Monday, 2 January 2012


The third film which involves Dance is also contrasting, Burlesque stars Cher and Christina Aguilera and her performance of a number from the film and DVD record the USA Pop Idol or X Factor series caused uproar because it was presented to an audience with children and young people as enthusiastic as adults. On the scale of stripping acts Burlesque is considered the most acceptable. At one end are the strip clubs of the kind which feature in the Sopranos where the girls engage in sex as the main business purpose in side rooms. Burlesque is the oldest form of stripping with origins in the music Hall and the famous fan dance and even perhaps the Dance of the Seven Veils. The shows are usually raunchy and full of dancing and singing although usually the vocal is mimed. The show ends with its star stripping nude although through the clever use of fans and props nipples and crotch are never displayed for public view.

The Windmill Theatre was created just off Piccadilly Circus as a music hall in 1930 with Comedians Singers and variety acts but lost money because its small size. There was once a Windmill in Great Windmill Street in Soho which I came to know well in the late fifties and early sixties because of the Cy Laurie Jazz club which I would visit on weekends mixing with the ladies of the night rather than the girls from the show in a cafe which served hot meat sandwiches as my evening meal when visiting straight after work. The breakthrough came when Van Damm the production manager inspired by the Moulin Rouge and the Follies Beregere persuaded its owner, Mrs Henderson, to persuade the Lord Chamberlain and censor for the London stage to agree to the nude tableaux in which the girls were not allowed to move. The musical Hall and cinema was based on morning to evening non stop shows so an individual could pay their entrance fee and stay for the day. At the Windmill men would climb over seats to get the close views as those first in went home. The show continued throughout World War II under the slogan we Never Closed which was modified to we Never Clothed and at my all male Independent school some boys boasted of having got into to see the show by the time they reached the fifth form, along with circulating copies of Health and Efficiency and National Geographical Magazine which were available at the barbers along with condoms. Harry Seacombe, Peter Sellers, Bruce Forsythe and Tommy Cooper all cut their comic teeth at the Windmill and stage door Johnnies came from all walks of life.

The theatre closed in the mid sixties as with the relaxation of censorship Strip clubs became licensed in which women took off all their clothes performing masturbatory sexual acts where the only rule was do not touch (unless invited). By the early seventies most cities and many pubs featured strips usually around Sunday lunch time or associated with sporting events usually home football matches. Nudity movement was also permitted with the show Hair which I saw and reflected the drug culture as much as the new sexuality. Raymond’s Revue Bar attempted to continue the tradition of the Paris show and the Windmill became a Cabaret Club run by Raymond’s daughter. The all day pay once stripping continued in Wardour Street with the Sunset Strip which has survived to this day moving up market with the development of Pole Dancing clubs, which have proliferated some charging huge fees for champagne and other drinks and where there are significant charges for individual girls to perform for individuals and groups. There have been four films about the Windmill with Mrs Henderson presents the most well known with Judy Dench and Mrs Henderson and Bob Hoskins as van Damm. Will Young also appeared? Pauline Collins appeared in Secrets of the Windmill Girl in an earlier production.

In the USA the Burlesque stripper was created with Gypsy Rose Lee and the Minsky Brothers and went through the similar phases as in the UK with topless and lap dancing to full nudity and sexual exposure. It was in the 1990’s that saw a revival of the Burlesque in the USA with the Pusycat Dolls group starting as Burlesque dancers. I was therefore interested to see what a film with Cher and Aguilera would cover or to be precise uncover when shown on Prime Time Sky Premier. The film is clever by presenting the club as primarily a vehicle of serious but raunchy dancing rather than nudity and sex. Cher is the theatre artistic creator and part owner rather than performer although she is known for her outrageous and scanty costuming as much as for her first class acting With the International singer Aguilera as the main star and Burlesque performer it is not surprising that the twist is that she is a singer dancer who cannot get a professional job after packing in her work in a bar in small town USA for Los Angeles. There are other plot points with the main one the attempt of Cher to hold onto the theatre despite the covetous attentions of a property developer and Aguilera becoming involved in a love triangle involving Jack from the club and the developer.

Aguilera commences as an unpaid waitress and gets her chance as a dancer when one of the girls becomes engaged and then pregnant much to the annoyance of another girl. When this girl later appears drunk Aguilera is told to take her place as the lead and the girl retaliates by cutting off the sound. As customers are about to leave Aguilera shows she can sing having failed to persuade her boss of this beforehand. As she is a great success and the place has standing room her future appears certain but not that of the club. However she is persuaded by Jack’s former fiancĂ©e that their relationship is still on after Christina has slept with Jack and at this point she accepts the attentions of the property developer but finding out his plan she reveals this to her boss and together they find a way to thwart his intentions and to raise sufficient money to keep the club going for Burlesque entertainment. It is only with the finale that there is the fan dance and full stripping but with the key points covered! The film is one for Cher and Aguilera fans.

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