A striptease is an erotic or exotic dance in which the performer gradually undresses, either partly or completely, in a seductive and sexually suggestive manner. The person who performs a striptease is commonly known as a "stripper" or exotic dancer.
- French tradition
- American tradition
- British tradition
- New Burlesque
- Male strippers
- Private dancing
- Striptease and the law
- 1940s 1950s
- 1960s 1970s
- 1980s 1990s
- 2000s present
In Western countries, the venues where stripteases are performed on a regular basis are now usually called strip clubs, though they may be performed in venues such as pubs (especially in the UK), theaters and music halls. At times, a stripper may be hired to perform at a bachelor or bachelorette party. In addition to providing adult entertainment, stripping can be a form of sexual play between partners. This can be done as an impromptu event or – perhaps for a special occasion – with elaborate planning involving fantasy wear, music, special lighting, practiced dance moves, or unrehearsed dance moves.
Striptease involves a slow, sensuous undressing. The Stripper may prolong the undressing with delaying tactics such as the wearing of additional clothes or putting clothes or hands in front of just undressed body parts such as the breasts or genitalia. The emphasis is on the act of undressing along with sexually suggestive movement, rather than the state of being undressed. In the past, the performance often finished as soon as the undressing was finished, though today's strippers usually continue dancing in the nude. The costume the stripper wears before disrobing can form part of the act. In some cases, audience interaction can form part of the act, with audience urging the stripper to remove more clothing, or the stripper approaching the audience to interact with them.
Striptease and public nudity have been subject to legal and cultural prohibitions and other aesthetic considerations and taboos. Restrictions on venues may be through venue licensing requirements and constraints and a wide variety of national and local laws. These laws vary considerably around the world, and even between different parts of the same country.
H. L. Mencken is credited with coining the word ecdysiast – from "ecdysis", meaning "to molt" – in response to a request from striptease artist Georgia Sothern, for a "more dignified" way to refer to her profession. Gypsy Rose Lee, one of the most famous striptease artists of all time, approved of the term.
The origins of striptease as a performance art are disputed and various dates and occasions have been given from ancient Babylonia to 20th century America. The term "striptease" was first recorded in 1932, though "stripping", in the sense of women removing clothing to sexually excite men, seems to go back to at least the late 19th century.
There is a stripping aspect in the ancient Sumerian myth of the descent of the goddess Inanna into the Underworld (or Kur). At each of the seven gates, she removed an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry. As long as she remained in hell, the earth was barren. When she returned, fecundity abounded. Some believe this myth was embodied in the Dance of the Seven Veils of Salome, who danced for King Herod, as mentioned in the New Testament in Matthew 14:6 and Mark 6:21-22. However, although the Bible records Salome's dance, the first mention of her removing seven veils occurs in Oscar Wilde's play of 'Salome', in 1893.
In ancient Greece, the lawgiver Solon established several classes of prostitutes in the late 6th century BC. Among these classes of prostitutes were the auletrides: female dancers, acrobats, and musicians, noted for dancing naked in an alluring fashion in front of audiences of men. In ancient Rome, dance featuring stripping was part of the entertainments (ludi) at the Floralia, an April festival in honor of the goddess Flora. Empress Theodora, wife of 6th-century Byzantine emperor Justinian is reported by several ancient sources to have started in life as a courtesan and actress who performed in acts inspired from mythological themes and in which she disrobed "as far as the laws of the day allowed". She was famous for her striptease performance of "Leda and the Swan". From these accounts, it appears that the practice was hardly exceptional nor new. It was, however, actively opposed by the Christian Church, which succeeded in obtaining statutes banning it in the following century. The degree to which these statutes were subsequently enforced is, of course, opened to question. What is certain is that no practice of the sort is reported in texts of the European Middle Ages.
An early version of strip-tease became popular in England at the time of the Restoration. A strip tease was incorporated into the Restoration comedy The Rover, written by Aphra Behn in 1677. The stripper is a man; an English country gentleman who sensually undresses and goes to bed in a love scene. (However, the scene is played for laughs; the prostitute he thinks is going to bed with him robs him, and he ends up having to crawl out of the sewer.) The concept of strip-tease was also widely known, as can be seen in the reference to it in Thomas Otway's comedy The Soldier's Fortune (1681), where a character says: "Be sure they be lewd, drunken, stripping whores".
