Opinion: The Secret Connection between Dance and Cabaret

Dance and cabaret: easy to spot,difficult to define and connect

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 09 Aug 2011

The simple link between dance and cabaret is the neo-burlesque revival. Dance Base has offered burlesque classes for years: pioneers Gypsy Charms and Viva Misadventure seeded the burlesque scene in Scotland. Burlesque, and striptease, are clearly forms of dance. When The Shimmy kicked off in 2009, burlesque was huge in Edinburgh – both Blonde Ambition and Itsy’s Collective offered regular shows – and variety bills were burlesque heavy.

Ironically, as cabaret gained its own Fringe section in 2010, the neo-burlesque revival was waning. An article in The Scotsman attacked burlesque as anti-feminist. Some acts became raunchier, abandoning knowing wit for eroticism. Unlike last year, when the superb Wau Wau Sisters staggered the Assembly through stripping and swinging from the ceiling – and aiming a scattershot satire at the heart of modern America, there are no burlesque only shows this year.

Nevertheless, the cabaret revival has a debt to neo-burlesque. When variety collapsed into insipid light entertainment, burlesque brought back sex and satire.

Dusty Limits is not a dancer, yet his exotic erotic mockery reflects burlesque. The association of burlesque with vintage fashion gave cabaret a style, recalling classic eras of vaudeville, such as the Weimar Republic. Even a duo like The Creative Martyrs – unlikely to cut a cheeky caper between their songs of bleak decadence – draw on the influences burlesque rediscovered. The cabaret audiences were built by burlesque nights. 1927 honed their skills at burlesque evenings, adopting the style and format for a theatrical tour de force.

Furthermore, cabaret performance can share an aesthetic with modern dance. Shows, like Tricity Vogue’s Blue Lady, Meow Meow 's frantic bash through egomania and celebrity, Sarah Louise Young’s Cabaret Whore Trilogy pick up on a choreographic approach to subjects, deconstructing them from different angles. 

Like physical theatre, cabaret includes a healthy mixture of talents: strippers, magicians like Piff the Magic Dragon, singers (Limits), rappers (Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer) alongside indefinable performers like Vogue. The variety format, notably reinvented by Blonde Ambition at Vive Le Cabaret!, welcomes diversity. Yet aside from wild cards like Scottee’s Eat Your Heart Out, it is rare to see short-form dance on the bill.

Last year, the eclectic Bryony Kimmings, who admits she is - sort of - Live Art, impressed at variety shows. Aerial is a regular visitor to the vaudeville. Stronger links between the scenes might lead to dance being billed alongside Des O’Connor, cementing the connection. 

Beyond this, if the burlesque scene has become moribund, a reinjection of dance might be the cure. There is still an amateur scene in the central belt of Scotland: often, its stars have never bothered to learn new skills or develop their choreography beyond stylised gestures.

Charms and Misadventure have always had a show-girl edge to their routines, and many international stars have dance training. Blurring boundaries is little help for the poor critic, desperately trying to decipher the codes of genre. But for performers and audiences, it offers potential for great new entertainment.