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Why lap dancing is a dirty secret but burlesque is a class act

Posted by on July 8, 2013

One involves poles, fake tan and G-strings and the other involves comedy, cabaret and nipple tassels. Both involve flaunting the female form in front of an audience, but differ hugely in their delivery and style. As a woman, why do I find one sexist and tacky but the other triumphantly inspiring?

Burlesque Dancing vs Pole Dancing

When men go into a so called ‘Gentlemen’s club’ is it sleazy or is it harmless entertainment?

Man stuffing dollar bills down stripper's G stringIt seems to me that lap dancing clubs (somewhat ostentatiously labelled Gentlemen’s clubs) tend to be filled with men on Stag nights or lads out getting their jollies behind their wife or girlfriend’s back. Men who think they are James Bond (or some other kind of smooth criminal) but who will be more likely wearing shiny shoes and their best weekend shirt & jeans than a tuxedo. It’s doubtful you’ll be finding any gentlemen in a gentlemen’s club, that’s for sure. In terms of macho entertainment, I’m struck by the similarity of so called Gentlemen’s clubs to the Romans watching the Gladiators taking to the arena. All that visual ceremony and ritual coupled with testosterone fuelled anticipation. Just another few slaves being exploited for the entertainment of the illiterate masses – what’s the big deal? Well as a species we’ve (largely) moved on from watching blood sport and killing as entertainment, but objectifying women and putting them in their rightful male-enforced place as mere sexual playthings seems as to be flavour of the day.

Elizabeth Berkley in the lap dancing movie Showgirls

Elizabeth Berkley in the Vegas lap dancing movie Showgirls

In a Gentlemen’s club, scantily clad women parade around in front of a leering, male dominated audience, dancing provocatively, sliding down poles, and offering lap dances and private dances for the patrons. Members of the paying packs in these establishments will range from the passive observers following the alpha male into the den and going with the flow, to those more eager for a spot of cock measuring. These alphas will be eager to show off to their fellow pack members, flashing their cash and paying for lap dances or private dances and shoving notes down G-strings. Of course, some of the patrons will be female and will include couples. But by and large most of the patrons will be male. Most will be in groups. And many will have wives and girlfriends back home blissfully unaware of their partner’s chosen method of unwinding on a Friday night.

An obvious difference between a lap dancing club and a burlesque show is that burlesque performers don’t offer lap dances and private dances. What happens on stage in a burlesque show is visible to all and that’s where it ends. ‘Gents’ in lap dancing clubs can pay for a personal lap dance, which their more inhibited mates get to look on and watch too, or they can splash out for a private dance. These paid “add-ons” give lap dancing clubs a seedy and secretive aspect. For the wives and girlfriends at home, if they do know where their partner is, they will never truly know what was sampled from the menu – vanilla spectating only or with “add ons”. This secretive aspect combined with the pack mentality of the laddish groups lends an incredibly sleazy air to lap dancing clubs.

So what makes a burlesque show different than a lap dancing club?

Firstly, burlesque shows are female friendly and inclusive.

Watching burlesque, as a female spectator, makes me feel good about myself rather than insecure or inferior. Burlesque provides good role models for feminine sexuality rather than unrealistic ones. Burlesque shows us there is not a standard blue print for sex appeal.

Dita Von Teese in her Martini glass routine

World famous burlesque performer, Dita Von Teese, in her Martini glass routine

Burlesque, just like lap dancing, involves stripping and partial nudity but it is all about the tease. Each act will often spend an entire song gradually stripping from the gloves onwards and maybe only at the end of the song give a flash of boob or shimmy of the nipple tassels. As the cherry on the cake (so to speak) a flash of boob is not always even guaranteed with a burlesque performance, as it’s the artful performance of the strip tease that counts, rather than the end result.

Burlesque involves the performer exuding feminine sexuality and tantalising the audience rather than being controlled by or at the whims of men. Burlesque features women of all shapes and sizes and demonstrates how captivating confidence in your body and sensuality are. It is not about fake tans, fake boobs, fake hair and fake nails, cheaply veiled as the de facto standard male fantasy. It is not about misogynist stereotypes. Women who perform burlesque are also funny and often incorporate musical cabaret and comedy into their act. There’s a bit more to it than just tits and arse.

Secondly, a difference between a burlesque show and a lap dancing club is the audience it attracts.

I’ve been to several burlesque shows (on separate occasions) with my partner, my sister, a mixed age and gender group of colleagues and a group of girl friends for my hen do. Burlesque clubs are filled with a much more diverse clientele than lap dancing clubs – men and women (gay and straight) as well as couples and groups of all varieties.

When I’ve watched burlesque with my partner, I’ve never felt concerned about being compared to the performers. Instead it made me feel proud of my fellow sisterhood for giving it some welly on the stage. I appreciate the fact that burlesque performers demonstrate everyone is different and proves that beauty and sexuality are unique, and that fun is sexy.

Gypsy Rose Lee

Gypsy Rose Lee, famous burlesque performer in the 1930s

If burlesque oozes class, then lap dancing dribbles sleaze. Ultimately burlesque is more culturally diverse, has a performance arts inspired history, is inclusive and promotes female sexuality in a positive light. Lap dancing on the other hand, provides cheap thrills, is male dominated and exploits the female form in a chauvinistic environment.  Burlesque is an entertaining, liberating inspiration to women and celebrates the fun, flirty and frivolous art of tease.  The fact that no man would probably feel the need to lie to his partner about going to a burlesque show, is probably evidence enough that it’s a class act rather than a dirty secret.

Do you have a strong opinion on lap dancing clubs or burlesque? Would you mind if your partner went to a Gentlemen’s club? Perhaps you’ve been to one or the other, or perhaps you are a performer and have a different perspective to share. If so please share your comments.

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