collections regularly features pasties and G-strings.
The Burlesque Hall of Fame at Emergency Arts, 520 E. Fremont St., may have one of the smallest displays among the valley’s museums and collections, but the art it chronicles has a long history here.
Burlesque performers from the 1950s to the present are set to be on hand for “Putting the Sin in Sin City: 60 Years of Burlesque in Las Vegas” at 7 p.m. March 20 at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road. The event is to feature a multimedia presentation by the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s executive director, Dustin Wax.
“There may have been burlesque in town before that, but if there was, we don’t have a record of it,” Wax said. “In 1952, Harold Minsky moved to Las Vegas, and then he brought Minsky’s Follies, the first topless revue in town, to the Dunes, and later to the Silver Slipper, the Aladdin, the Thunderbird and a couple of others.”
That started a trend, and soon there were similar shows in many Strip hotels.
A panel discussion is planned following the presentation. The panelists are to include Tempest Storm, a headliner in the 1950s and ’60s; Tiffany Carter, who was Miss Nude Universe 1975 and performed from the late ’60s to the ’80s; and Cha Cha Velour, who runs the Las Vegas Burlesque Studio and is a performer and producer of a monthly burlesque show.
Wax said burlesque was originally a caricature or parody of a serious work. Aristophanes wrote burlesques, and William Makepeace Thackeray wrote “Burlesque” while Mark Twain wrote “Mark Twain’s (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance.”
Striptease began to dominate the form in the ’30s, when many of the comedians who had been staples of burlesque moved on to radio and movies.
“There’s still a lot of comedy in burlesque,” Wax said. “Not all of the acts are funny, but about 90 percent have comedy in them. The social commentary and spoof of the mainstream is still a big part of it. When a woman who isn’t rich puts on expensive furs and pearls and strips, there’s an element of parody there, whether she plays it for laughs or not.”
Wax said the resurgence of the art form is different from the early days, when producers would dictate what a performer wore, what their act would be and whether to lose or gain weight.
“These days, it’s much more about the performers expressing themselves as artists,” Wax said. “It’s more DIY. People develop their own acts, they’re beholden only to themselves and there’s a lot more room for experimentation.”
Las Vegas has hosted several burlesque conventions in recent years, and burlesque is an element of other conventions that take place here, such as the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly convention, set for April 17-20 at The Orleans. There are several venues in town that feature monthly burlesque shows, and several shows on the Strip include burlesque acts or elements.
“ ‘Absinthe’ has a modified version of the bubble dance that was originally Sally Rand’s act in the ’30s,” Wax said. “ ‘Vegas Nocturne’ stars Dusty Summers, a performer from the ’60s and ’70s who comes out and the end of the show and acts as a transition from the performance to the nightclub.”
Wax hopes to have at least five burlesque performers at the panel at the library. He expects it will be fun and informative.
“I want them to talk about their careers and hear stories from their past,” Wax said. “I want to hear where they think burlesque has fit in the scope of Las Vegas entertainment and where they think it’s going.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.