Burlesque more than than bump, grind, shimmy

True burlesque is more tease than strip

Dustin Wax, executive director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, is the guest speaker at the Friends June 21 general meeting. As usual, the monthly meeting will run 6-7 p.m. in the museum’s special-events room.

Some think of burlesque as an old-fashioned art form, but Wax will explain why others see it as relevant to the present day.

The museum, 1027 S Main St., Suite 110, is a 501c3 non-profit organization that began informally in the 1960s as dancer Jennie Lee was collecting stage items related to burlesque. Lee, described as a “Striptease Hall of Famer” on YouTube, also founded a dancers union, the Exotic Dancers’ League of North America, in 1955.

Lee first displayed her collection at Exotic World in Helendale, Calif., but the organization changed to its present name when it moved to Las Vegas in 2007, where it is now part of the Las Vegas Arts District.

Over time, the museum has acquired such specialty items as a traveling trunk used by Gypsy Rose Lee and the giant martini glass prop that held dancer Dita Von Teese during part of her act.

But the museum’s website clearly states its goal is more than to publicize famous performers, but also to richly document burlesque as a living cultural tradition. Every year the hall honors a performer who has contributed greatly to the tradition, as well as a person who has significantly helped preserve and promote the tradition.

Wax describes himself online as an anthropologist, educator and freelance thinker. He held a Smithsonian Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at the National Museum of Natural History in 2002, according to his academic resume. In a description of one of the hall’s exhibits, “Spectacular, Erotic, and Slightly Shocking: A Timeline of American Burlesque,” he writes that  defining burlesque as simply scantily clad women undressing to a beat applies only to the art in its deteriorated form.

In its highest form, burlesque is a fusion of dance, music and suggestive comedy, according to Wax.

Slippers once worn by exotic dancer Patti Starr, who donated wardrobe items to the Las Vegas museum.