Cabaret vs Burlesque Show: What’s the Difference?

burlesque show

If you like variety shows featuring comedy and dancing, you likely know about  both cabaret and burlesque. But, what you may not have realized is that these two terms refer to very different forms of performance art.

Beyond this confusion, there’s a whole lot of misinformation about the history and true purpose of both types of entertainment. Many people make the mistake of considering them scandalous or even pornographic.

So, what can you expect from a cabaret or burlesque show? And what are the differences between them? Keep reading to find out!

What is Cabaret?

Cabaret’s roots date back to 16th century France. At the time, upscale bars began offering a mix of entertainment alongside the usual dining and drinking. Early cabaret shows featured political satire, raunchy songs, and dancing. This trend took off, with many cabaret bars turning into hotspots of underground culture in France and around Europe.

Today’s cabaret shows are more like a modern-day vaudeville. So, while dancing and singing are still common, you can also expect drag shows, stand-up comedy, mime, and more.

What is Burlesque?

Burlesque as a literary and artistic concept became famous in Europe in the 1600s. But, it wasn’t until the 19th century that burlesque performances really took off. Unlike early cabaret shows, burlesque shows were held in theaters and music halls. These venues offered family-friendly entertainment centered around music, skits, parodies, dancing, and slapstick humor.

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Although burlesque soon went out of style in Europe, it re-emerged in the US in the 1930s. Stateside shows were naughtier and more suggestive, though, with raunchier dancing and striptease. So, why you might consider, “what is a burlesque show without a little nudity?”, this wasn’t always the case.

In the 1990s the burlesque show format came back, this time with live music, extravagant costumes, and even more glamour as well as comedy, drama, and exotic dancing.

What are the Differences Between a Cabaret Show and a Burlesque Show?

While both offer varied theater-based entertainment that has changed over the years, the main difference between cabaret and burlesque nowadays is that burlesque often involves more erotic, adult elements.

Cabaret still retains some of its vintage appeal, where shows can even include juggling and magic. This means that cabaret tends to be more family-friendly than modern burlesque shows. That said, burlesque shows are classier and more exotic than the kind of shows you’d find at a strip club. Rather than titillation for the male gaze, burlesque venues present striptease as an art form performed by trained professionals.

Settling the Cabaret vs Burlesque Debate

Now you know the difference between the two, does burlesque or cabaret appeal to you more?

While both are entertaining, you might prefer to head to a cabaret show if you want to share a few laughs with friends or enjoy a good time with your family. In contrast, if you’re looking for something a bit edgier with more adult themes, a burlesque show will definitely not disappoint.

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