“Burlesque” did not begin with female strippers bumping and grinding to loud music. Though it headed that direction in its declining years, Burlesque began in the 1840s as a wide range of theatrical productions, including comic plays and musicals for the entertainment starved lower and middle classes. Generally, these productions made “fun” of the operas, plays, and social habits of the upper classes and were extremely popular among their laughing audiences. Suggestive rather than bawdy, these shows relied less on strong scripts or songs than on the popularity and talents of their stars.
However, in the saloons of the West, the patrons were often just excited by the scantily dressed women as any talent that may have been displayed. Production posters and advertisements often decorated the walls long after the stars had taken their productions elsewhere.
burlesque (ber lesk) – n. 1. an artistic composition, esp. literary or dramatic, which vulgarizes lofty material of treats ordinary material with mock dignity, 2. a humorous and provocative stage show featuring slapstick humor, comic skits, bawdy songs, striptease acts, suggestive dances, and a scantily clad female chorus, 3. to make ridiculous by mocking representation.
– Webster’s Dictionary