Cabaret is timeless and a classic. While you may know it from the 1966 musical or the 1972 hit film, it actually originated in Paris, France.
Cabaret is a form of theatrical entertainment full of dancing and performance. Burlesque shows are also unique and often overlap with cabaret.
This article will touch on where cabaret and burlesque originated, what it is, and how to enjoy cabaret yourself with a cabaret party. While cabaret may be hard to come by these days, we will show you where you can find it, too. Let’s get started.
The history of cabaret
Cabaret originated in France and is a French word that traditionally referred to a business that sold alcohol. It dates back to 1881 when a casual Paris saloon called Le Chat Noir opened its doors.
In this unique cafe, composers, musicians, artists, and poets all got together to discuss ideas and perform their creations. Usually, the performers would try out new compositions, or material and audiences would pay for a drink to be entertained.
The saloon owners were pleased with the arrangement with the guaranteed steady flow of customers that were enthralled with the new performers.
Not long after, cabarets began to pop up all over the city as word got around about the success of Le Chat Noir. After that, other French and German cities saw their own versions of Cabaret as it quickly infiltrated the cultural scene. Many performers found themselves scheduling their entertainment all over Europe.
The beauty of Cabaret was that it was informal. Audiences could enjoy their drinks or a meal and watch the performers entertain only a few feet away from their small tables. It also became very interactive as audience members were pulled into the show when performers interacted with them on stage, unlike a typical performance or show.
Cabaret became even more popular after the First World War as all government censorship in Germany was revoked. Berlin became widely known as the center of the Cabaret scene, attracting different audiences and performers from all across the world.
The actual shows differed each time as satire or comedy acts were performed or slow sentimental love songs. Audiences used a cabaret party to forget about their lives for an evening and enjoy themselves.
When cabaret made its way into the United States, it was more glamour-oriented than what was portrayed in Europe. New York restaurants like Shanley’s and Reisenweber’s became notable for their legendary cabaret joints.
It wasn’t long until dance floors and suggestive costumes for performers rose as being synonymous with cabaret in the United States. Cabaret actually created the nightclub scene when New York law passed a 2 am curfew on establishments in 1913, and many members-only venues popped up that stayed open late into the night. American cabaret took on a form of its own.
The first Parisian-style cabaret in the United States was Sans-Souci, and it was well known for its more sophisticated clientele. This club definitely pushed the boundaries when it came to performances, and dancing became the main attraction.
The Prohibition-era brought the cabaret scene down to its knees as the sale and consumption of alcohol was banned across the United States. Cabaret goers still continued to go as speakeasies began to pop up around the country.
What is a speakeasy? Well, it was a discreet venue that continued to sell alcohol and provided opportunities for the cabaret scene to carry on. The cabaret scene in America flourished even more as prohibition cabaret bars were the main attraction for Americans.
Even today, many bars like The Pourhouse still pay homage to the speakeasy scene with speakeasy bars.
The burlesque show
While cabaret and burlesque are very similar, they differ in origination and what they are known for. The word burlesque derives from a wealthy tradition and a complex and compelling meaning.
Historically, burlesque is a type of show that implies provocativeness and comedy combined. It displays solo dances and an all-female chorus alongside slapstick comedy and songs. It often also features striptease acts but doesn’t have to.
The word burlesque originates in Italy meaning “mockery,” as it was historically used to refer to caricatures or distortion. It was first used in the 1500s by an Italian named Francesco Berni, who called his opera “burleschi.”
As burlesque shows came to the United States, they were typically quite vulgar in nature, and they usually ended with an exotic dancer or some kind of fight.
Many early movie stars got their fame from starring in burlesque shows and cabaret as the two overlapped often. Burlesque, however, couldn’t win out against the rising popularity of movies and what we now know as nightclubs and eventually fizzled out.
In the 1990s, the United States saw a brief resurgence and various venues today still hold performances. You just have to know where to look!
Cabaret party ideas
Why go and have a regular night out when you can spice it up with cabaret? A performance to go with your party and drinking will make your night that much better and open you up to the wonderful world that is a cabaret.
Cabaret parties are unique and undeniably fun as you get the best of both worlds – drinking and a show!
If you’ve ever taken the time to read or watch the Great Gatsby and have thought to yourself, “wow, I wish I could party like Gatsby Cabaret Noir,” this is your chance. Throw a cabaret party and hit up the hottest event this season, like The Pourhouse, where it isn’t just cabaret. It’s cosplay cabaret. Even better!
This is a great opportunity to experience cabaret first hand, and you can dress the part too. Cabaret party attire ranges from casual chic to very formal. Whether it is a burlesque show or a cabaret cosplay, here are some ideas for attire.
- Corset and pencil skirt: As burlesque originated in Victorian times, it often is paired with a steel-boned corset and fitted pants or skirt. Corsets are very on-trend today, so it would be a great idea to wear it to a cabaret party.
- Frills and feathers: Fun and flirty showgirl look with a lot of details of feathers and frills were very popular back then.
- Vintage Style Dresses: Opt for a vintage-style dress if you don’t want to draw too much attention or prefer a more relaxed look. Pin-up girls with polka dot dresses or cropped cardigans were all the rage and are easy to recreate.
- Accessories: Wearing burlesque is definitely out of many people’s comfort zones, which is totally understandable. If you still want to match the theme but aren’t comfortable in the whole get-up, try accessories. A feather boa, a little hat, evening gloves, or showy heels are all great options for a cabaret night.
- Whatever you want: This is cabaret, after all. Cabaret is known for being your authentic self without any judgment, and this gives you the opening to wear whatever you want, regardless of if it fits the theme! If you’re going to cosplay as your favorite character or simply refuse to dress up, that is totally fine as long as you come as you are and enjoy yourself because that is what cabaret is all about.
Where is the Cabaret today?
The United States cabaret scene doesn’t produce new musical talent like it used to. The number of venues has dropped significantly, and the remaining clubs use cabaret as a large performance instead of a casual and informal nightlife scene.
Sadly, the cabaret and burlesque scenes are slowly dying as they become less and less well-known. They were once legendary and maybe will be once again as they have resurfaced in popularity many times over. But the show must go on, and it does!
Many bars and lounges are finding new ways of incorporating and paying homage to the cabaret scene with events and performances. We are hosting a one-of-a-kind event, The Cosplay Cabaret, on Friday, November 19th.
You don’t want to miss this event where you can dress up, drink, and have fun with your friends as we create a memorable night. Cabaret is hard to come by these days, but this event is open to everyone, so don’t miss the opportunity.