Five 20s Burlesque Dancers to Remember

Serena Doherty November 15, 2016 Burlesque History
20s Burlesque

Learn more about the most influential 20s burlesque dancers, who were successful in their decade and the genre. Some even claim to have invented the art of striptease.

Five 20s Burlesque Dancers

In 1920s America prohibition meant that alcohol was banned but moonshine and music meant that hemlines were slowly rising. The two combined and striptease was born though everyone seems to take credit for it.

Here’s our list of women who embodied the showgirl glamour and the period of change. Our favourite women of the wonderful golden age of 20s burlesque.

Josephine Baker

The 20s burlesque performer, Josephine Baker (pictured above), was known by several nicknames, Bronze Venus, Black Pearl and Créole Goddess. She began her career in St. Louis vaudeville. She then went on to join the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. Her success on Broadway billed her as, “The highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville.”

While on tour in Europe, Josephine Baker was an instant hit in Paris. Her exotic dancing gained such acclaim that she left her contract to return to France as part of the Follies Bergère.

Josephine Baker and her burlesque acts set the standard and even included her pet cheetah, Chiquita. Her best known routine, however, involved artificial bananas. See her perform in this video:

Josephine Baker was an influential woman in everything she did. She was also the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture in the 1934 movie Zouzou.

She was also a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination she was offered the unofficial leadership position. Though, she turned it down.

Get inspired by The Wisdom of Rosa Parks…

Mistinguett

20s Burlesque

(Image from LJ Wanderer)

The French actress and singer, Mistinguett, may be seen as more of an inspiration to burlesque. She made our list as a famous showgirl who was not shy about risqué behaviour.

It was no secret that Mistinguett was not a talented singer or the best dancer but she rose to become the best-paid female entertainer in the world. She also performed as part of Follies Bergère, Moulin Rouge and Eldorado.

Mistinguett climbed her way to success by finding her gimmick, her legs. Mistinguett said, “I had to invent something…. my legs, ‘the loveliest legs in the world’.”

By the time 20s burlesque came around her career was in full swing, ahem. Her influence was most certainly felt and still lasts to today.

She appeared in her one and only talkie at age 60 in 1936. Watch this over the top production.

Hinda Wassau

20s Burlesque

(Image from Burly Q Nell)

The 20s burlesque star, Hinda Wausau, claims she invented striptease during the era. The story goes that as a chorus girl, her dress strap snapped. The crowd applauded enthusiastically and the rest is history.

In the 1930s she was recruited by Billy Rose. He described her as, “The best cooch dancer since Gilda Gray first startled the public.”

Carrie Finnell

20s burlesque

(Image from Vintage Vanity Burlesque)

Another 20s burlesque performer who claims to have invented striptease is Carrie Finnell. Her act involved removing one item per week. Per week! She holds the record for the longest strip with 54 weeks.

Her signature moves were equally impressive. Carrie Finnell was known as a mammary manipulator. During her career she used muscle manipulation. She would swing tassels, bells and even electric lights, all at the same time.

Her list of accomplishments doesn’t end there. She’s credited with talking Gypsy Rose Lee into peeling on stage. She beat Mae West in a strip-off. She’s also said to have invented the nipple tassel. Definitely a woman worth remembering.

Check out our favourite mammary manipulator in Satan’s Angel.

Mae Dix

20s Burlesque

(Image from The Chiseler)

The infamous burlesque theatre, Minsky’s Burlesque, also claim to have invented striptease. Though, their history states that it began before 20s burlesque.

In 1917 their burlesque dancer, Mae Dix, was on the stage when they were raided for the first time. She absent mindedly began removing her costume before reaching the stage’s wings. When the crowd went wild she returned to the stage and removed her burlesque costume.

One of the owners, Billy Minsky, ordered that the “accident” was repeated every night. One more wonderful thing we have to thank Minsky’s for.

See this scene in the adaptation, The Night They Raided Minsky’s:

Read The History of Burlesque Dancing and watch our summary below.

(Main image from Fashion Bomb Daily)