The Internet has a fair selection of vintage images of strippers and burlesque dancers from the nineteen-forties, the fifties, sixties, seventies, and so on. Many are strangely orphaned like most of the kazillions of images out there. Just think, every day there are more images merely uploaded than all of the pictures produced during the 19th century. That’s kind of staggering. Most of these pictures drift unanchored to any connecting narrative.
All of which reminds me of the old Hans Christian Andersen story “The Shadow,” which I’m sure you all know or have at least been told at some point in your childhood. Simply put, it’s the story of a man whose shadow escapes one night and starts living a life of its own. This shadow becomes more and more independent until it is the dominant figure and its original creator, the man himself, becomes utterly subservient. Old photographs are like that. They have their own life which becomes the shadow by which we know or identify the subject’s life. Like these photos of strippers culled from magazine spreads and publicity shots used to tout some gentertainment. We know little about the women who posed for these pictures—or the lives they lived—but we (for want of a better word) identify them by their shadow—which in this case is their photograph.
In a similar way, strippers put on a show that’s only meant to entertain, which sadly some dumb men think is real. As the legendary stripper Toni Elling once said, it’s all about entertainment:
“[T]he idea is to suggest what’s there, not throw off all your clothes and reveal everything. That’s why they call it strip-tease.”
While most of the following are of strippers from the 1960s, I have included a couple of respected burlesque dancers, whose work had considerable influence on both the exotic dancing and stripping worlds.
More exotic dancers and strippers, after the jump…