Boylesque is a performance style that playfully, while not excluding the sexual element of the performance, constructs an explicitly fluid conception of masculinity and femininity. It has a tradition stretching back through the 20th century, drawing on gender-bending performance art, popular culture, drag, as well as tropes of masculinity from more traditional male striptease. As dancer Go-Go Harder puts it, boylesque “celebrates a large range of bodies with different sizes and shapes . . .. This idea of seeing nontraditional masculine men onstage is very new, and I feel boylesque is changing that for the better.” Some dancers may create routines similar to those of more traditional male striptease companies, such as the Chippendales, but most boylesque acts break with that aesthetic. They also reinvent much of what was considered new in the “new burlesque” of the 1990s.
In “The Roots and Routes of Boylesque: Queering Male Striptease and Burlesque in New York City from 1930s Golden Age Burlesque to the New York Boylesque Festival in the 2010s,” I argue that boylesque dancers have been employing increasingly explicitly and consciously formulated performative strategies in a queer world-making. The strategies are first discernible in performances by male strippers in 1930s Golden Age Burlesque and became fully formulated in performances in the first New York Boylesque Festival in 2012. I examine the roots and routes of the boylesque style through its association with gender-bending female impersonation and (semi)drag, as well as homosexual striptease during the twentieth century, and, starting in the 1990s, its connection with feminist neo-burlesque. Thus, I historicize the style of boylesque as continuous, parallel, and included in the history of burlesque; not as it sometimes has been claimed, a contemporary subgenre of neo-burlesque: Male bodies dancing in burlesque have been queering the spaces and gazes of the genre itself through its history, and continue to do so today.
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My current research examines boylesque, a contemporary genre of neo-burlesque performance. In a part of the project, I conduct inquiries into historical data, attempting to find queer foundational structures in popular entertainment through social network analysis. The beginnings of this project was funded through a Connect New York (CNY) research …