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Lola Bel Aire performing a striptease.
A striptease is an erotic or exotic dance in which the performer gradually undresses, either partly or completely, in a seductive and sexually suggestive manner. The person who performs a striptease is commonly known as a "stripper" or exotic dancer.

Stripteases have been known in some form in most cultures, from ancient Babylonmarker and Egypt, to those of today.

In Western countries, the venues where stripteases are performed on a regular basis are now usually called strip clubs, though they may be performed in venues such as pubs (especially in the UK), theaters and music halls. In addition to night club entertainment, stripping can be a form of sexual play between partners. This can be done as an impromptu event or—perhaps for a special occasion—with elaborate planning involving fantasy wear, music, special lighting, practiced dance moves, and even dance moves that have been previously unpracticed.

Striptease involves a slow, sensuous undressing, with the audience urging the stripper to remove more clothing. The stripper may prolong the undressing with delaying tactics such as the wearing of additional clothes or putting clothes or hands in front of just undressed body parts, such as breasts or between the legs. Emphasis is on the act of undressing along with sexually suggestive movement, rather than the state of being undressed. In the past, the performance often finished as soon as the undressing was finished, though today strippers usually continue dancing in the nude. The costume the stripper wears before disrobing can form part of the act. These could be fantasy themed: such as a schoolgirl uniform, maid's dress, policewoman's outfit, besides others.

Striptease and nudity have been subject to legal and cultural prohibitions and other aesthetic considerations and taboos. Restrictions on venues may be through venue licensing requirements and constraints and a wide variety of national and local laws. These laws vary considerably around the world, and even between different parts of the same country.

H.L. Mencken is credited with coining the word "ecdysiast", from "ecdysis", meaning "to molt". He did so in response to a request from a stripteaser who requested a "more dignified" way to refer to her profession.
Image from Der spanische, teutsche, und niederländische Krieg oder: des Marquis von ... curieuser Lebens-Lauff, vol.
2 (Franckfurt/ Leipzig, 1720), p.238.


World origins

The origins of striptease as a performance art are disputed and various dates and occasions have been given from ancient Babylonia to twentieth century America. The term 'striptease' was first recorded in 1938, though 'stripping', in the sense of women removing clothing to sexually excite men, seems to go back at least 400 years. For example, in Thomas Otway's comedy The Soldier's Fortune (1681) a character says: "Be sure they be lewd, drunken, stripping whores". Its combination with music seems to be as old. A conclusive description and visualisation can be found in the 1720 German translation of the French La Guerre D'Espagne (Cologne: Pierre Marteau, 1707), where a galant party of high aristocrats and opera singers has resorted to a small château where they entertain themselves with hunting, play and music in a three day turn:

The third day, dedicated to ball and dance, was used for the finest entertainment to divert the men; their eyes were given the opportunity to see all the pleasures nature could offer; and if the pleasant aspects of a well shaped young lady are able to arouse the mind, one can say that our princes enjoyed all the delicacies of love.
The dancers, to please their lovers the more, dropped their clothes and danced totally naked the nicest entrées and ballets; one of the princes directed the delightful music, and only the lovers were allowed to watch the performances.

In myth, there is a stripping aspect in the ancient Sumerian story of the descent of the goddess Inanna into the Underworld (or Kur). At each of the seven gates, she removed an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry. As long as she remained in hell, the earth was barren. When she returned, fecundity abounded. Some believe this myth was embodied in the dance of the seven veils of Salome, who danced for King Herod, as mentioned in the New Testament in and . However, although the Bible records Salome's dance, the first mention of her removing seven veils occurs in Oscar Wilde's play of 'Salome', in 1893: which some have claimed as the origin of modern striptease. After Wilde's play and Richard Strauss's operatic version of the same, first performed in 1905, the erotic 'dance of the seven veils', became a standard routine for dancers in opera, vaudeville, film and burlesque. A famous early practitioner was Maud Allan who in 1907 gave a private performance of the dance to King Edward VII.

