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

Becki L. Ross

© 2009

After the Second World War, Vancouver emerged as a hotbed of striptease talent. In Burlesque West,the first critical history of this notorious striptease scene, Becki Ross delves into the erotic entertainment industry at the northern end of the dancers' west coast tour - the North-South route from Los Angeles to Vancouver that provided rotating work for dancers and variety for club clientele.

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," in the words of ex-dancer Lindalee Tracey. Though jobs in this particular industry are often perceived as having little in common with other sorts of work, retired dancers' accounts resonate surprisingly with those of contemporary service workers, including perceptions of unionization and workplace benefits and hazards. Ross also traces the sanitization and subsequent integration of striptease style and neo-burlesque trends into mass culture, examining continuity and change to ultimately demonstrate that Vancouver's glitzy nightclub scene, often condemned as a quasi-legal strain of urban blight, in fact greased the economic engine of the post-war city.

Provocative and challenging, Burlesque West combines the economic, the social, the sexual, and the personal, and is sure to intellectually tantalize.

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Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 368 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.1in x 1.0in x 9.0in
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SKU# SP002896

  • PUBLISHED JUL 2009

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    Regular Price: $37.95

    ISBN 9780802096463
  • PUBLISHED JUL 2009

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    Regular Price: $84.00

    ISBN 9780802096982
  • PUBLISHED JUL 2009

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Quick Overview

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."

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

Becki L. Ross

© 2009

After the Second World War, Vancouver emerged as a hotbed of striptease talent. In Burlesque West,the first critical history of this notorious striptease scene, Becki Ross delves into the erotic entertainment industry at the northern end of the dancers' west coast tour - the North-South route from Los Angeles to Vancouver that provided rotating work for dancers and variety for club clientele.

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," in the words of ex-dancer Lindalee Tracey. Though jobs in this particular industry are often perceived as having little in common with other sorts of work, retired dancers' accounts resonate surprisingly with those of contemporary service workers, including perceptions of unionization and workplace benefits and hazards. Ross also traces the sanitization and subsequent integration of striptease style and neo-burlesque trends into mass culture, examining continuity and change to ultimately demonstrate that Vancouver's glitzy nightclub scene, often condemned as a quasi-legal strain of urban blight, in fact greased the economic engine of the post-war city.

Provocative and challenging, Burlesque West combines the economic, the social, the sexual, and the personal, and is sure to intellectually tantalize.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 368 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.1in x 1.0in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    ‘Ross’s book is outstanding… Ross very effectively uses the erotic entertainment business as a lens through which to view Vancouver history in the post-World War II period – a hugely important period in shaping what the city was to become… it gives us insight into the entire industry, profiling not only the strippers and the problems they faced, but also the men who owned and ran the clubs.’
    Gerald Hunt: Labour/leTravail, vol 67: Spring2011

    'Ross paints a complex and rich historical snapshot of Vancouver nightlife and argues that the industry was fundamentally important to the city's burgeoning economy.'
    Lara Campbell
    BC Studies; Number 169: Spring 2011

    ‘On the growing bookshelf of work on strippers and strip clubs, their histories, economy, politics, and cultural roles, Burlesque west stands out as a work that humanizes all its players by completing the historical picture… Ross offers a thoroughly researched and compelling work that not only reveals the tremendous cultural debt owed to burlesque but begins to capture this important piece of our collective urban histories. ’
    Michelle M. Carnes; Canadian Journal of Sociology: vol 36:03:2011

    Burlesque West is a trailblazer in Canadian social and cultural history. With passion and sensitivity, Becki L. Ross explores a subject largely ignored until now - that of post-World War II erotic entertainment. Ross's interviews with dancers, strippers, owners, and musicians add immeasurably to the book and allow her to draw multifaceted pictures of dancers' whole lives, not just their work lives. Women's voices come through strongly, not only revealing essential insider information and descriptions, but also adding humanity and complexity to the story.
    Joan Sangster, History and Women's Studies, Trent University
  • Author Information

    Becki L. Ross is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and the Chair of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the University of British Columbia.

  • Table of contents

    Chapter One: Uncloaking the Striptease Past
    Early Twentieth Century Burlesque and the Tease Factor
    Postwar Contradictions
    Vancouver: Terminal City
    Postwar Striptease: the Stain of Stigma, Ill-understood Paradoxes, and the Dearth of Sleuths
    Economic Efflorescence: Under the Thumb of Abolitionists
    Wilfully Plucky: Negotiating the Stripper Stigma
    Bankrolling My Research
    Righteous, Angry Canadians Sound Off
    Oral Histories Unlock the Vault
    Why Me?

    Chapter Two: "I Ain't Rebecca, and This Ain't Sunnybrook Farm"
    Men Behind the Marquee
    Postwar Vancouver Heats Up After Dark
    Classic Burlesque at the State Theatre
    Fancy Nightclubs in the City's West End
    Celebrities Work Their Magic Amidst the Stalactites at the Cave Supper Club
    Deluxe Showgirls at Isy's Supper Clubs
    The Penthouse Cabaret: The City's Oldest Stationary Funhouse
    East End Nightclubs: Smilin' Buddha, New Delhi, Kublai Khan
    Shakin' It Up at the Harlem Nocturne
    Hotel Explosion in the City and Beyond
    Legal Conundrums: Hounded by the Law Post-Decriminalization
    Changing Times
    Tarred by the Brush of Immorality

    Chapter Three: "You Gotta Have a Gimmick": Dancers and Their Acts
    Undressing for Success: White American Queens of Striptease Set the Glamour Bar
    Impersonating the Exotic Other
    Diversities Abounded Among Locals in the Port City
    White Vancouver Dancers Perfect a Gimmick
    Racy Acts: Black Stripteasers and the White Imagination
    Chinese, Latina, South Asian and First Nations Dancers: More Absent than Present
    Hoochie Coochie Queers Work Terminal City
    Playing the Striptease Game

    Chapter Four: "Peelers Sell Beer, and the Money Was Huge": The Shifting Conditions of Work
    "Ladies and Genitals, Let's Tickle Your Pickle, Heat Your Meat, and Pop Your Cork"
    Money: Making It and Spending It
    Dancers and Their Co-Workers
    Dancers' Relationships with Patrons
    Traveling the Circuit
    Supplementing Striptease Work
    Augmenting Marketability
    Transition to Poles and Showers on Hotel Stages
    Spreading and Split Beavers
    A New Era Dawns

    Chapter Five: "Everyone Wanted to Date a Dancer, Nobody Wanted to Marry One": Occupational Hazards in the Industry
    Stripper Stigma as Occupational Hazard
    Temptations of Drugs and Alcohol
    The Toll of Sexual Harassment and Assault
    Women Make Waves in Unions Country-Wide
    A Small-Scale, Transient Business
    Dancers Compete as Freelancers
    The Anti-Union Resolve of Club Owners and Booking Agents
    Dodging the Law
    Uninterested Male-Dominated Unions and Unreceptive Labour Law
    Directing Activist Energies Forward
    Processes of Downsizing and Deskilling
    Dancing in the 1980s: The Me-Generation

    Chapter Six: "You Started to Feel Like a Dinosaur": Exiting and Aging in the Business
    The Pleasures and Perils of Risky Business
    The Respectability Sweepstakes
    Exiting and Aging
    Post-1980 Changes in the Business
    Repudiations Recur
    Striptease Spin-offs Trouble the Whore Stigma
    Contemporary Organizing
    Olympian Beauty Games
    The Steel-Shafted Stiletto: A Museum Artefact in the Offing?

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