The trailer for “Burlesque,” starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, makes the film seem like cheesy fun. What the preview fails to do, however, is explain what actually defines burlesque. Is it strictly a type of dance performed in seedy venues, a fancy word for striptease? Luckily for word enthusiasts, “burlesque” derives from a rich tradition as well as a compelling meaning.
Traditionally, burlesque has been a type of variety show that is both provocative and comedic. It features a female chorus and solo dances, plus bawdy, slapstick skits and songs. And yes, it may feature striptease acts, but not necessarily.
“Burlesque” comes from the Italian and means “mockery.” Historically, it was originally used to refer to an array of entertainment that used caricature, ridicule, and distortion. The word was first used in the 16th century by the Italian Francesco Berni who called his operas burleschi.
In the United States, stage burlesque, which was usually quite vulgar, began in the mid-1800s. These early shows often ended with either an exotic dancer or a boxing match. Many stars got their start in burlesque, including Mae West and Fannie Brice. In the 1920s, the term became synonymous with “strip-tease show,” and was even banned in New York City. Burlesque entertainment couldn’t compete with the rising popularity of movies and nightclubs; eventually, it fizzled out. However, it saw resurgence in major cities across the U.S. in the 1990s.
Cher plays a seasoned performer in “Burlesque.” But the early life of the 64-year-old diva may surprise you. Cher was born to a truck driver and an aspiring actress in California who named their daughter Cherilyn Sarkisian.
When Cher first began singing with Sonny Bono, the duo was known as “Caesar and Cleo.” And, even after she began using her real name, the actress and singer added an acute accent mark because Ed Sullivan mispronounced her name as “Chur.” She dropped the accent mark in 1974.