History of Burlesque: Burlesque Coming to Potsdam August 31st, 2022

History of Burlesque: Burlesque Coming to Potsdam August 31st, 2022


by Larissa Fawkner, Advancement Committee Chair

SLC Arts is kicking off the 2nd annual North Country Arts Festival by hosting an adult-only 21+ Art After Dark fundraising party with headlining act, The Rougettes, an Ottawa Ontario-based Burlesque dance troupe. Formed in 2018 with routines choreographed by Randi Rouge, The Rougettes bring sweetness, sass, and sensation to every stage these gorgeous glitzy gal’s grace. The Rougettes, including Arctic Blondo, Babycakes, Carmel Spysse, Rosa Diamond, and Viva Van Diva, will perform a 90-minute sexy set that is sure to please the audience with acts including Diamonds, Boots, Buttons, and Money.

Burlesque has its origins in the 17th century. The word “Burlesque”, is derived from the Italian word, ‘burlesco’ which stems from ‘burla’ meaning a joke or mockery. Burlesque shows were often described as an ‘extravaganza’ a style of elaborate literary or musical performance containing elements of cabaret, circus, vaudeville, and mime. Victorian era Burlesque was popular in London theaters from the 1830’s – 1890’s. Burlesque actors took well-known plays, opera’s, ballet, and popular music of the time and re-wrote the lyrics for comic effect. Victorian Burlesque style came to NYC in the 1840’s and was popularized in 1868 by Lydia Thompson’s visiting dance troupe, The British Blondes. Shows were performed by an all-female cast and focused on parody. Women actors wore tights that were risqué and considered entirely scandalous when compared to the Victorian fashion of hoop skirts, petticoats, and high necklines. The women would also spoof the crowd by playing men’s roles and performing satirical skits poking fun at patriarchal society. New York Burlesque continued to evolve as elements of minstrel shows were added. Unlike cabaret which was performed in nightclubs, burlesque shows were performed in theaters, music halls, and other venues with separate stages for performances. The show consisted of three parts: first, a series of songs, course humor sketches and monologues by baggy-pants comics; second, the olio, a variety of acts such as acrobats, magicians, and instrumental and vocal soloists; and third, chorus numbers, burlesque, or a play. The finale was a performance by an exotic dancer or a wrestling or boxing match.

In the 1870’s, New York’s first American born Burlesque star, Mabel Santley, became a pioneer of modern Burlesque. Having once been arrested for lifting her skirt during a Can-Can, she is acclaimed for feminizing the genre with her turn in Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels which forever re-shaped the minstrel all-male tradition. In the 1930’s burlesque thrived in the US, but the shows were much naughtier. The art form flourished for almost 100 years before censorship, “clean-up” political policies, and the competition of motion pictures, led to the decline of the craft. By the 1960’s few Burlesque houses remained.

Then, burlesque experienced a revival. In 1979, Sugar Babies opened on Broadway starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, the lavish hit ran 1,200 performances and recreated classic burlesque. Later, in the 1990’s, there was a new wave of burlesque activity. Dixie Lee Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, took over an abandoned goat farm in Helendale California and filled it with burlesque memorabilia collected by retired dancer Jennie Lee thus creating the Exotic World Burlesque Museum. In 1991, Dixie founded the Miss Exotic World pageant to attract visitors and attention to the museum. Then, in 1995, Ami Goodheart’s “Dutch Weismann’s Follies” in New York and Michelle Carr’s Velvet Hammer Burlesque troupe in Los Angeles spurred a revival called, “Neo-Burlesque” combining classic “pasties and a G-string” burly-q, swing music, rockabilly, punk rock, tattoos, girl power, lingerie, fetishism, and a healthy dose of humor. In 2000, the Tease-O-Rama Yahoo Group was launched providing the first national forum for modern burlesque performers. In 2005, the Exotic World Museum moved to Las Vegas where it was renamed the “Burlesque Hall of Fame.”

