subscribe: Posts | Comments

Carousel of Burlesque


Fringe Fort Myers invades the Alliance for the Arts and Off Broadway Palm Thursday, June 1, through Sunday, June 4. One of the acts attendees can see on the Foulds Theatre stage is Pixel Winters and Freckles Galore’s rousing Carousel of Burlesque.

Pixel and Freckles have structured the show around the history of burlesque in the United States.

“We have a narrator who will be taking us through time,” Pixel explains, “taking us through not only burlesque’s place in American entertainment history, but how it has changed over time and where it’s possibly going.”

Burlesque’s evolution will be illustrated by Pixel, Freckles and two other performers. Each will do two acts or vignettes that range from classical and neo-classical to comedic, sensual and more modern forms of burlesque.

The magical mystery tour is sure to have surprises galore in store for attendees. For example, few know that Americans got their first taste of burlesque way back in 1868, when Lydia Thompson and her scantily-clad troupe of chorus girls, the British Blondes, arrived in New York to begin a several-year tour of the States. With their tantalizing blend of music, comedy, clever social satire and bold sexuality, the Blondes were an instant hit. And much like the Beatles nearly a century later, many found the Blondes’ self-possessed and self-aware presence disturbing and unsettling.

“Every burlesque performer is a fan of burlesque,” Freckles Galore underscores. “Like a diehard fan of burlesque! We love the history, the old vintage photos and old videos, and I think first and foremost I’m a fan ….”

“Yeah, because those women who came before us were the ones that paved the way,” Pixel finishes her writing partner’s thought. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to be where we are, as comfortable as we are.”

Like many of the burlesque performers who came later, Thompson kept tight reins on her acts and her public image, paving the way for the strong, independent female stars who followed in her wake, like Mae West, Josephine Baker, fan dancing pioneer Sally Rand and well-known witty Golden Age performer Gypsy Rose Lee.

“But a woman onstage, displaying her body, speaking freely, and challenging her audience, was a strange and shocking sight in the nineteenth century, when female performers of any kind were still conventionally equated with prostitutes,” notes scholar Robert C. Allen in his seminal work on burlesque, Horrible Prettiness. Though Thompson and the British Blondes had many fans, they also encountered what Allen terms “a hysterical anti-burlesque discourse” that would continue to haunt the art form for decades to come.

Of course, back in the day women, like children, were to be seen and not heard. But poking fun at the tastes and prerogatives of the upper class and ridiculing the social mores of the day was the essence of burlesque.

“The word ‘burlesque’ means ‘to mock,” Pixel Winters points out. “And that’s what it came out of. They were mocking gender stereotypes. They were mocking wealth and class establishments.”

At the same time, they were proving that jokes about sex knew no class boundaries.”

While for many of the forerunners of modern-day burlesque, dancing was a matter of survival, some put considerable effort and artistry into their acts. That creative spirit and work ethic continues to this day.

“The unique thing about burlesque is that it can be a mash-up of everything, all in one,” Freckles comments. “If you like drawing, painting, dancing, if you like comedy, it’s a very fluid art form. I’m able to put into one act, or some aspect of it, all the different kinds of art that I’m into. Burlesque can accommodate all of that, and more.”

Pixel agrees. But that also makes burlesque performers more vulnerable than stage actors.

“If I act in a play, I’m wearing costumes that someone else designs for me. I’m bringing to life a script that someone else wrote. I’m following the director’s vision,” Pixel points out. “But with burlesque, it’s not only scary because you’re taking your clothes off, but because your entire act –the choice of music, costume design, the choreography – that’s your baby. You’re giving that to the audience and if they don’t like it, it’s not that they didn’t like the script or they didn’t like the costumes. They didn’t like what you did. So you have to have a little bit of a thick skin.”

The nudity associated with modern-day burlesque wasn’t always the case. While burlesque performers have always dressed provocatively, showing more skin than society considered acceptable, striptease did not come along until decades after Lydia Thompson and the British Blondes. Some say this happened around 1904 when Millie DeLeon removed her garter. Other pinpoint 1917 as the year stripping first made its appearance in a burlesque performance – when a dancer began taking off her costume as she left the stage. Still others claim that the predicate was established in 1925 when a performer removed a costume item, a cuff, that had gotten dirty. Perhaps Carousel of Burlesque will shed some light on the origins of stripping as a central component of burlesque.

Today, stripping and partial nudity contribute to the sense of empowerment that has become the central tenet of burlesque.

“When I talk to other performers, burlesque is not only about being able to incorporate all of your art in one place, it’s the empowerment aspect,” Pixel shares. “Sure, you may be vulnerable, but at the same time, you’re like ‘look what I did, look what I did!’ ‘Look at what I did with my body, with my hands, with my mind.’”

Pixel and Freckles are confident that Carousel of Burlesque will resonate with audiences of all types and ages because of its emphasis on the history of the art form. But they also believe that the comfort and vibe of the Alliance’s Foulds Theatre will create a safe space for them to indulge the curiosity they may have never previously explored.

“This is a really good way [for people] to dip their toes in without feeling overwhelmed or over-pressured,” says Pixel. “But it will be fun. People will get to learn things. They’ll get to laugh. They’ll get to, I hope, feel inspired ….”

“And forget about their problems for a whole hour,” Freckles interjects.

“Yeah, that’s always good. I think that the show we have put together is up-front burlesque, but it is also something to come and laugh, to enjoy, to learn,” finishes Pixel.

And who knows, maybe Carousel of Burlesque will create a groundswell of grassroots support that will encourage area venues, from theaters to restaurants and bars, to mount burlesque performances that Southwest Florida residents and visitors can enjoy without having to travel to Tampa, Orlando or Miami.

You can see Carousel of Burlesque in the Foulds Theatre at:

  • 8:30 p.m. on Friday, June 2;
  • 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 3; and
  • 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 4.

For tickets or more information, please call 239-939-2787.


  • The use of the word “carousel” is a homage not only to the wheel of time and progress, but to the fact that the circuit of town to which burlesque performers traveled was known as “the wheel.”
  • During its golden age, burlesque was bigger than Broadway, employing thousands of people. Performers were even accompanied by huge orchestras on occasion.
  • Freckles Galore has been performing burlesque for seven years. “I have strutted my stuff all across the Sunshine State – anywhere from South Miami to Orlando, Jacksonville. I’ve performed in New York. I’ve performed in Minnesota. Ohio. So I’ve gotten the opportunity with burlesque to travel outside of Florida and to different cities in Florida, but I’d love to do more of it locally. “
  • Pixel Winters has been performing burlesque for more than ten years. While she started out signing cabaret style for a local burlesque performer before performing in drag shows at TBL, it wasn’t until she moved to New Zealand several years ago that she fully embraced burlesque. “The community down there was so generous and collaborative and gave me that fire that when I came back, I really started pushing myself full force into going for it. So I’ve worked up in Orlando and Tampa, and I’m going to Denver later this summer to perform for a show. I’ve been doing more traveling and going out of state to expand my horizons. I really love getting to know the people in this community and other performers that I wouldn’t get to meet by just staying here.”

May 25, 2023.

Comments are closed.