Entertaining femininities: The embodied exhibitions of striptease and sport, 1950–1975
Immediately after World War II, the industry of commercial female striptease flourished in cities across North America. Vancouver Sun newspaper reporter Patrick Nagle recalls a ‘show business railway’ that moved performers, including showgirls, up and down the Pacific coast from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to the seaport city of Vancouver, British Columbia.3 Already well known for its earlier history of raunchy, risqué, bootlegging brothels, and burlesque, Vancouver embraced the revived industry of ‘bump and grind’ (Salmi 2000: 17). In this chapter, drawing from archival and interview data, I explore retired striptease dancers’ complex stories of their agency, craft, expertise, and gifts as physically talented, sexy performers in an era that preceded split beavers, table dancing, lap dancing, stage fees, champagne rooms, and the Canadian government’s short-lived ‘Exotic Dancers’ visa programme (1998-2004).4 Rather than remember themselves as objectified, degraded victims of men’s super-sonic lust, ex-dancers narrate tales of how
they resisted and accommodated conventions of proper, lady-like femininity. Their observations suggest fruitful comparison and contrast with elite female athletes – golfers, figure skaters, and tennis stars during the same time period, 1950-75. Indeed, I discovered myriad, intriguing parallels across two seemingly unrelated fields of professional entertainment: striptease and sport. At the same time, inspired by theorist Judith Butler (2002), I found that hierarchies of legitimation and illegitimation installed the intelligibility, recognizability, and state sanctification of some women’s performing bodies, and not others.