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date: 29 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Neo-burlesque has been praised by dance scholarship as a body positive, feminist, safe space that has celebrated difference and argued for a broader spectrum of beauty, gender representation, and orientation. Since the inception of the movement, performers have made the pilgrimage to the Burlesque Hall of Fame pageant, and now claim titles such as Best Troupe, the King of Boylesque, and Miss Exotic World. Utilizing an ethnographic methodology, by way of participant observation and interview data, this chapter examines the author’s experience of serving as a judge at this pageant. It analyzes performers’ efforts to “authentically” recreate this mid-twentieth-century form of exotic dance and argues that such attempts can perpetuate historic prejudices with regard to body size, sexual orientation, and race. Additionally, it suggests that the process of competition often normalizes and regulates this inclusive performance practice, and is fundamentally at odds with the supposed philosophies of the neo-burlesque community.

Keywords: competition, body positive, pageant, burlesque, neo-burlesque, exotic dance

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