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Black Burlesque History Timeline, 1930-1939 (Part II)

To view the Black Burlesque History Timeline: 1880-1929, click here.

I've previously mentioned this, but I think it bears repeating: my own definition of "Black burlesque" for purposes of this brief at-a-glance timeline, are much looser than others.

I am arguing for a looser definition to include any performance featuring lots of skin, dressing/undressing, satire, or the like -- basically, an invitation to view Black femme talent through the lens of sensuality, intimacy, and our physical bodies. Many early Black burlesque and vaudeville artists didn't strip, and much of the shake dancing footage I've found features little to no actual disrobing -- they start off scantily clad and they end scantily clad. But their work is still erotic, and I think more stringent definitions of burlesque exist mainly to gatekeep the artform.

It's not up there on the timeline, but in 1930 the infamous vaudeville circuit for Black performers, known Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA), shut down. Started in Washington, D.C. and Virginia to follow the work of Black vaudeville comedian Sherman H. Dudley, TOBA was pretty much hated for its low pay and awful touring arrangements. I can't find a citation for this sentiment just yet, but I think it's safe to say that by 1930, African-American burlesque performers were sick of their $hit and ready to make better moves for themselves. And that they did!

This is just a very brief, at-a-glance timeline that highlights some lesser known names in Black burlesque history -- there are many, many more burlesque and shake dancers not up there, like Marie Dickerson who as known as the greatest shake dancer alive in the early 1930s, and Sandra the shake dancer who used to sell skin-lightening cream in newspaper ads in the mid-1930s, or the Harlemesque Revue shows that regularly featured shakers. There's so much history! I just wanted to offer something at-a-glance (and it also helps me organize my research for Shake Queens the book).

A quick look at this timeline shows a bit of pattern that began to emerge during the 1930s: more and more Black vaudeville and burlesque artists were starting to make moves on their own.

Unlike the whites-only glitterati of NYC's Cotton Club, the Black-owned Creole Palace on the West Coast was offering up a diverse blend of African-American entertainment, minus the segregation and colorism. More shake dancers were leaving their gigs to start producing their own shows. Shake-dancing sex workers down in New Orleans were dressing like babydolls and dancing in the streets, enough to make it a Mardi Gras staple that continues to this day (although this fact is hotly debated). Shake dancers started to become internationally known, touring the United States and leaving headlines in their wake.

I can't wait to work on the next timeline, focusing on the 1940s! Stay tuned.

If you have any questions at all about any of the info on the timeline, just write a comment or send me a message!

Further Reading:

Louise Cook covered by "Very Important Potheads" (I hope to be awesome enough to make this list one day.)

Until next time, and always with love,


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