Modern burlesque performers are trained dancing professionals. Just as ballet has its arabesque, assemblé, balancé, brisé, ciseaux, and pas de basque, burlesque has its bevel, bounce, shimmy, grind, goddess legs,  heart drop, side split, and sexy walk. Dancers must become proficient in the steps of their performing art. Along with glamor and flashiness, burlesque is famous for its fashion style which includes corsets, stockings, hats, feathered clothing, and extravagant lush hairdos. Neo-burlesque shows are classier, more exotic, and truly focus on striptease as an art show form. That means the shows are not centered for a typically male audience.

When asked about Burlesque as a dance genre, Dr. Robin L. Collen, SUNY Potsdam Professor of Theatre & Dance and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences said, “the choreographer, Bob Fosse comes to mind when I think about burlesque. As a young dancer he worked in burlesque shows which had a strong impression on him—influencing his potent and articulate choreography with its sexuality and dark humor. In my 20th and 21st Century dance history course, I challenge students to investigate their beliefs about when they consider dance to be art, entertainment, or pornography. This inquiry is a journey into one’s beliefs and biases about the human body, sex, high and low art, humor, and much more. When you watch The Rougettes, you can enjoy this inquiry for yourselves.” The Rougettes, will perform a 90-minute sexy Neo-Burlesque set list that is sure to entertain. Get your tickets today at SLC Arts and support all forms and expressions of art in Northern NY.

Tickets to the Art After Dark party are $25 per person (online) and available on the SLC Arts website https://slcartscouncil.org/events/goldenjubilee and $30 at the door on the evening of the event.

Arts Blog | Interview with Jess Novak


Interview w/ Jess Novak

Just listened to The Jess Novak Band & their new CD, A Thousand Lives, released on November
28th , just last week. First off, the music is wonderful. Every song is thoughtful. The lyrics tell a
story or present maybe a touchy situation in life. The music is so full & so varied, you know
when you listen that you are in the company of pros having a great time, & they’re located right
in Syracuse, New York. I had a lot of questions about the band & the CD. And then,
serendipitously, I bumped into Jess & we had the following conversation:

John Berbrich: Hey, Jess. How are you?
Jess Novak: I am totally overwhelmed, but really happy. Not only did we release a brand new
album, which is a fantastic amount of work, but we’re planning all of 2022; I’m working on
music for a movie, I’m already recording the next album (which is a solo electronic project), and
I have a book I finished in August that I’m editing. I am crazy, but so good.
John: Wow. I’m exhausted just hearing all that. Let’s start with the new album, A Thousand
Lives. It’s so rich. So many instruments: violin, trumpet, keyboards, & all the background
vocals, in addition to the standard drums, bass, & guitar. And your visceral passionate vocals, of
course. It’s just wonderful.
Jess: I’m a big fan of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and that’s always what I’ve modeled us after.
They keep that traditional big-band rock and soul sound alive, which the world will always need.
Also, in that Allman Brothers Band tradition, we have two drummers. I love paying homage to
my favorites in the way my band is formed. Another nod to TTB is the way there’s a female lead
with male back-up singers. That’s rare in mainstream music and something I’ve always loved
about them. Having seen them live, I also love that the backup singers often lead a few songs,
which to me, is the coolest thing a lead singer can do. People assume the lead vocalist is the best
because that’s what we’re usually presented with in popular music. But that’s definitely not
always the case. Everyone in TTB is amazing. Everyone in ABB was amazing. Everyone in
JNB is incredible. And all those bands have multiple powerful singers with different qualities.
The most important thing for me has always been having a band without egos where everyone
can shine in whatever role they’re in.
John: That’s true. On A Thousand Lives, no individual stands out. We hear sustained sonic
powerhouse guitar only in “Devil’s Walk.” Even the vocals, rather than being the showcase, fit
as an integral piece of the whole ensemble.
Jess: I always strive for equality, which pushes us into a whole other topic of women in music.
It has NEVER been my goal to expect something special because I’m a woman. It’s been my
goal to fit right in to what so many men do in bands, which is lead songs, write them, play
multiple instruments, solo effectively, etc. I never want to be the token female. I want to be
equal. That’s what feminism is to me—equality in expectation and delivery. Everyone has
different strengths, but there is no reason a woman has to say, I just don’t solo or I just don’t play
an instrument, without ever trying. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.