Strip-tease was also combined with music, as in the 1720 German translation of the French La Guerre D'Espagne (Cologne: Pierre Marteau, 1707), where a galant party of high aristocrats and opera singers has resorted to a small château where they entertain themselves with hunting, play and music in a three-day turn:
The dancers, to please their lovers the more, dropped their clothes and danced totally naked the nicest entrées and ballets; one of the princes directed the delightful music, and only the lovers were allowed to watch the performances.
An Arabic custom, first noted by French colonialists and described by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert may have influenced the French strip-tease. The dances of the Ghawazee in North Africa and Egypt consisted of the erotic dance of the bee performed by a woman known as Kuchuk Hanem. In this dance the performer disrobes as she searches for an imaginary bee trapped within her garments. It is likely that the women performing these dances did not do so in an indigenous context, but rather, responded to the commercial climate for this type of entertainment. Middle Eastern belly dance, also known as oriental dancing, was popularized in the United States after its introduction on the Midway at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago by a dancer known as Little Egypt.
Some claim the origin of the modern striptease lies in Oscar Wilde's play of 'Salome', in 1893. In the Dance of the Seven Veils the female protagonist dances for King Herod and slowly removes her veils until she lies naked. After Wilde's play and Richard Strauss's operatic version of the same, first performed in 1905, the erotic 'dance of the seven veils', became a standard routine for dancers in opera, vaudeville, film and burlesque. A famous early practitioner was Maud Allan who in 1907 gave a private performance of the dance to King Edward VII.
In the 1880s and 1890s, Parisian shows such as the Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergère were featuring attractive scantily clad women dancing and tableaux vivants. In this environment, an act in the 1890s featured a woman who slowly removed her clothes in a vain search for a flea crawling on her body. The People's Almanac credits the act as the origin of modern striptease.
In 1905, the notorious and tragic Dutch dancer Mata Hari, later shot as a spy by the French authorities during World War I, was an overnight success from the debut of her act at the Musée Guimet. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and some ornaments over her arms and head. Another landmark performance was the appearance at the Moulin Rouge in 1907 of an actress called Germaine Aymos who entered dressed only in three very small shells. In the 1920s and 1930s the famous Josephine Baker danced topless in the danse sauvage at the Folies and other such performances were provided at the Tabarin. These shows were notable for their sophisticated choreography and often dressing the girls in glitzy sequins and feathers. In his 1957 book Mythologies, semiotician Roland Barthes interpreted this Parisian striptease as a "mystifying spectacle", a "reassuring ritual" where "evil is advertised the better to impede and exorcise it". By the 1960s "fully nude" shows were provided at such places as Le Crazy Horse Saloon.
In the United States, striptease started in traveling carnivals and burlesque theatres, and featured famous strippers such as Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand. The vaudeville trapeze artist, Charmion, performed a "disrobing" act onstage as early as 1896, which was captured in the 1901 Edison film, Trapeze Disrobing Act. Another milestone for modern American striptease is the possibly legendary show at Minsky's Burlesque in April 1925: The Night They Raided Minsky's. The Minsky brothers brought burlesque to New York's 42nd Street. However the burlesque theatres here were prohibited from having striptease performances in a legal ruling of 1937 leading to the later decline of these "grindhouses" (named after the bump 'n grind entertainment on offer) into venues for cinema.
The 1960s saw a revival of striptease in the form of topless go-go dancing. This eventually merged with the older tradition of burlesque dancing. Carol Doda of the Condor Night Club in the North Beach section of San Francisco is given the credit of being the first topless go-go dancer. The club opened in 1964 and Doda's première topless dance occurred on the evening of June 19 of that year. The large lit sign in front of the club featured a picture of her with red lights on her breasts. The club went "bottomless" on September 3, 1969 and began the trend of explicit "full nudity" in American striptease dancing. San Francisco is also the location of the notorious Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre. Originally an X-rated movie theater this striptease club pioneered lap dancing in 1980, and was a major force in popularizing it in strip clubs on a nationwide and eventually worldwide basis.
In Britain in the 1930s, when Laura Henderson began presenting nude shows at the Windmill Theatre, London, the British law prohibited naked girls from moving. To get around the prohibition the models appeared in stationary tableaux vivants. The Windmill girls also toured other London and provincial theatres, sometimes using ingenious devices such as rotating ropes to move their bodies round, though strictly speaking, staying within the letter of the law by not moving of their own volition. Another example of the way the shows stayed within the law was the fan dance, in which a naked dancer's body was concealed by her fans and those of her attendants, until the end of her act in when she posed nude for a brief interval whilst standing still.