Empress Theodora, wife of sixth century Byzantine emperor Justinian is reported by several ancient sources to have started in life as a courtesan and actress who performed in acts inspired from mythological themes and in which she disrobed "as far as the laws of the day allowed". From these accounts, it appears that the practice was hardly exceptional nor new. It was, however, actively opposed by the Christian Church, which succeeded in obtaining statutes banning it in the following century. The degree to which these statutes were subsequently enforced is, of course, opened to question. What is certain is that no practice of the sort is reported in texts of the European Middle Ages.

Other possible influences on modern stripping were the dances of the Ghawazee "discovered" and seized upon by French colonists in nineteenth century North Africa and Egyptmarker. The erotic dance of the bee performed by a woman known as Kuchuk Hanem, was witnessed and described by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. In this dance the performer disrobes as she searches for an imaginary bee trapped within her garments. It is likely that the women performing these dances did not do so in an indigenous context, but rather, responded to the commercial climate for this type of entertainment. Middle Eastern belly dance, also known as oriental dancing, was popularized in the United States after its introduction on the Midway at the 1893 World's Fairmarker in Chicagomarker by a dancer known as Little Egypt.

French tradition

In the 1880s and 1890s, Parisianmarker shows such as the Moulin Rougemarker and Folies Bergeremarker were featuring attractive scantily-clad women dancing and tableaux vivants. In this environment, an act in the 1890s featured a woman slowly removed her clothes in a vain search for a flea crawling on her body. The People's Almanac credits the act as the origin of modern striptease.

In 1905, the notorious and tragic Dutch dancer Mata Hari, later shot as spy by the French authorities during World War I, was an overnight success from the debut of her act at the Musée Guimetmarker. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and some ornaments over her arms and head. Another landmark performance was the appearance at the Moulin Rouge in 1907 of an actress called Germaine Aymos who entered dressed only in three very small shells. In the 1930s the famous Josephine Baker danced semi-nude in the danse sauvage at the Folies and other such performances were provided at the Tabarin. These shows were notable for their sophisticated choreography and often dressing the girls in glitzy sequins and feathers. By the 1960s "fully nude" shows were provided at such places as Le Crazy Horse Saloonmarker.

American tradition

A stripteaser performing at an automobile fair
In America, striptease started in carnivals and burlesque theatres, and featured famous strippers such as Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand. The vaudeville trapeze artist, Charmion, performed a "disrobing" act onstage as early as 1896, which was captured in the 1901 Edison film, Trapeze Disrobing Act. Another milestone for modern American striptease is the possibly legendary show at Minsky's Burlesque in April 1925: The Night They Raided Minsky's. The Minsky brothers brought burlesque to New York's 42nd Streetmarker. However the burlesque theatres here were prohibited from having striptease performances in a legal ruling of 1937 leading to the later decline of these "grindhouses" (named after the bump 'n grind entertainment on offer) into venues for exploitation cinema.

The sixties saw a revival of striptease in the form of topless go-go dancing. This eventually merged with the older tradition of burlesque dancing. Carol Doda of the Condor Night Clubmarker in the North Beach section of San Franciscomarker is given the credit of being the first topless go-go dancer. The club opened in 1964 and Doda's première topless dance occurred on the evening of June 19 of that year. The large lit sign in front of the club featured a picture of her with red lights on her breasts. The club went "bottomless" on September 3, 1969 and began the trend of explicit "full nudity" in American striptease dancing. San Francisco is also the location of the notorious Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatremarker. Originally an X-rated movie theater this striptease club pioneered lap dancing in 1980, and was a major force in popularizing it in strip clubs on a nationwide and eventually world wide basis.

In the seventies, with changing cultural expressions of sexuality and the influence of feminism, striptease declined in popular appeal and status.

