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Burlesque West

Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 368
  • Book Info
    Burlesque West
    Book Description:

    Drawing on extensive archival materials and fifty first-person accounts of former dancers, strip-club owners, booking agents, choreographers, and musicians, Ross reveals stories that are deeply flavoured with an era before "striptease fell from grace because the world stopped dreaming."

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9784-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface: Beginnings, Backlash, and Brazenness
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. 1 Uncloaking the Striptease Past
    (pp. 3-28)

    For more than a century in the West, commercial striptease has flagrantly exploited a demand for undressed female flesh.¹ Today, the tradition of a woman doffing her clothing for an audience still has legs, as it were. In the bare-it-all world of peeler pubs and upscale gentlemen’s clubs, exotic dancers spread their wares fully nude on stage while marketing lap dances, massages, and table dances in Champagne and VIP rooms. Drive-through stripping is sold to customers in cars at the Climax Gentlemen’s Club in Delmont, Pennsylvania. Based in Beverly Hills, Ecstasky Air staffs its jets with strippers who offer passengers...

  6. 2 ‘I Ain’t Rebecca, and This Ain’t Sunnybrook Farm’: Men behind the Marquee
    (pp. 29-85)

    As in Montreal, Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York, Vancouver’s nightclub business emerged as an occupational enclave for immigrant men – among them, Jewish, Italian, Irish, Ukrainian, Chinese, South Asian, and African Canadian. Constrained by barriers to meaningful, secure, well-paid employment in private and public sectors controlled by the port city’s well-established Anglo elite, these non-Anglo men journeyed along a road less travelled. Intrepid impresarios in the fast-paced, edgy world of ‘adult entertainment,’ they endeavoured to pad their pockets, keep a tight grip on business, hire and fire strippers (and other performers), and dodge the intrusive surveillance of the law....

  7. 3 ‘We Were Like Snowflakes – No Two Were Alike:’ Dancers and Their Gimmicks
    (pp. 86-140)

    After World War II, striptease dancers performed what were ostensibly private acts in public, making the art of undressing spectacular, often funny, and almost always mesmerizing in Houdini-esque fashion. From curvy, coy, and deluxe-costumed ‘teasers’ in the 1950s to caged go-go dancers in bikinis in the 1960s to bottomless ‘hippie chicks,’ ‘gymnasts,’ ‘aerobics-specialists,’ and ‘spreaders’ in the 1970s, strippers met and exceeded what historian Rachel Shteir calls a cultural ‘craving for the fabulous.’⁴ Charismatic, improvisational, and self-reliant, they were assigned the status of gender and sexual ‘outlaw’ for defiance of societal conventions. In the 1950s, Michael Johns argues, women’s breasts...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 4 ‘Peelers Sell Beer, and the Money Was Huge’: The Shifting Conditions of Selling Fantasy
    (pp. 141-184)

    Commercial striptease venues in postwar Vancouver were diverse in location, clientele, and style. In this chapter, ex-dancers’ recollections are textured by lively memories of working conditions, including club interiors, pay scales, travel, and the transition to brass poles, showers, and full nudity on stage. Though wages rose steadily, dancers’ income varied, as did the quality of dressing-room and performance space, lighting, music, food services, promotion, and treatment by management and staff. By the early 1970s, dancers found themselves negotiating with agents who scheduled their bookings on ‘the circuit’ around the province. Like all service workers, dancers developed relationships with co-workers...

  10. 5 ‘Everyone Wanted to Date a Dancer, Nobody Wanted to Marry One’: Occupational Hazards in the Industry
    (pp. 185-221)

    The art of bump and grind has long conjured up negative stereotypes of female dancers as nymphomaniacs, survivors of broken homes and sexual abuse, degraded victims of predatory men, home-wreckers, and drug users dangerous to the social order, the family, and the nation.⁴ Though my evidence contradicts this troublingly one-dimensional profile, a dancer was judged for refusing to confine her sexuality to the heterosexual, monogamous, nuclear family. Governed by the age-old Western dichotomy of asexual mother versus devouring whore, she was criticized for making a mockery of romantic love, fidelity, and dignified sexual propriety. To historian Robert C. Allen, the...

  11. 6 ‘You Started to Feel Like a Dinosaur’: Exiting and Aging in the Business
    (pp. 222-246)

    Prior to 1980, the industry of professional female striptease flourished, pinned in place by contradictions. Tourism Vancouver never promoted striptease in the port city as legitimate entertainment, yet member organizations (restaurants, cab companies, hotels) reaped handsome revenues from vacationers and conventioneers who frequented the famed nightspots of ‘Las Vegas North.’ Liquor inspectors refused to license bottle clubs like the Penthouse, Café Kobenhavn, and New Delhi until 1969, but club owners turned the tables by peddling bootlegged booze and line-ups of ‘exotics.’ Police officers were paid to patrol, raid, and bust the same strip clubs that they patronized as customers. While...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 247-296)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-334)
  14. List of Interview Narrators
    (pp. 335-338)
  15. Photo Credits
    (pp. 339-342)
  16. Index
    (pp. 343-373)