Elizabeth Burton

Elizabeth Burton

Elizabeth Burton

Burton began working in strip clubs in the early 1970s, when the conventions of burlesque were still evident. Burlesque was a form of theatrical or cabaret entertainment featuring crude comedy and risqué dancing that often mocked a serious subject.

"Burlesque venues taught me the craft of stripping. You’d get up between comedians and novelty acts. All the girls would have a character and a gimmick. There was less emphasis on nudity and more emphasis on tease. For a fifteen or twenty minute show you would have twenty or thirty garments to remove. Costumes were very important," Burton once said. 

Although she had no training in dance, Burton mastered the choreographic gestures and rituals of striptease. By the mid 1970s she was reputed to be Australia’s highest paid stripper, working at the Pink Panther club in Kings Cross with a supporting cast of seven female and three male nude artistes. She pioneered a modern style of striptease that moved beyond the traditional bumps and grinds. She added elegant gymnastic twists and turns, executed with grace. At the same time she pushed her performance towards contortionism and acrobatics. She finished her routine completely nude. She chose her own music and used special lighting effects.

Burton regards striptease as a craft in which costumes become important props in creating a fantasy on stage. Her act was often built around a theme. For example, she appeared on stage as a boxer (complete with boxer shorts and boxing gloves), a biker girl wearing a leather vest, a can-can dancer, a harem girl and a private detective (dancing to the ‘Peter Gunn’ theme). However, her signature act was as ‘Miss Modesty’, making her entrance fully dressed, complete with hat, gloves and shoes. She would wear lots of garments to prolong the act, including hats, stockings, suspender belts, underwear and several g-strings.

Burton presents striptease as an exercise in empowerment and a way for women to be unashamed of their sexuality. According to Burton, "People have not been educated to be comfortable in their own bodies with their own sexuality. We’ve never been taught to enjoy, respect and love sex. We’ve always been taught it’s a rude and dirty thing."

"When I first started out I made it a point to always present my body as an object of beauty, not just a sex symbol. I felt that as long as I was going to remove my clothes, I was going to do it with as much aesthetic appeal as possible." (Liz Burton quoted in New Nation, 16 July 1976)

At Kings Cross striptease became very much a tourism industry, with predominantly male patrons. However in the 1970s at clubs like the Pink Panther, men were sometimes accompanied by women. Burton appreciated the applause of female spectators, stating "I really feel thrilled when the women clap. I think their reaction is more important to me." (Liz Burton quoted in New Nation, 16 July 1976.

Burton found the work enjoyable and financially rewarding. "Life can be very exciting and financially rewarding for a top stripper, providing she’s prepared to travel. If you’re good you can make quite big money." (Burton quoted in Australasian Post, 7 Oct 1976).

Striptease dancing exemplifies and challenges generally understood notions of male-female relationships. At one level the female is predatory, the male submissive. The female is active, the male is passive. However these roles are acted out within a wider social context that restricts well paid employment opportunities to young, unqualified women. As the ritual of striptease is deconstructed, simple explanations of ‘dominant male-subordinate female’ or ‘dominant female-submissive male’ become inadequate.

Speaker’s events

Appearing Alongside