This is How You Burlesque… Sally Rand

Serena Doherty March 29, 2016 Burlesque Icons
Sally Rand

Our Sally Rand biography looks at the most famous dancer in 1930s burlesque. See what fan dancers, balloon dancers and burlesque dancers owe this wonderful woman.

Sally Rand Biography

Burlesque performer, Sally Rand was born Hattie Helen Gould Beck in Missouri. It seems she was made for the stage and began her career as a chorus girl at age 13 in Kansas City.

She then went on to study ballet and drama there but decided the future was Hollywood. A smart woman that one.

The story goes that Sally Rand became a silent movie actress. Unfortunately, films became talkies and her lisp halted her on-screen career.

It was then that she moved to Chicago where a feather fan dance legend was born. It starts with short-notice for a dancing job and a pair of vintage fans in a shop window.

Sally Rand bought them and intended to upcycle the props and make a toga-type dress. She set to work but ran out of time and the burlesque fan dance was born.

This tale, however, was disputed by Faith Bacon who claims she invented feather fan dancing. Thus a career-long rivalry began.

Sally Rand’s most famous performance came at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair entitled Century of Progress. She was arrested four times that day for supposed indecent exposure.

Once during her famous feather fan dance. Then for doing a Lady Godiva by riding a white horse with the illusion of nudity. She was also bodypainted by Max Factor, Sr. with his new makeup for Hollywood cinema.

Did we mention, Sally Rand also created the bubble dance which allowed for outdoor burlesque dancing. What a woman. Apparently, there’s no such thing as bad press.

Sally Rand

In 1936 Sally Rand bought The Music Box burlesque hall in San Francisco which later became the Great American Music Hall. Although, the drama did not end there.

She was the star of Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939 and 1940. She was also repeaedly arrested.

In 1940s burlesque censorship tightened and in 1946 she was arrested at the Club Savoy. Though, the judge attended a future performance to gauge any indecenty and cleared her of all charges.

Throughout her career, Sally Rand continued to be inspirational and influential within burlesque dancing. This included nostalgia shows of the 70s like This Was Burlesque and Big Show of 1928 alongside the stars of the day.

See her infamous feather fan dance at the Chicago World’s Fair and why fan dancing continues to be a staple of the art form.

Check out The History of Burlesque Dancing.

Burlexe is a sensational London burlesque show inspired by the women who created the genre and perform the art. It fuses burlesque performance with storytelling, dancing with acting.

Find out more about our unique burlesque show and join our mailing list.

Sally Rand

(Main image from The Telegraph)