Saturday, 29 December 2012

Burlesque History Lesson: We'll dance the Hootchie Coochie!

Hello Dazzlers and Dazzler-ettes!

I've gotta say, with a lot of delving into the information highway called the internet, I've found that a lot of the Victorian Era really got their raunch on in the late 1880's and 1890's and have been dubbed by some as the "Naughty Nineties"! I cant wait to look into this more!

That being said, one of the raunchiest dances that became synonymous with the strip is the cooch dance, also known at the hootch-kootch, hootchie-kootchie, and many other spellings, but essentially its all the same dance.

Cooch dancing is basically Belly Dancing, but again, Victorian spinmasters got their hands on it and it became quite a popular dance to do during burlesque shows, there was a lot of shimmying, shaking and the belly movements were an unusual trick not seen in western countries.

While the first listed time the dance was performed is in the 1876 in a convention in Philadelphia, however it didn't take off until the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 when it was included as part of a main section called "A Street in Cairo" where at one end you could get a Camel ride and the other end you could watch the girls dance their dance from 10am until 10pm every day of the fair! They were definitely more covered up that their burlesque companions, they wore baggy pants and some veils, however, it was the bare stomachs and bare feet that caused the most scandal, as well having their hair out and hanging down their shoulders, having your out in public had you considered to be a wild woman with loose morals!

What came out of it though was that there were women called "Little Egypt" who would then perform similar routines. Funnily enough, it's never been clear who "Little Egypt" was as the organisers never named any of their dancers that name. In fact, it wasn't until 1895 that a dancer in Coney Island New York actually called herself "Little Egypt" when dancing the cooch dance, who , of course, got arrested for her gyrations, which boosted sales for the attraction at Coney Island.

Here's a video of one such cooch dancer, names Princess Rajah, who does it with a chair in her mouth (this video is part of the Library of Congress video archiving project, there is some really great stuff on their youtube channel!)

The dance stayed popular in theatres, but didn't get really popular until the raunch was kicked up a notch in St Louis' Expo in 1896 where the first "strip" cooch dance was performed by a dancer named Omeena, more than likely using veils. Veils were very popular and Oscar Wilde's interpretation of the biblical story "Salome" came out at the same time telling how she did a dance of the Seven Veils strip to get John the Baptist released. These dances became popular in the period of 1904 at another St Louis Expo and 1907 and the strip started to really come in then.

Of course, the most famous interpretation of this dance is Rita Hayworth's performance in the movie "Salome". And of course I'm adding because well, it's fabulous!


There are quite a few parody songs about Salome and Coochie dancing that were written at the time, it seemed that the fad which had come into the 21st century was here to stay....However in 1908, the idea of "Venus" in her clam became the new fad, and the shimmys and shakes of the cooch dancing did not come back in vogue until the 1920's thanks to the flapper lifestyle, which became included in your basic bump, thrusts and shakes you see in early burlesque routines!

That's all for now but I am going to be doing my fave queens of 2012 before NYE for you all in between rehearsals for Miss Burlesque and I am also going to review an interesting book which was part of a Kickstarter I supported recently!

Keep on Dazzling!

DD xxx

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