British tradition

In Britain in the 1930s, when Laura Henderson began presenting nude shows at the Windmill Theatremarker, London, the British law prohibited naked girls from moving. To get around the prohibition the models appeared in stationary tableaux vivants. The Windmill girls also toured other London and provincial theatres, sometimes using ingenious devices such as rotating ropes to move their bodies round, though strictly speaking, staying within the letter of the law by not moving of their own volition. Another example of the way the shows stayed within the law was the fan dance, in which a naked dancer's body was concealed by her fans and those of her attendants, until the end of her act in when she posed naked for a brief interval whilst standing still.

In 1942 Phyllis Dixey formed her own company of girls and rented the Whitehall Theatremarker in London to put on a review called The Whitehall Follies.

By the 1950s touring striptease acts were used to attract audiences to the dying music halls. Paul Raymond started his touring shows in 1951 and later leased the Doric Ballroom in Soho and opened his private members club,the Raymond Revuebar in 1958.This was the first of the private striptease members clubs in Britain. Changes in the law in the 1960s brought about a boom of strip clubs in Sohomarker with 'fully nude' dancing and audience participation. Pubs were also used as a venue, most particularly in the East Endmarker with a concentration of such venues in the district of Shoreditchmarker. This pub striptease seems in the main to have evolved from topless go-go dancing. Though often a target of local authority harassment, some of these pubs survive to the present day. An interesting custom in these pubs is that the strippers walk round and collect money from the customers in a beer jug before each individual performance. This custom appears to have originated in the late 1970s when topless go-go dancers first started collecting money from the audience as the fee for going "fully nude". Private dances of a more raunchy nature are sometimes available in a separate area of the pub.


Striptease became popular in Japanmarker after the end of World War II. When entrepreneur Shigeo Ozaki saw Gypsy Rose Lee perform, he started his own striptease revue in Tokyomarker's Shinjuku neighborhood. During the 1950s, Japanese "strip shows" became more sexually explicit and less dance-oriented, until they were eventually simply live sex shows.

Recent history

Recently pole dancing has come to dominate the world of striptease. This form of dancing can trace its origin to a performance by one Miss Belle Jangles at Mugwumps strip club in Oregonmarker in 1968. From here it spread to Canada where, in the late 20th century, the exotic dance club grew up to become a thriving sector of the economy. Canadian style pole dancing, table dancing and lap dancing, organized by multi-national corporations such as Spearmint Rhino, was exported from North America to the United Kingdom, Central Europe, Russia, and Australia etc. In London, England a raft of such so-called 'lap dancing clubs' grew up in the 1990s, featuring pole dancing on stage and private table dancing, though, despite media misrepresentation, lap-dancing in the sense of bodily contact was forbidden by law A headlining star of a striptease show is referred to as a feature dancer, and is often a performer with credits such as contest titles or appearances in adult films or magazines.

In America a notable contemporary practitioner of striptease is the actress Drew Barrymore. In one notorious incident in March 2004, she disrobed on prime-time American TV in front of host David Letterman while standing on his desk.

In December 2006, a Norwegianmarker court ruled that striptease is an art form and made strip clubs exempt from value added tax.

New Burlesque

In the latter 1990s, a number of performers and dance groups have emerged to create New Burlesque, a revival of the classic American burlesque striptease of the early half of the twentieth century. New Burlesque focuses on dancing, costumes and entertainment (which may include comedy and singing) and generally eschews full nudity or toplessness. Some burlesquers of the past have become instructors and mentors to New Burlesque performers such as Velvet Hammer, Hope Talmon or Cyrelle St. James Co. and The World Famous Pontani Sisters. The pop group Pussycat Dolls began as a New Burlesque troupe.

A male stripper at the Fly 2 gay bar

Male strippers

Until the 1970s, strippers in Western cultures were almost invariably female, performing to male audiences. Since then, male strippers, performing to female audiences, have also become common. Male and female strippers also perform for gay and lesbian audiences respectively, as well as for both sexes in pansexual contexts. Before the 1970s dancers of both sexes appeared largely in underground clubs or as part of a theatre experience, but the practice eventually became common enough on its own. One of the better-known troupes of male strippers are the Chippendales. Male strippers have become a popular option to have at a bachelorette party.

