Welcome back to our overview of burlesque history. Well, it’s the ’60s. Between the censorship of the ’50s, when a lot of clubs were closed, and the general loosening of society, burlesque as an art form was pretty much over. Around this time, club owners began asking dancers to mingle with the audience in a bid to increase alcohol sales, a front-runner to lap dance culture at the modern strip club. It was no longer about the tease, but about the hard sell to increase revenues. As one dancer put it, “anyone willing to get naked could get work.”
In 1960, the Playboy Club opened in Chicago. While it didn’t feature dancers, it employed beautiful women in bunny costumes to serve drinks.
Despite Playboy’s later reputation, the club was swank and classy rather than sleazy. Members were known as “keyholders” and you could even take your wife, although it’s unclear how many men actually did that. Eventually, clubs opened all over the world and featured some of the most famous musicians and comedians of the era. Being a keyholder was a major status symbol.
Another fad born of the ’60s is the go go dancer, which is said to have originated (appropriately enough) at L.A.’s Whisky A Go Go. Modeled on a Parisian bar of the same name, the Whisky opened on the Sunset Strip in 1964 and became one of the most famous (or notorious) clubs of the decade, hosting pretty much every famous act you would associate with the era, from The Doors to Jimi Hendrix to The Beatles. The club is still in business today and some of the most famous rockers of the last 50 years have played there. The club featured dancers in “cages,” who eventually became known as “go go dancers.”
The Peppermint Lounge is said to have launched the Twist craze of the early sixties, and according to lore, the go go dancer evolved out of people dancing the twist on tables. Wherever it started, the go go dancer is one of the most iconic symbols of the ’60s.
(She was also known for having her breasts injected with silicone, taking her from a size 34 to a size 44, earning them the nickname “San Francisco’s New Twin Peaks.”) Her act showed her descending from the ceiling onto a baby grand piano, where she would perform a few numbers before being raised up again. She is credited with launching San Francisco’s topless craze (which I guess was a thing?).
Finally, meet Tammi True, who worked during the ’60s at Jack Ruby’s Dallas nightclub The Carousel Club (yep, THAT Jack Ruby!).
She actually had to testify in Washington during the investigation into Ruby’s murder of JFK shooter Lee Harvey Oswald.
So there you have it. While burlesque wasn’t big in the ’60s, you could still see your share of beautiful women shaking and shimmying. Come back next week to explore the ’70s with us!
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