In 1942, Phyllis Dixey formed her own company of girls and rented the Whitehall Theatre in London to put on a review called The Whitehall Follies.
By the 1950s, touring striptease acts were used to attract audiences to the dying music halls. Arthur Fox started his touring shows in 1948 and Paul Raymond started his in 1951. Paul Raymond later leased the Doric Ballroom in Soho and opened his private members club, the Raymond Revuebar in 1958. This was one of the first of the private striptease members clubs in Britain.
Changes in the law in the 1960s brought about a boom of strip clubs in Soho with "fully nude" dancing and audience participation. Pubs were also used as a venue, most particularly in the East End with a concentration of such venues in the district of Shoreditch. This pub striptease seems in the main to have evolved from topless go-go dancing. Though often a target of local authority harassment, some of these pubs survive to the present day. An interesting custom in these pubs is that the strippers walk round and collect money from the customers in a beer jug before each individual performance. This custom appears to have originated in the late 1970s when topless go-go dancers first started collecting money from the audience as the fee for going "fully nude". Private dances of a more raunchy nature are sometimes available in a separate area of the pub.
Striptease became popular in Japan after the end of World War II. When entrepreneur Shigeo Ozaki saw Gypsy Rose Lee perform, he started his own striptease revue in Tokyo's Shinjuku neighborhood. During the 1950s, Japanese "strip shows" became more sexually explicit and less dance-oriented, until they were eventually simply live sex shows.
Recently pole dancing has come to dominate the world of striptease. In the late 20th century, pole dancing was practised in exotic dance clubs in Canada. These clubs grew up to become a thriving sector of the economy. Canadian style pole dancing, table dancing and lap dancing, organized by multi-national corporations such as Spearmint Rhino, was exported from North America to (among other countries) the United Kingdom, the nations of central Europe, Russia and Australia. In London, England a raft of such so-called "lap dancing clubs" grew up in the 1990s, featuring pole dancing on stage and private table dancing, though, despite media misrepresentation, lap-dancing in the sense of bodily contact was forbidden by law.
"Feature shows" are used to generate interest from potential customers who otherwise would not visit the establishment but know the performer from other outlets. A headlining star of a striptease show is referred to as a feature dancer, and is often a performer with credits such as contest titles or appearances in adult films or magazines. The decades-old practice continued through the late 2000s (decade) to the present day with high-profile adult film performers such as Jenna Haze and Teagan Presley scheduling feature shows through the USA.
In December 2006, a Norwegian court ruled that striptease is an art form and made strip clubs exempt from value added tax.
In the latter 1990s, a number of solo performers and dance groups emerged to create Neo-burlesque, a revival of the classic American burlesque striptease of the early half of the 20th century. New Burlesque focuses on dancing, costumes and entertainment (which may include comedy and singing) and generally eschews full nudity or toplessness. Some burlesquers of the past have become instructors and mentors to New Burlesque performers such as The Velvet Hammer Burlesque and The World Famous Pontani Sisters. The pop group Pussycat Dolls began as a New Burlesque troupe.
Until the 1970s, strippers in Western cultures were almost invariably female, performing to male audiences. Since then, male strippers have also become common. Before the 1970s, dancers of both sexes appeared largely in underground clubs or as part of a theatre experience, but the practice eventually became common enough on its own. One of the better-known troupes of male strippers are the Chippendales. Male strippers have become a popular option to have at a bachelorette party.
A variation on striptease is private dancing, which often involves lap dancing or contact dancing. Here the performers, in addition to stripping for tips, also offer "private dances" which involve more attention for individual audience members. Variations include private dances like table dancing where the performer dances on or by customer's table rather than the customer being seated in a couch.
Striptease and the law
From ancient times to the present day, striptease was considered a form of public nudity and subject to legal and cultural prohibitions on moral and decency grounds. Such restrictions have been embodied in venue licensing regulations and various national and local laws, including liquor licensing restrictions.
