The Renaissance of male Burlesque

Women have dominated Burlesque since its inception, captivating audiences from the underground to the mainstream worldwide. Now, men have emerged on the scene in a big way, taking boylesque to the next level, incorporating routines and costumes that run the gamut from cult to camp, bawdy to Broadway. With troupes travelling the world non-stop, Mr Hudson delves heels-first into male Burlesque, from the current artists on the scene, tracking the trajectory of the genre, and the acclaimed festivals around the globe worthy of your attention.

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The birth of male Burlesque

Burlesque as an art form dates back centuries, the first incarnations of male Burlesque began with Henry E. Dixey in the 1880s, a performer known for his chiselled calves and white tights, a sight that drove women of the Victorian era crazy with titillation. Another star of the era was Eugene Sandow, who became a pinup and famous for his nude review that left little to the imagination. These two men ushered in the male burlesque blueprint that all others have modelled themselves after; the genre thrived in America until the 1920s when it delved underground and ruminated. The baton was handed to Europe then – specifically Berlin and Paris – where it throttled ahead through the 40s. Let us now fast forward through the 50s and 60s to reach the peak decadence of the lascivious 70s and the decadent 80s.

Moulin Rouge Paris

Moulin Rouge, Paris | Photo: Lola Delabays

The re-emergence

Notorious venues like The Underground and Danceteria were the go-to establishments of their time, frequented by both arthouse performers and global stars from Warhol to Blondie. In their infancy, noted performance artist John Sex, with his signature platinum blonde pompadour, stripteased to electro-punk blasting through the speakers to queer crowds that marvelled at this reinvention of an artform previously dominated by women. In the 90s, James Ferguson, aka Tigger!, took the boylesque aesthetic to another level, and it continues to transform and transfix the masses as it gains in popularity across the world. Where is boylesque headed now as we have entered a new millennium and step into the Roaring 20s?

Bambi Mercury

Bambi Mercury | Photo: Feisty Cat

Amsterdam Nightlife

Photo: Artem Gavrysh

Men are taking burlesque to the next level, incorporating routines and costumes that run the gamut from cult to camp, bawdy to Broadway

The re-defining

It would only be a matter of time before men staked a significant claim to mainstream burlesque and the next evolution of the genre has something for everyone, from butch cabaret performers to dainty male drag burlesque dancers complete with a thong and stripper pole. This isn’t your parent’s Burlesque, nor is it trying to be. Bold, brash in your face, and taking no prisoners, male Burlesque in the new era is not just pushing the envelope but is shredding it to pieces.

Christopher Throbbin

Christopher Throbbin | Photo: Catie Bartlett

What is Burlesque?

To appreciate Burlesque for what it is and where it is headed, we asked a few male burlesque performers for their take on Burlesque.

Daddy D: “Burlesque is sexuality as performance, and my productions are a sex-positive variety show, including dance, comedy, audience participation and most of all, having fun celebrating our bodies and sexualities.”

Bijou: “To me, Burlesque is the art of celebrating your body, sexiness and beauty through dance and costume. It is a tasteful way of presenting nudity in a light of evoking a more confident, airy and joyful view on the human body.”

Christopher Throbbin: “Burlesque, to me, is the artistry of live storytelling incorporating the act of removing elements of attire. This act can have abstract and interpretive connotations to the performance, or be deliberate and intentional for the artist’s storytelling process.

Dita X Marlene

Photo: Levin Lee

Christopher Throbbin

Christopher Throbbin | Photo: AlasKapture

What is the future of Burlesque?

Daddy D: “I can see many parallels to drag, as both Burlesque and drag are for everyone, male or female, gay or straight, fat or skinny. Not only will burlesque incorporate a decolonised view of sexuality, it will also become less about looking expensive and opulent, and more about owning our bodies and using them to tell fun, sexy and unique narratives that celebrate our differences and creativity.

Bijou: “I hope that in the future, Burlesque gets even more inclusive than it already is. I also hope that Burlesque will lose the stigma of being the same act as striptease, which a lot of people still share. I hope it will be seen as art by more people and will get the recognition it deserves.

Christopher Throbbin: “My hope for the future of Burlesque is that we as artists inspire the general public to be more expansive and accepting in their ideas and viewpoints of how gender identity is expressed. Thus reverse-engineering those brackets and boundaries that propagate toxic-masculine traits, and hopefully making it safer for other gender/non-binary identities to exist and express themselves.

Daddy D

Daddy D

Bijou | Photo: Sheona Ann Hamilton

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Not only will burlesque incorporate a decolonised view of sexuality, it will also become more about owning our bodies and using them to tell fun, sexy and unique narratives that celebrate our differences and creativity

The best burlesque festivals worldwide

The world of male Burlesque has genuinely gone global these days, and those that live outside of metropolitan cities like Paris, London, or Berlin have far more choices if they are interested in experiencing a live viewing of some of male titillation.

MenXclusive – Melbourne, Australia

If you happen to be Down Under, the premiere destination for high-calibre male cabaret is none other than MenXclusive, the Vegas-style production that offers jaw-dropping artistry, action-packed dance sequences, and daring choreography. The award-winning show will leave you speechless and begging for more.

Dublin Burlesque Festival, Dublin, Ireland

The Irish are known for revelry in all its incarnations, and the Dublin Burlesque Festival is an absolute must-see for anyone lucky enough to be in Ireland in the fall. Every year, the festival brings a coterie of some of Burlesque’s most celebrated stars to the stage, including the current queen of Burlesque, Dita Von Teese and her harem of man-candy, including Jett Adore, a noted performer across both sides of the Atlantic.

New York City

Photo: Denys Nevozhai

New York Burlesque Festival, New York City

Arguably one of the biggest events of the scene, the New York Burlesque Festival boasts some of the most acclaimed international burlesque performers in the world, serving up an intoxicating mix of live music, comedic acts, and variety shows that cater to every taste. Celebrating striptease for nearly two decades, each year brings an exciting coterie of performers to the stage.

Montreal Burlesque Festival, Montreal, Canada

Celebrating the Prohibition era of yesteryear, the Montreal Burlesque Festival harkens back to one of the most glamorous scenes, best defined as upscale glamour, high-octane sensuality, and a bevvy of beautiful bodies strewn across a momentous weekend. Every attendee is a part of the festivities, whether on stage or off.

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