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The Glittering Past: A Brief History of Burlesque in New Zealand

What better place to start this blog than in the beginning? Behind our rolling hills and hobbit holes lies a vibrant history of feather boas, glitter, and sass. So, let us take a saucy stroll down memory lane and uncover the history of burlesque in our Aotearoa.

In the realm of entertainment, few art forms have captivated audiences with as much allure and mystique as burlesque. Its history is a tapestry woven with threads of sensuality, humor, and theatricality. While often associated with the bustling streets of Paris or the glitz of Broadway, burlesque has also found its stage in the far corners of the globe, including here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.


Burlesque first sashayed its way into New Zealand in the late 19th century. Originally, it was a mix of comedy, satire, and, of course, a healthy dose of risqué performances. Think slapstick humor meets corsets and garters! It quickly became a hit among cheeky Kiwis, who embraced its playful irreverence. Burlesque found its audience among the burgeoning urban centers of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

The Golden Era in NZ

The early to mid-20th century marked the golden era of burlesque in New Zealand. With the rise of theaters and cabarets across the country, burlesque performers dazzled audiences with their flamboyant costumes, cheeky humor, and sensual dance routines. Iconic venues such as the Princess Theatre in Auckland and the Opera House in Wellington became synonymous with extravagant burlesque spectacles, drawing crowds eager to indulge in the allure of the stage.

During this time, burlesque evolved into a sophisticated form of entertainment, showcasing a blend of satire, parody, and glamour. International performers like Evie Hayes, known for her captivating stage presence and witty performances, became very popular on our shores.

Challenges and Resurgence

However, the mid-20th century also brought challenges for the burlesque scene in New Zealand and abroad. Changing societal norms and moral attitudes led to increased scrutiny and censorship of burlesque performances. The closure of many theaters and cabarets dealt a blow to the burlesque community, forcing them to retreat into the shadows.

Despite these challenges, burlesque never truly disappeared from the New Zealand cultural landscape. In recent decades, interest has been resurgent in burlesque, both internationally and locally here in NZ. Modern burlesque performers, competitions, and our national festival have emerged, celebrating the diversity and creativity of this timeless art form and the uniqueness of our Kiwi whanau. What sets Kiwi burlesque apart from the rest? It's all about that unique Kiwi charm! New Zealand burlesque dancers have a style all their own.


From its humble beginnings to its glamorous heyday and eventual revival, the history of burlesque in New Zealand is a testament to the enduring allure of this art form.

As our culture continues to evolve and adapt, burlesque remains a vibrant expression of creativity, empowerment, and storytelling, leaving an indelible mark on the art space here in Aotearoa.

Whether you're a seasoned fan or a curious newcomer, there's no denying the irresistible allure of feathers, fans, and a well-placed pun. Be sure to catch a show and experience the magic of burlesque for yourself. After all, where else can you see a performer peel off layers of clothing and cover themselves with marmite? Only in New Zealand, my friends. Only in New Zealand.

What would you like to hear about next? Drop a comment below

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Apr 02
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Loved this piece! Would love to know more about the NZ burly scene


Apr 01
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


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