The Art of the Striptease, a Venerable American Entertainment Genre
The Art of the Striptease
Although the art of the striptease can be traced to early Babalonia and Salome's Biblical dance of the seven veils, the origin in the United States was in late 19th, early 20th century vaudeville burlesque and traveling carnival shows. Gypsy Rose Lee and fan dancer Sally Rand were the super stars of the nascent art of stripping. Until male strippers emerged as entertainers for women in the 1970s, strippers were invariably women performing for male audiences. Pole dancing which added an acrobatic element to the genre came on the scene in Las Vegas in the 1980s and spread to strip clubs around the country in the 1980s along with table dancing and lap dancing.
Hollywood has produced numerous movies about striptease notably starring Mary Martin, Rita Hayworth as Salome, Barbara Stanwyck as Gilda, Demi Moore, Kim Basinger, Lindsay Lohan, Daryl Hannah, among others. H.L. Mencken reportedly coined the word "ecdysiast" upon a request from Gypsy Rose Lee for a classier term than stripper for her artistry.
Not surprisingly, strippers have had a history of conflicts with the law. Gypsy Rose Lee's shows experienced police raids a number of times. Conservative Judge Richard Posner concurred in a famous 1990 federal circuit court decision involving stripping at the Kitty Kat Lounge in South Bend, Indiana, which extended First Amendment protection to nude dancing--
"Posner's own considerable candor has made for some highly unusual opinions. Back in 1990, the judges of the Seventh Circuit decided the case of Miller v. Civil City of South Bend. At issue in Miller was the constitutionality of an Indiana public-indecency statute prohibiting "the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple, or the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state." Darlene Miller and several other nude dancers affiliated with the Kitty Kat Lounge of South Bend, Indiana, challenged the constitutionality of the statute on grounds that "non-obscene nude dancing of the barroom variety, performed as entertainment," was a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment.
"The court decided in favor of Miller, and Posner concurred with the majority on the grounds that nude dancing is a form of expression entitled to limited protection under the First Amendment. But his separate opinion was very much his own. It seemed he was not particularly interested in the legalistic arguments advanced by either side in the case:
The true reason I think for wanting to exclude striptease dancing from the protection of the First Amendment is not any of the lawyers' classification games... such as expression versus nonexpression, ideas versus emotions, art versus entertainment, or speech versus conduct. It is a feeling that the proposition, "the First Amendment forbids the State of Indiana to require striptease dancers to cover their nipples," is ridiculous. It strikes judges as ridiculous in part because most of us are either middle-aged or elderly men, in part because we tend to be snooty about popular culture, in part because as public officials we have a natural tendency to think political expression more important than artistic expression, in part because we are Americans — which means that we have been raised in a culture in which puritanism, philistinism, and promiscuity are complexly and often incongruously interwoven — and in part because like all lawyers we are formalists who believe deep down that the words in statutes and the Constitutions mean what they say, and a striptease is not a speech. But the element of the ridiculous is not all on one side. Censorship of erotica is pretty ridiculous too. What kind of people make a career of checking to see whether the covering of a woman's nipples is fully opaque, as the statute requires?... The history of censorship is a history of folly and cruelty.
"Back in his chambers in the Everett M. Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago, Posner smiles his coy half-smile as he remembers the case, which led to his 1992 book Sex and Reason. "I was curious about the origin of nude dancing, and where it came from, and whether it was connected to Salome's dance, and so on," he recalls. "I think I was the only judge who looked at the [video] tape [of the dancing]. I thought it was important to see what could be systematically known about these practices." In the end, Posner was less interested in adroit legalistic hairsplitting than in the brute facts of American society. "In the America of 1990," he concluded his opinion, "the project of stamping out nude striptease dancing is quixotic. The power of government is relative to the desires and values of its people. The State of Indiana cannot take the erotic edge off American culture." The state's anti-nudity statue was simply not pragmatic."
[Lingua Franca Volume 10 No. 4, May 2000]
Posner's decision notwithstanding, legal disputes continue over local and state efforts to prohibit or regulate establishments offering this venerable and popular form of entertainment.
Gypsy Rose Lee
Gypsy Rose Lee
- Gypsy Rose Lee Wikibio
Gypsy Rose Lee (January 8, 1911 April 26, 1970) was an American burlesque entertainer, famous for her striptease act. She was also an actress, author and playwright, whose 1957 memoir was made into the stage musical and film Gypsy.
Gypsy Rose Lee Biography
New York Journal of Books Review of "American Rose a Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee"
- American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee | New York Journal of Books
Gypsy Rose Lee came to fame during the worst years of the Great Depression in the worst form of show business possible: burlesque. She was fond of identifying her profession as ecdysiast, which is Upper East Side for stripper. And yet, hers was a
NPR--"For an American Rose, a Thorny Story"
- Karen Abbott on Gypsy Rose Lee: A Thorny Story Laid Bare : NPR
In a new biography, the author of Sin in the Second City peels back the veil of glamor surrounding the most famous stripper since Salome -- Gypsy Rose Lee.
11-25-12NYTimes "The Branding of Dita Von Teese"
- Dita Von Teese, From Burlesque to a Brand - NYTimes.com
An attempt to develop a business based on the dancer’s wide exposure.
Strip Tease YouTube Video
Striptease History in Wikipedia
- Striptease Came Late to the United States
Although the origin of striptease can be traced to ancient Babalonia and 400 years ago in Europe, it didn't appear in the U.S. until the 20th century in the United States on Vaudeville and traveling carnival shows where Gypsy Rose Lee got her start.
12-26-09 NYTimes--Alice Schiller of the Pink Pussycat Dead at 95
- Impresaria of the Striptease, Alice Schiller, dies.
Alice Schiller, a well-brought-up Midwestern woman who burst into tears the day her husband announced he was opening a burlesque house in Los Angeles, but who rallied to make the place the Pink Pussycat of Hollywood one of the most successful...