Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 134–157 | Cite as

The Rise of Recreational Burlesque: Bumping and Grinding Towards Empowerment

  • Kaitlyn Regehr
Original Paper


American Burlesque is a historical movement dating back to the late nineteenth century that has had a recent revival in our culture. Searching for community, physical and emotional well-being, and increased self-esteem, women are flocking to recreational burlesque classes, seeking to draw upon the bold confidence of the audacious burlesquers of the past. This study examines the experiences of eight women on a reality television show who sought empowerment and increased self-esteem through sexualized dance. Through participant observation and reviewing video-footage and transcripts of filmed interviews, the study examines the relationship between burlesque dancing and empowerment through the experiences of these individuals. All the participants perceived the burlesque training to be empowering and asserted that the experience enhanced their sense of self-efficacy. When dealing with a performance form in which women have historically displayed their sexualized bodies primarily for the enjoyment of men, the question of objectification arises. This article examines the rise of recreational burlesque and its impact on individual and collective empowerment of women.


Burlesque Sexualized dance Empowerment Self efficacy Reality TV 


  1. ADT Association. (2011). What is dance/movement therapy? Retrieved June 6, 2011, from
  2. Allen, R. (1991). Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture. North Joanneina: University of North Joanneina Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1977). A social learning theory. New York: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1995). Self- efficacy in changing societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bartholomew, J., & Miller, B. (2002). Affective responses to an aerobic dance class: The impact of perceived performance. Research Quarterly for Excersize and Sport, 73(3), 301–309.Google Scholar
  6. Barton, B. (2002). Dancing on the Mobius Strip: Challenging the sex war paradigm. Gender and Society, 16(5), 585–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benight, C., & Bandura, A. (2004). Social Cognitive Theory of posttraumatic recovery: The role of perceived self-efficacy. Behaviour Research Therapy, 42, 1129–1148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Breeding, R. (2008). Empowerment as a function of contextual self-understanding; the effect of work interest profiling on career decision self-efficacy and work locus of control. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 51(2), 96–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chamberlin, J. (2011). A working definition of empowerment. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from
  10. Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (2005). Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Dodds, S. (1997). Dance and erotica: The construction of the female stripper. In H. Thomas (Ed.), Dance in the city (pp. 218–233). London: MacMillan Press.Google Scholar
  13. Evans, A., Riley, S., & Shankar, A. (2010). Technologies of sexiness: Theorizing women’s engagement in sexualization of culture. Feminism & Psychology, 20, 114–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flemming, L. (2007). Queer femme follies: these queer burlesque dancers are fighting their own sexual revolution, where dykes are proud to be flirty and feminine in fishnet. Curve.Google Scholar
  15. Frank, K. (2002). G- strings and sympathy. London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fredrickson, B., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haboush, A., Floyed, M., Carton, J., LaSota, M., & Alvarez, K. (2006). Ballroom dance lessons for geriatric depression: An exploratory study. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 33, 89–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jeffreys, S. (2008). Keeping women down and out: The strip club boom and the reinforcement of male dominance. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 34(1), 152–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kaeppler, A. (1999). The mystique of fieldwork. In T. Buckland (Ed.), Dance in the field: Theory, methods and issues in dance ethnography (pp. 13–40). London: Macmillan Press.Google Scholar
  20. Keft-Kennedy, V. (2005). How does she do that?: Belly dancing and the horror of a flexible woman. Women’s Studies, 34, 279–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kroker, A., & Kroker, M. (1987). Body invaders: Panic sex in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lamb, S. (2010). Feminist ideals for a healthy female adolescent sexuality: A critique. Sex Roles, 62, 294–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lerum, K., & Dworkin, S. (2009). ‘‘Bad girls rule’’: An interdisciplinary feminist commentary on the report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 250–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Levy, A. (2005). Female chauvinist pig: Women and the rise of raunch culture. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lincoln, Y., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  26. Liss, M., Erchull, M., & Ramsey, L. (2010). Empowering or oppressing?: Development and exploration of the enjoyment of sexualization scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lorde, A. (1984). Uses of the erotic: The erotic as power. In A. Lorde (Ed.), Sister outsider: Essays and speeches (pp. 53–59). Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  28. Luszczynska, A., Benight, C., & Cieslak, R. (2009). Self-Efficacy and health-related outcomes of collective trauma: A systematic review. European Psychologist, 14(1), 51–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. MacAllister, H. (2011). Big Burlesque: The original fat-bottom review. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from
  30. Martin Ginis, K., Jung, M., & Gauvin, L. (2003). To see or not to see: Effects of exercising in mirrored environments on sedentary women’s feeling states and self-efficacy. Health Psychology, 22(4), 354–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Murchison, J. (2010). Ethnography essentials. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  32. Nowatzki, J., & Morry, M. (2009). Women’s intentions regarding, and acceptance of, self-sexualizing behavior. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33, 95–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Olesen, V. (2005). Feminisms and models of qualitative research. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 158–174). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  34. Ozer, E., & Bandura, A. (1990). Mechanisms governing empowerment effects: A self-efficacy analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(3), 472–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Peterson, Z. (2010). What is sexual empowerment? A multidimensional and process-oriented approach to adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment. Sex Roles, 62, 307–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pullen, K. (2005). Actresses and whores: On stage and in society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Shefner-Rogers, C., Rao, N., Rogers, E., & Wayangankar, A. (1998). The empowerment of women dairy farmers in India. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 26, 319–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shteir, R. (2004). Striptease: The untold history of the girly show. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Steese, S., Dollette, M., Phillips, W., Hossfeld, E., Matthews, G., & Taormina, G. (2006). Understanding Girls’ circle as an intervention on perceived social support, body image, self-efficacy, locus of control and self-esteem. Adolescence, 41(161), 56–74.Google Scholar
  40. Stern, D. (2005). MTV, reality television and the commodification of female sexuality in the real rorld. Media Report to Women, 33(2), 13–22.Google Scholar
  41. Strelan, P., Mehaffrey, S., & Tiggemann, M. (2003). Self-objectification and esteem in young women: The mediating role of reasons for exercise. Sex Roles, 48, 89–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Studlar, G. (1997). Out-Salomeing Salome: Dance, the new woman, and the fan magazine Orientalism. In M. Bernstine & G. Studlar (Eds.), Visions of the east: Orientalism in film (pp. 99–130). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Thorington Springer, J. (2008). Roll it gal: Alison Hinds, female empowerment, and calypso. Meridians: Feminism Race and Transnationalism, 8(1), 93–129.Google Scholar
  44. Tracey, L. L. (Writer). (2003). The anatomy of Burlesque: Magnolia movies and white pines pictures.Google Scholar
  45. Whitehead, K., & Kurz, T. (2009). Empowerment and the pole: A discursive investigation of the reinvention of pole dancing as a recreational activity. Feminism & Psychology, 19(2), 224–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wilde, O. (1891). Salome. New York: Dover Publications Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.King’s CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations