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Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver [Paperback]

Becki Ross
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 25 2009

After the Second World War, Vancouver emerged as a hotbed of striptease talent. In Burlesque West,the first critical history of this notorious striptease scene, Becki Ross delves into the erotic entertainment industry at the northern end of the dancers' west coast tour - the North-South route from Los Angeles to Vancouver that provided rotating work for dancers and variety for club clientele.

Drawing on extensive archival materials and fifty first-person accounts of former dancers, strip-club owners, booking agents, choreographers, and musicians, Ross reveals stories that are deeply flavoured with an era before "striptease fell from grace because the world stopped dreaming," in the words of ex-dancer Lindalee Tracey. Though jobs in this particular industry are often perceived as having little in common with other sorts of work, retired dancers' accounts resonate surprisingly with those of contemporary service workers, including perceptions of unionization and workplace benefits and hazards. Ross also traces the sanitization and subsequent integration of striptease style and neo-burlesque trends into mass culture, examining continuity and change to ultimately demonstrate that Vancouver's glitzy nightclub scene, often condemned as a quasi-legal strain of urban blight, in fact greased the economic engine of the post-war city.

Provocative and challenging, Burlesque West combines the economic, the social, the sexual, and the personal, and is sure to intellectually tantalize.

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‘Ross’s book is outstanding? Ross very effectively uses the erotic entertainment business as a lens through which to view Vancouver history in the post-World War II period ? a hugely important period in shaping what the city was to become? it gives us insight into the entire industry, profiling not only the strippers and the problems they faced, but also the men who owned and ran the clubs.’ (Gerald Hunt: Labour/leTravail, vol 67: Spring2011)

'Ross paints a complex and rich historical snapshot of Vancouver nightlife and argues that the industry was fundamentally important to the city's burgeoning economy.' (Lara Campbell)

‘On the growing bookshelf of work on strippers and strip clubs, their histories, economy, politics, and cultural roles, Burlesque west stands out as a work that humanizes all its players by completing the historical picture… Ross offers a thoroughly researched and compelling work that not only reveals the tremendous cultural debt owed to burlesque but begins to capture this important piece of our collective urban histories. ’ (Michelle M. Carnes; Canadian Journal of Sociology: vol 36:03:2011)


Burlesque West is a trailblazer in Canadian social and cultural history. With passion and sensitivity, Becki L. Ross explores a subject largely ignored until now - that of post-World War II erotic entertainment. Ross's interviews with dancers, strippers, owners, and musicians add immeasurably to the book and allow her to draw multifaceted pictures of dancers' whole lives, not just their work lives. Women's voices come through strongly, not only revealing essential insider information and descriptions, but also adding humanity and complexity to the story. (Joan Sangster, History and Women's Studies, Trent University)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had to read the book for a Canadian Women's History class in University. I was surprised to find myself fairly interested in the book, it gives plenty of real life experiences of dancers and other personnel involved in the burlesque industry throughout the years. I would recommend this book for people interested in taboo topics in Canadian history.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars bit heavy of a read Feb. 1 2013
By jackie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be a little too heavy on the scholarly side and was not really expecting it to be. With such a fascinating subject matter it seemed kind of dry.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars Best Burlesque History since Allen June 4 2010
By J. Vogt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a burlesque enthusiast frustrated by the censorious feminism, problematic methodology and factual errors rife in Rachel Shteir's "Striptease," Ross's book is refreshing and rewarding. The merits of a more narrow scope of study (akin to Allen's study of the British Blonds) are evident in Burlesque West. Ross built her study upon archival records, ephemera (such as scrapbooks) and copious oral histories. Ross methodically acknowledges the influences of her own identify locations within the study and the ethical negotiations inherent in conducting oral histories. Her purpose is not a definitive, wide-spectrum survey (a la Shteir) but a close examination of Vancouver through the compilation of often competing perspectives. A complex portrait of Vancouver burlesque performance emerges from Ross's ability to navigate both contradictory and complimentary testimonies, using performance and gender theory as her compass through contested historical terrain.

By focusing on the clubs, managers, agents, performers and working conditions of Vancouver clubs after WWII, Ross creates a descriptive microcosm which identifies the male agents who were the controlling financial partners and creative collaborators to striptease dancers; profiles the racial divisions manifest in Vancouver clubs; investigates the hazardous working conditions of striptease; and documents the creative innovations of Vancouver dancers. These features are uniquely specific to Vancouver and provide a striking contrast to both the aesthetic promoted by American dancers and the dominant periodization of American burlesque. While touring American burlesque queens endorsed a highly-accessorized, parade-and-pose style of striptease, Ross records a more athletic, yoga-and-jazz-influenced choreography among Vancouver dancers, many of whom identified with an unembellished "hippie" feminine style (rejecting heels in favor of barefoot dance). Ross's account also locates the shift from theatrical burlesque to solo, nude pole-and-lap dancing in the 1970s, twenty years after the costumes, choreography and live music began to evaporate from burlesque clubs in the United States. Both Ralph Allen's and Becki Ross's monographs demonstrate the usefulness and specificity of burlesque histories which are circumscribed by a focus on individual companies, geographic zones and delineated epochs.
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