The record-holder for Guinness World Records "oldest male stripper" is Bernie Barker, who was 63 at the age of his induction.

Gay males

Gay male strip clubs feature men who appear initially in skimpy undergarments (which may be removed if full nudity is allowed) and socks. Many mainstream gay bars and nightclubs employ Go-Go boys - men who gyrate and dance in little more than a G-String and shoes, and often strip completely naked for the pleasure of other men, typically for tips.

Private dancing

A variation on striptease is private dancing, which often involves lap dancing or contact dancing. Here the performers, in addition to stripping for tips, also offer "private dances" which involve more attention for individual audience members. Variations include private dances like table dancing where the performer dances on or by customer's table rather than the customer being seated in a couch.

Striptease and the law

From ancient times to the present day, striptease was considered a form of public nudity and subject to legal and cultural prohibitions on moral and decency grounds. Such restrictions have been embodied in venue licensing regulations and various national and local laws, including liquor licensing restrictions.

Many jurisdictions forbid "full nudity". For instance, in some parts of the USA, there are laws forbidding the exposure of female nipples, which have thus to be covered by pasties by the dancer (though no such taboo applies to the exposure of male nipples) and in some jurisdictions certain postures can be considered "indecent" (such as spreading the legs).

In Britain in the 1930s, when the Windmill Theatremarker, London, began to present nude shows, British law prohibited nude performances. To get around that rule, models appeared naked in stationary tableaux vivants. To keep within the law, sometimes devices were used which rotated the models without them moving themselves. Fan dances were another device used to keep performances within the law. These allowed a naked dancer's body to be concealed by her fans or those of her attendants, until the end of an act, when she posed naked for a brief interval whilst standing stock still, and the lights went out or the curtain dropped to allow her to leave the stage.

Film and other media



Lady of Burlesque (known in the UK as Striptease Lady) (1943) based on the novel The G-String Murders (1941), by famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, stars Barbara Stanwyck as a stripper who gets involved in the investigation of murders at a burlesque house. A play by Gypsy Rose Lee entitled The Naked Genius (1943) was the inspiration for Doll Face (1945), a musical about a burlesque star (Vivian Blaine) who wants to become a legitimate actress. Gilda (1946), showcases one of the most famous stripteases in cinematic history, performed by Rita Hayworth to "Put the Blame on Mame"), though in the event she removes just one glove, before the act is terminated by a jealous admirer. Murder at the Windmill (1949), (known in the U.S.A. as "Mystery at the Burlesque") directed by Val Guest is set at the Windmill Theatre, London and features Diana Decker, Jon Pertwee and Jimmy Edwards. Salome (1953) once again features Rita Hayworth doing a striptease act; this time as the famous biblical stripper Salome, performing the Dance of the Seven Veils. According to Hayworth's biographers this erotic dance routine was "the most demanding of her entire career", necessitating "endless takes and retakes". Expresso Bongo (1959) is a British film which features striptease at a club in Sohomarker, Londonmarker.


In 1960, the film Beat Girl cast Christopher Lee as a sleazy Soho strip club owner who gets stabbed to death by a stripper. Gypsy (1962), features Natalie Wood as the famous burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee in her memorable rendition of "Let Me Entertain You". It was re-made for TV in 1993 Starring Bette Midler as Mama Rose and Cynthia Gibb as Gypsy Rose Lee. The Stripper (1963) featured Gypsy Rose Lee, herself, giving a trademark performance in the title role. A documentary film, Dawn in Piccadilly, was produced in 1962 at the Windmill Theatre. In 1964, We Never Closed [British Movietone] depicted the last night of the Windmill Theatre . In 1965, stripping was depicted in two films: Viva Maria! starring Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau as two girls who perform a striptease act in South America and Carousella, a documentary directed by John Irvin. A documentary film that looked at the unglamorous side of striptease is the 1966 film called,"Strip". This was filmed at the Phoenix Club in Soho.Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1966) featured Pauline Collins and April Wilding and was directed by Arnold L. Miller. The film has some fan dancing scenes danced by an ex-Windmill Theatre artiste. The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968) gives a possibly legendary account of the birth of striptease at Minsky's Burlesque theatre in New York. In 1968, the sci-fi film Barbarella depicted Jane Fonda stripping in zero-gravity conditions whilst wearing her spacesuit. Marlowe (1969) stars Rita Moreno playing a stripper, in the finale of the movie simultaneously delivering dialogue with the title character and performing a vigorous dance on stage.