John: Tell me about the music for the movie.
Jess: It’s a project about the boxer Jack Johnson. He’s got such an amazing story and I was
invited to sing about it, which was an honor. They just wrapped filming so things are starting to
come together now. Look for Ghost in the House in 2022.
John: And what about your solo electronic music project?
Jess: For the longest time I didn’t understand electronic music. I thought it was a way out of
playing instruments, but really, it’s a super intense way to play every instrument—just in
different ways. I started building songs at home with GarageBand and got addicted quickly, so I
decided to make it a thing. I started recording in June and have been having so much fun
experimenting and challenging myself to step into 2022 with a new, more modern sound. It’s
actually overwhelming to walk into a studio and know you can make any sound happen in that
John: So this goes beyond EDM?
Jess: What I’m doing is not EDM. It’s closer to a Billie Eilish sound, which I wouldn’t call EDM
but more electropop.
John: Oh, I like electropop. Now, tell me about your book.
Jess: During quarantine, I really dug into reading. I’ve always loved thrillers (I’ve read every
Michael Crichton and David Baldacci book) and got into a book group that pushed me into a list
of books that were thrillers, but most were from the female perspective, which was very cool and
different. That opened my mind up because so many of them were exciting stories, but also full
of thoughtful lessons about what it is to be a woman. Suddenly, I felt like I had a story bursting
out of me, so I sat down one day in May at 5 a.m. and started writing. I finished the first draft in
August and I hope to finish editing it soon. The book is about the reality of being a female
musician at a local level.
John: So this is fiction or non-fiction?
Jess: It’s fiction, but a lot of it is drawn from the many stories I’ve heard from female musician
friends and some of my own. As great as it is to chase a dream, I don’t think people realize how
honestly terrifying it is and I don’t mean that lightly. I mean, it’s actually terrifying for women to
be so open about where they are, who they’re with, what they’re doing, etc. We run a different
risk than men and sometimes it’s hard to explain that. I hope this book opens people’s eyes to the
realities we face and maybe even changes some behaviors.
John: Well, let me know when the book is finished. I want to read it. For now, we’re out of
time. Besides the movie, the electronic music, & your book, is there anything else for your fans
to look forward too?
Jess: We’ll release a music video for “The Key” soon and the new album is streaming now! I’m
hoping to finish the electronic project in the spring, so people can expect that next year. We’ve
also already booked so much of 2022 and the schedule is awesome—including some really big
shows far away from here… But I’ll announce that when we have all the details!

*also published in Up North Magazine


Jess Novak, takes no prisoners. With a fiddle on fire, powerful vocals and a fierce band behind her, this pop, rock, soul-pumped group from Syracuse, New York brings passion to every performance. Known for their energy, superb musicianship, engaging songwriting and ability to win any crowd, this is a band on the rise. Having touched audiences across the country – from Burlington, VT to Key West, FL to San Diego, CA – and with Novak playing more than 250 dates annually, the sound gets tighter with each show.

Jess Novak (violin, guitar, vocals, piano, percussion, looping) works with Byron Cage (Tommy Castro, Joe Louis Walker, Otis Taylor) on drums; Anthony Saturno (Atkins Riot) on electric guitar, Jabare Mckinstry (Chris Ames Band) on bass and Gavin George (Strange to Look At, BSG) on drums to create a powerhouse sound, often with Nick Fields on trumpet. 

Novak’s work is being played on radio stations worldwide (WTYT 960, D.C. Coast to Coast, Women of Substance Radio, IndieOutbreak) and written about at home and across the ocean. Novak has played such prestigious rooms as The Cutting Room (NYC), The Saint (Asbury Park) and Nectar’s (Burlington, VT), opened the 23rd Annual Chenango Blues Festival (with headliner, Ronnie Earl) and performed with groups and artists including Devon Allman, Tas Cru, Jimmy Hall, Ghost Town Blues Band and members of Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band.