Numerous U.S. jurisdictions have specific laws on the books related to striptease. One of the more notorious local ordinances is San Diego Municipal Code 33.3610, specific and strict in response to allegations of corruption among local officials which included contacts in the nude entertainment industry. Among its provisions is the "six foot rule", copied by other municipalities in requiring that dancers maintain a six-foot distance while performing.
Other rules forbid "full nudity". In some parts of the USA, there are laws forbidding the exposure of female nipples, which have thus to be covered by pasties by the dancer (though no such taboo applies to the exposure of male nipples). In early 2010, the city of Detroit banned fully exposed breasts in its strip clubs, following the example of Houston which began enforcing a similar ordinance in 2008. The city council has since softened the rules eliminating the requirement for pasties but kept other restrictions. Both cities were reputed to have rampant occurrences of illicit activity linked to its striptease establishments. For some jurisdictions, even certain postures can be considered "indecent" (such as spreading the legs).
In Britain in the 1930s, when the Windmill Theatre, London, began to present nude shows, British law prohibited performers moving whilst in a state of nudity. To get around that rule, models appeared naked in stationary tableaux vivants. To keep within the law, sometimes devices were used which rotated the models without them moving themselves. Fan dances were another device used to keep performances within the law. These allowed a naked dancer's body to be concealed by her fans or those of her attendants, until the end of an act, when she posed naked for a brief interval whilst standing stock still, and the lights went out or the curtain dropped to allow her to leave the stage. Changes in the law in the 1960s brought about a boom of strip clubs in Soho, with "fully nude" dancing and audience participation. Following the introduction of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, a local authority licence is required for venues in England and Wales (and later Scotland) where live nude entertainment takes place more than 11 times a year.
In 2010, Iceland outlawed striptease. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland's prime minister said: "The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale." The politician behind the bill, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, said: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold."
Lady of Burlesque (known in the UK as Striptease Lady) (1943) based on the novel The G-String Murders (1941), by famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, stars Barbara Stanwyck as a stripper who gets involved in the investigation of murders at a burlesque house. A play by Gypsy Rose Lee entitled The Naked Genius (1943) was the inspiration for Doll Face (1945), a musical about a burlesque star (Vivian Blaine) who wants to become a legitimate actress.
Gilda (1946), showcases one of the most famous stripteases in cinematic history, performed by Rita Hayworth to "Put the Blame on Mame"), though in the event she removes just her gloves, before the act is terminated by a jealous admirer. Murder at the Windmill (1949), (known in the U.S.A. as "Mystery at the Burlesque") directed by Val Guest is set at the Windmill Theatre, London and features Diana Decker, Jon Pertwee and Jimmy Edwards. Salome (1953) once again features Rita Hayworth doing a striptease act; this time as the famous biblical stripper Salome, performing the Dance of the Seven Veils. According to Hayworth's biographers this Erotic dance routine was "the most demanding of her entire career", necessitating "endless takes and retakes". Expresso Bongo (1959) is a British film which features striptease at a club in Soho, London.
In 1960, the film Beat Girl cast Christopher Lee as a sleazy Soho Strip club owner who gets stabbed to death by a stripper. Gypsy (1962), features Natalie Wood as the famous burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee in her memorable rendition of "Let Me Entertain You". It was re-made for TV in 1993 Starring Bette Midler as Mama Rose and Cynthia Gibb as Gypsy Rose Lee. The Stripper (1963) featured Gypsy Rose Lee, herself, giving a trademark performance in the title role. A documentary film, Dawn in Piccadilly, was produced in 1962 at the Windmill Theatre. In 1964, We Never Closed (British Movietone) depicted the last night of the Windmill Theatre. In 1965, the feature film Viva Maria! starred Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau as two girls who perform a striptease act and get involved in revolutionary politics in South America.
Also produced in 1965 was Carousella, a documentary about Soho striptease artistes, directed by John Irvin. Another documentary film, which looked at the unglamorous side of striptease, is the 1966 film called,"Strip", filmed at the Phoenix Club in Soho. Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1966) featured Pauline Collins and April Wilding and was directed by Arnold L. Miller. The film has some fan dancing scenes danced by an ex-Windmill Theatre artiste. The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968) gives a possibly legendary account of the birth of striptease at Minsky's Burlesque theatre in New York. In 1968, the sci-fi film Barbarella depicted Jane Fonda stripping in zero-gravity conditions whilst wearing her spacesuit. Marlowe (1969) stars Rita Moreno playing a stripper, in the finale of the movie simultaneously delivering dialogue with the title character and performing a vigorous dance on stage. The Beatles movie Magical Mystery Tour has a scene where all the men on the tour bus go to a gentleman's club and watch a woman strip on stage.