Ichijo's Wet Lust (1972), Japanese director Tatsumi Kumashiro's award-winning Roman porno film featured the country's most famous stripper, Sayuri Ichijō, starring as herself. A British film production of 1976 is the film Get 'Em Off, produced by Harold Baim. Paul Raymond's Erotica (1980) stars Brigitte Lahaie and Diana Cochran and was directed by Brian Smedley-Aston. The Dance routines were filmed at the Raymond Revuebar Theatre.


In addition to lesser-known videos such as A Night at the Revuebar (1983), the 1980s also featured mainstream films involving stripping. These included Flashdance (1983), which told the story of blue-collar worker Alexandra (Alex) Owens (Jennifer Beals), who works as an exotic dancer in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaniamarker bar at night and at a steel mill as a welder during the day. Stripping also was part of "genre" films, such as horror thriller Fear City (1984), by Abel Ferrara, about a mass-murderer who terrorizes dancers working at a seedy strip club in Times Square, New Yorkmarker. The erotic drama 9½ Weeks (1986) depicted Kim Basinger stripping to the tune of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" by Joe Cocker. Stripped to Kill (1987) was an exploitation film from Roger Corman about a lady cop who poses as a stripper to catch a murderer; which was followed by a sequel of the same name. Ladykillers (1988), was a 'whodunnit' murder mystery involving the murders of male strippers by an unknown female assailant. Blaze (1989) features Lolita Davidovitch as notorious stripper Blaze Starr. Starr herself appears in the film in a cameo role.

Massive Attack : Eleven Promos. "Be Thankful For What You've Got" (1992), directed by Baillie Walsh, includes one dance routine by Ritzy Sparkle at the Raymond Revuebar Theatre. Exotica (1994), directed by Atom Egoyan, is set in a Canadian lap-dance club, and portrays a man's (Bruce Greenwood) obsession with a schoolgirl stripper named Christina (Mia Kirshner). Showgirls (1995) was directed by Paul Verhoeven and starred Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon. Striptease (1996), was an adaptation of the novel starring Demi Moore. Barb Wire (1996), starred Pamela Anderson (of Baywatch fame), who performs a wet striptease. The Full Monty (1997) is a story of British ex-steel workers who form a Chippendales-style dance revue and decide to strip naked to make an extra buck. It featured songs including an updated version of David Rose's big hit The Stripper and Tom Jones's version of "You Can Leave Your Hat On". The Players Club (1998) starred LisaRaye as a girl who becomes a stripper to earn enough money to enter college and study journalism.


Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000) is a feature film starring Daryl Hannah. The female cast of the film researched the film by dancing at strip clubs and created their parts and their storylines to be as realistic as possible. The Raymond Revuebar the Art of Striptease (2002) is a documentary, directed by Simon Weitzman. Los Debutantes (2003) is a Chileanmarker film set in a strip-club in Santiagomarker. Portraits of a Naked Lady Dancer (2004) is a documentary, directed by Deborah Rowe. In Closer (2004), Natalie Portman plays Alice, a young stripper just arrived in Londonmarker from America. Crazy Horse Le Show (2004) features dance routines from the Crazy Horse, Paris. Mrs Henderson Presents (2005) portrays the erotic dance routines and nude tableau-vivants which featured at the Windmill Theatremarker before and during World War II. I Know Who Killed Me (2007) stars Lindsay Lohan as Dakota Moss, an alluring stripper involved in the machinations of a serial killer, and features a long striptease sequence at a strip club. Planet Terror (2007) stars Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling, a beautiful go-go dancer who aspires to quit her job.



