Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver
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.
- 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.'
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
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
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
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
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
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
Striptease Spin-offs Trouble the Whore Stigma
Olympian Beauty Games
The Steel-Shafted Stiletto: A Museum Artefact in the Offing?
AwardsClio Prize for British Columbia awarded by Canadian Historical Association - Winner in 2010
Subjects and Courses