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An Introduction to Burlesque Terminology

You’ve made your debut! You are officially a member of our naked and wonderful community! Or perhaps you’re a fan and frequent audience member. Dating a performer? No matter your involvement in the community, you are bound to hear some confusing terms that may need translating. Burlesque can be its complete own language at times, but fear not! Here are some of the most common and basic terms and phrases to help get you started in our glitter-filled world. 

 

Assels: Pasties are great and all... but know what’s even better? Butt pasties!  

 

Bump & Grind: One of the most classic moves, leading our burlesque artform. Sometimes suggestive, sometimes in your face, but always dirty: the bump & grind! A bump is a thrust, usually of the pelvis, in any direction. While the grind, is a pelvic rotation. Wow... so dirty! 

 

Burlesque Legend: The trailblazers that were a driving force during burlesque’s development in the early years. There are some grey areas of when a performer should have performed for them to gain “legend” status, but generally... anyone who performed prior to the 2000’s tends to be viewed as a legend or a legend in the making for the next generation. Many legends still perform today, & quite a few have biographies. 

 

Classic Burlesque: Mostly known and studied from the “Golden Age” of burlesque. Classic burlesque is the style that’s all about the seduction and tease! But over the years (more like multiple decades), classic has eventually developed into harder bumps, higher and more “in your face” energy, depending on the performance. Many of the iconic burlesque costume pieces, moves, and props originated from the classic style. Panel skirts, feather fans, waterfall/tribute fans, triangle bras, garters, and corsets are all pieces we wear because of classic burlesque. 

 

Glittercrash/Glitter Crud: The exhaustion and sudden crash often felt after a show, festival, convention, or event.  

 

Golden Age of Burlesque: 1900s – 1920s. This is the initial time when burlesque was booming, performers were frequent headliners travelling the burlesque circuits, chorus lines were everywhere, and burlesque was made! (Note: Burlesque has been around for many years prior to the 1900s, but this is when we began to solidify the artform to what we know today). 

 

Gorelesque: A burlesque genre or subculture that is usually grungier and focused on shock factor and gore. Think of it as the ‘horror genre’ of burlesque.  

 

Imposter Syndrome: That feeling that creeps into most performers, of not feeling “good enough,” like they belong, or like they deserve anything they’ve earned. Many performers experience this feeling to varying degrees, despite how new, experienced, or accomplished they are as a performer. If you ever feel this way, know that you are not alone in these feelings. 

 

Merkin: Imagine underwear... now imagine it without straps. Just a teeny tiny piece of fabric (most likely with rhinestones, lace, or other embellishments) taped down to cover one’s bits. This piece is meant for the most scantily clathed: ooh, how scandalous! 

 

Muggle: Like the magical world of Harry Potter, the world of glitter and rhinestones tends to be the most fascinating part of a lot of our lives. Unfortunately, we do all have our own realities. “Muggle” refers to the daily life of a person outside of burlesque. This is also used for people who do not perform. I.e. “In my muggle life, I’m a lawyer.” or “My muggle name is....” And don’t forget “Muggles really are fascinating creatures!” 

 

Neo Burlesque: Also known as “new age burlesque,” neo is what is most commonly seen today. The burlesque revival and neo burlesque is where burlesque gains it’s “form of expression” status. Nerdlesque, Gorelesque, anything that’s political, often story or character based... these are all a few ways neo can be described. But there is no limit to neo and how one can be innovative! Even classic burlesque can be encompassed by the neo umbrella, so it may take extra studying, if trying to figure out the difference. 

 

Nerdlesque: Nerds can always make their way into any community, and burlesque is no exception! Nerdlesque is where burlesque and fandoms collide, often based off cosplay, books, TV and anything else that can be fanned over. Are you ready to strip nerdy to me? 

 

Pasties: Boob jewellery! Small covers used on one’s nipples & areolas. Often embellished with rhinestones, sequins, beads, lace, plain fabric, or tassels: or all of them! Add some tassels for that exciting twirl. Pasties are iconic to burlesque and an added expression to any costume! 

 

“Pop a Pastie!”: Literal translation “Break a leg!” 

 

Peel: A classic burlesque move, which is often seen in many styles of burlesque today. The peel is the removal of an article of clothing, usually in a slow and seductive fashion, but can also be done quickly. For the most part, if you’re removing an article of clothing, you’re peeling.  

 

Schtick: Also known as a gimmick, gag, or a button, a schtick is a signature or repeated behaviour that a performer is known for. This can refer to sticking to a certain style, being known for a specific costuming style or colour, a specific move that is used in most routines, something small like a wink at the end of every routine etc. Gimmicks can be intentional or come naturally, but in the end, as said by many in our industry... “Ya gotta have a gimmick!” 

 

Shimmy: A classic burlesque move, which is often seen in all styles of burlesque today. The shimmy, is any body shake, normally with the hips, butt, shoulders, bust, or thighs. A move that can easily be emphasized with fringe!  

 

Stage Kitten/Tiger: The real star of the show: the one who saves our costumes! The kitten is the stage hand who keeps the show running smoothly. They are the ones most often seen during shows, picking up costumes, mopping up glitter dumps, setting up sets for the next act. Where would we be without them? Probably naked.  

 

Looking for more resources for terms & descriptions? Check out Jo Weldon and Burlexe for their take!

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