Ichijo's Wet Lust (1972), Japanese director Tatsumi Kumashiro's award-winning Roman porno film featured the country's most famous stripper, Sayuri Ichijō, starring as herself. A British film production of 1976 is the film Get 'Em Off, produced by Harold Baim. Alain Bernardin the owner of the Crazy Horse in Paris directed the film,"Crazy Horse de Paris" . Paul Raymond's Erotica (1981) stars Brigitte Lahaie and Diana Cochran and was directed by Brian Smedley-Aston. The Dance routines were filmed at the Raymond Revuebar Theatre.
In addition to lesser-known videos such as A Night at the Revuebar (1983), the 1980s also featured mainstream films involving stripping. These included Flashdance (1983), which told the story of blue-collar worker Alexandra (Alex) Owens (Jennifer Beals), who works as an exotic dancer in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania bar at night and at a steel mill as a welder during the day. Stripping also was part of "genre" films, such as horror thriller Fear City (1984), by Abel Ferrara, about a mass-murderer who terrorizes dancers working at a seedy strip club in Times Square, New York City. The erotic drama 9½ Weeks (1986) depicted Kim Basinger stripping to the tune of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" by Joe Cocker. Stripped to Kill (1987) was an exploitation film from Roger Corman about a lady cop who poses as a stripper to catch a murderer; which was followed by a sequel of the same name. Ladykillers (1988), was a 'whodunnit' murder mystery involving the murders of male strippers by an unknown female assailant. Blaze (1989) features Lolita Davidovitch as notorious stripper Blaze Starr. Starr herself appears in the film in a cameo role.
Massive Attack : Eleven Promos. "Be Thankful For What You've Got" (1992), directed by Baillie Walsh, includes one dance routine by Ritzy Sparkle at the Raymond Revuebar Theatre. Exotica (1994), directed by Atom Egoyan, is set in a Canadian lap-dance club, and portrays a man's (Bruce Greenwood) obsession with a schoolgirl stripper named Christina (Mia Kirshner). Showgirls (1995) was directed by Paul Verhoeven and starred Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon. Striptease (1996), was an adaptation of the novel starring Demi Moore. Barb Wire (1996), starred Pamela Anderson (of Baywatch fame), who performs a wet striptease. The Full Monty (1997) is a story of British ex-steel workers who form a Chippendales-style dance revue and decide to strip naked to make an extra buck. It featured songs including an updated version of David Rose's big hit The Stripper and Tom Jones's version of "You Can Leave Your Hat On". The Players Club (1998) starred LisaRaye as a girl who becomes a stripper to earn enough money to enter college and study journalism.
Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000) is a feature film starring Daryl Hannah. The female cast of the film researched the film by dancing at strip clubs and created their parts and their storylines to be as realistic as possible. The Raymond Revuebar the Art of Striptease (2002) is a documentary, directed by Simon Weitzman. Los Debutantes (2003) is a Chilean film set in a strip-club in Santiago. Portraits of a Naked Lady Dancer (2004) is a documentary, directed by Deborah Rowe. In Closer (2004), Natalie Portman plays Alice, a young stripper just arrived in London from America. Crazy Horse Le Show (2004) features dance routines from the Crazy Horse, Paris. Mrs Henderson Presents (2005) portrays the erotic dance routines and nude tableau-vivants which featured at the Windmill Theatre before and during World War II. The film Factotum (2005) (by Norwegian director Bent Hamer) concludes with Matt Dillon (in the role of Henry Chinaski - an alter ego of Charles Bukowski, who wrote the novel on which the film is based) having an artistic epiphany whilst watching a stripper in a strip club. I Know Who Killed Me (2007) stars Lindsay Lohan as Dakota Moss, an alluring stripper involved in the machinations of a serial killer, and features a long striptease sequence at a strip club. Planet Terror (2007) stars Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling, a beautiful go-go dancer who aspires to quit her job. In 2009 a DVD called, "Crazy Horse Paris" featuring Dita Von Teese was released. Magic Mike (2012) features a male stripper Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) guiding a younger male stripper in his first steps into stripping in clubs.