Today’s lesson plan has us venturing to the annuals of our own history to explore the evolution of nudity laws!
In their own, weird, quirky and not at all consistent way, so called “blue laws” have shaped burlesque across the United States. Have you ever met an out of town performer and swapped stories about the legal gymnastics you have to do to perform there (like how you have to cover the underboob in Tennessee)? “Blue Laws,” also known as “Sunday Laws” are defined as “a law prohibiting certain activities, such as shopping, on a Sunday.” What does that have to do with burlesque? Well, the answer is mired in historical warping and can change even down to individual county, but it all boils down to censorship. As we all know, the rules that govern censorship are varied and don’t always appear to make sense. (Want to have a confusing time? Look up the evolution of movie ratings.)
Burlesque -which in itself has difficulty defining what, exactly it is- with it’s near nudity, sexy/sensuous/sultry, artistic statement/performance art, up-to-personal-interpretation, never ending variations has always been on odd ground where venues and legal restriction is concerned. If burlesque is parody, is the nudity salacious? If burlesque is dance, is the nudity even nudity? If burlesque is exotic dance, can we have booze there? All of these factors and more determines what laws are applied to burlesque on your home stage.
Want to learn more? Check out this fantastic companion piece by Freya West!