Camden Council and burlesque dancers across London have got their frilly knickers in a twist over the licensing of burlesque performaces. The Council requires any establishment which shows nudity on stage, and has entertainment of an adult nature, to hold the same licence held by the borough’s lap dancing venues. But burlesque dancers are arguing the nature of their performance is an art form, and oppose being categorised with strippers and lap dancers.
The story came about this week when the Evening Standard reported how regular burlesque nights held at popular music venues such as Koko and Roundhouse may be under threat if they do not acquire the appropriate licence, Striptease or art? The question for burlesque taste police.
Standard writers Liz Hoggard and Sam Leith have both come to the defence of burlesque dancers, supporting their opposition to Camden Council’s legislation. But surely the question here isn’t about ‘tarring’ burlesque with the same brush as the sleazy, disreputable image held by lap dancing, but comes down to what happens during the performance? Regardless of the nature of burlesque, which its dancers describe as satirical and theatrical, the shows involve routine stripping, with performers wearing little but a smile by the end of their act.
The concept and idea of burlesque may arguably be very different to that of performances by lap dancers working a pole, but as Leith mentions in his column, burlesque today has become far racier than it was back when it was practised in the 1940s and 1950s. And so if like strippers they end up on stage nude, why should venues holding burlesque performances refuse to hold the correct licence? It’s simply down to not wanting to be associated with such establishments and the social stigma attached to strippers and their clients.
But burlesque performers who disagree with Camden’s licensing laws should get off their moral high horse; many would argue that working a pole is as much an art form as burlesque dancing, and that strippers don’t deserve any less respect than their ‘high brow’ counterparts.