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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
ADT Association. (2011). What is dance/movement therapy? Retrieved June 6, 2011, from http://www.adta.org/Default.aspx?pageId=378214.
Allen, R. (1991). Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture. North Joanneina: University of North Joanneina Press.
Bandura, A. (1977). A social learning theory. New York: Prentice Hall.
Bandura, A. (1995). Self- efficacy in changing societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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.
Barton, B. (2002). Dancing on the Mobius Strip: Challenging the sex war paradigm. Gender and Society, 16(5), 585–602.
Benight, C., & Bandura, A. (2004). Social Cognitive Theory of posttraumatic recovery: The role of perceived self-efficacy. Behaviour Research Therapy, 42, 1129–1148.
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.
Chamberlin, J. (2011). A working definition of empowerment. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from http://www.power2u.org/articles/empower/working_def.html.
Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (2005). Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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.
Evans, A., Riley, S., & Shankar, A. (2010). Technologies of sexiness: Theorizing women’s engagement in sexualization of culture. Feminism & Psychology, 20, 114–131.
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.
Frank, K. (2002). G- strings and sympathy. London: Duke University Press.
Fredrickson, B., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206.
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.
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.
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.
Keft-Kennedy, V. (2005). How does she do that?: Belly dancing and the horror of a flexible woman. Women’s Studies, 34, 279–300.
Kroker, A., & Kroker, M. (1987). Body invaders: Panic sex in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Lamb, S. (2010). Feminist ideals for a healthy female adolescent sexuality: A critique. Sex Roles, 62, 294–306.
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.
Levy, A. (2005). Female chauvinist pig: Women and the rise of raunch culture. New York: Free Press.
Lincoln, Y., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. New York: Sage.
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.
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.
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.
MacAllister, H. (2011). Big Burlesque: The original fat-bottom review. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from http://www.bigburlesque.com/.
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.
Murchison, J. (2010). Ethnography essentials. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Nowatzki, J., & Morry, M. (2009). Women’s intentions regarding, and acceptance of, self-sexualizing behavior. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33, 95–107.
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.
Ozer, E., & Bandura, A. (1990). Mechanisms governing empowerment effects: A self-efficacy analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(3), 472–486.
Peterson, Z. (2010). What is sexual empowerment? A multidimensional and process-oriented approach to adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment. Sex Roles, 62, 307–313.
Pullen, K. (2005). Actresses and whores: On stage and in society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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.
Shteir, R. (2004). Striptease: The untold history of the girly show. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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.
Stern, D. (2005). MTV, reality television and the commodification of female sexuality in the real rorld. Media Report to Women, 33(2), 13–22.
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.
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.
Thorington Springer, J. (2008). Roll it gal: Alison Hinds, female empowerment, and calypso. Meridians: Feminism Race and Transnationalism, 8(1), 93–129.
Tracey, L. L. (Writer). (2003). The anatomy of Burlesque: Magnolia movies and white pines pictures.
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.
Wilde, O. (1891). Salome. New York: Dover Publications Inc.
About this article
Cite this article
Regehr, K. The Rise of Recreational Burlesque: Bumping and Grinding Towards Empowerment. Sexuality & Culture 16, 134–157 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-011-9113-2
- Sexualized dance
- Self efficacy
- Reality TV