  • The Full Monty (2000) is an Americanized stage adaptation of the 1997 British film of the same name, in which a group of unemployed male steelworkers put together a strip act at a local club.
  • Jekyll and Hyde (1997). The character of Lucy Harris (originally portrayed by Linda Eder) works as a prostitute and stripper in a small Londonmarker club called The Red Rat, where she meets a multi-dimension man named Doctor Henry Jekyll, who turns into his evil persona Mr. Edward Hyde. Lucy performs the song ‘Bring on the Men’ during a show at the Red Rat (which was later replaced with ‘Good ‘n’ Evil’ in the Broadway production, some claiming ‘Bring on the Men’ was too ‘risqué’.).
  • Ladies Night is a New Zealandmarker stage comedy about unemployed male workers who put on a strip show at a club as a way to raise some money. A version was also written for the United Kingdommarker. There are many parallels with The Full Monty. Ladies Night predates the Full Monty, however.
  • Barely Phyllis is a play on Phyllis Dixey which was first staged at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfieldmarker in 2009.

See also


Further reading

  • Toni Bentley, 2002. Sisters of Salome
  • Lara Clifton, 2002. Baby Oil and Ice: Striptease in East London.The Do-Not Press,London.ISBN 1 899344 85 3.
  • Antonio Vianovi 2002. Lilli St Cyr:Her Intimate Secrets:Profili Album. Glamour Associated,Italy.
  • Murray Goldstein, 2005. Naked Jungle - Soho Stripped Bare. Silverback Press.
  • Holly Knox,1988."Sally Rand,From Films to Fans".Maverick Publications,Bend,U.S.A. ISBN 0892881720.
  • Michelle Lamour, 2006. The Most Naked Woman. Utopian Novelty Company,Chicago,U.S.A.
  • Philip Purser and Jenny Wilkes, 1978. The One and Only Phyllis Dixey. Futura Publications, London.ISBN 0 7088 1436 0.
  • Roye, The Phyllis Dixey Album. The Camera Studies Club,Elstree.
  • Roye, 1942. Phyllis in Censorland. The Camera Studies Club. London.
  • Andy Saunders, 2004. Jane A Pin Up At War. Leo Cooper,Barnsley. ISBN 1 84415 027 5. Jane (Chrystabel Leighton-Porter) was a well known cartoon and photographic model. Jane was also a tableau model and appeared in theatres in Britain.
  • Rachel Shteir, 2004. Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show. Oxford University Press.
  • Sheila Van Damm, 1957. No Excuses. Putnam, London
  • Sheila Van Damm, 1967. We Never Closed. Robert Hale,London. SBN 7091 0247 X.
  • Vivian Van Damm, 1952. Tonight and Every Night. Stanley Paul,London.
  • Dita Von Teese, 2006. Burlesque and the Art of Striptease. Regan Books,New York.U.S.A. ISBN 0 06 059167 6
  • Richard Wortley, 1969. Skin Deep in Soho. Jarrolds Publishers,London. SBN 09 087830 2
  • Richard Wortley, 1976. The Pictorial History of Striptease. Octopus Books,London. Later edition by the Treasury Press,London.ISBN 0 907407 12 9.
  • Royal, Chaz, 2009 Burlesque Poster Design. Korero Books, London, ISBN 978-09553398-2-0. Book Homepage
  • Arthur Fox, 1962. Striptease with the Lid Off. Empso Ltd.,Manchester.
Arthur Fox,1962."Striptease Business".

External links

  • The Naked Truth (support and information website by and about exotic dancers in Canada)
  • Stripper Web (United States based exotic dancer community offering support and advice)

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