March 4, 2014

The Art of the Tease

By Liz Everly

So this weekend I attended a showing of  Gypsy, the musical. Besides being astounded by some of the local talent, it inspired me to think about the woman who was “Gypsy Rose Lee” and the art of the tease, which she is given the credit for “inventing” on the Burlesque dance stage. Others dancers were doing more than teasing. She, evidently, never stripped completely. Seeing the play also inspired me to think about what romance authors have in common with a good strip tease. Does that sound far-fetched? Keep reading. You’ll see what I mean.


Gypsy’s teasing was kind of clumsy—and her movements appeared unstudied and certainly not graceful. Here is a clip from a movie she was in giving a cleaner version of what she actually did. There was really nothing even remotely graceful about her. I had thought maybe that was just written in to the play to make it a bit more comedic. I was wrong about that. One of the ways in which she was brilliant was blending comedy and sexiness.

Check it out.

She was noted by the way in which she talked through her routine. As you can see from the clip.

It inspired me to think about so many things—like how little is left to the imagination with some of our young performers. (Ya don’t have to attend a Burlesque show to see a half-naked or naked woman these days. Just watch some music videos.)04_116129206

I’ve never been to a Burlesque show, but I have a friend in England who made a good living from it. She had fun with it. I remember her dressing up as a baseball player and once as a Viking. I know she was naked from the waste up (with pasties) a few times, but I don’t think she ever took her g-string off. She made folks laugh with her funny and sexy routines. Her wit came through in those routines.

So did Gypsy’s. I think one of the reasons Gypsy was so popular is that she was relate-able for men and women. Even though she was prancing around on stage, she could be any man’s wife or lover prancing around for him behind closed doors. I think women liked her for that reason, as well.

Did you know Gypsy Rose Lee also wrote a couple of murder mysteries?
Did you know Gypsy Rose Lee also wrote a couple of murder mysteries?

Just like characters in a romance novel. They have to be realistic, to some extent, but with some element of fantasy. It’s a fine line for writers to walk. If a woman is too “perfect” many women readers will not relate—and I think men, really, won’t be interested either. It’s our flaws that make us interesting. And it’s the same with characters.

Perfecting the “tease” is another element that romance writers juggle. If you give  it all up too fast, what’s the point for a reader to continue? If you tease and tease, and leave the reader hanging in an un-amusing way, they probably won’t come back for more.

There’s a lot about Gypsy Rose Lee’s art of the tease that we can learn from. As an erotic romance author, the sex is only part of the tease—the rest is everything else that’s going on between the characters. Where is the sex taking them? How does it change them? And, as writers we need to perfect that quality that  Mama Rose preached about in the play: “Always leave them wanting more.”

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  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I see what you mean about Gypsy Rose Lee bringing relatability to burlesque and made it more accessible and inviting as a result. Kind of like the same way that Hugh Hefner brought the sunshine-y girl-next-door image to porn and did the same thing.

    And I guess what you’re making me see is that their doing so, the result was that women felt closer to and more ownership of their own sexuality…

    You’ve really hit the nail on the head in relating this to erotic romance writing. In that erotic romance–unlike the burlesque venue and playboy–the audience is mostly female. So it’s that much more important to meld everyday and innocence into sexuality–it more accurately reflects how women experience their own sexuality on a day to day basis.

    What a great post!

    Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

    I have a couple of Gypsy’s novels — The G-String Murders! Fun.

    Reply to C. Margery Kempe
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    I completely agree with your statement about needing to “tease” the reader, Liz. I remember once, years ago, reading a romance novel where the hero and heroine literally had sex by the time I reached page 10. I was so incredibly disappointed. First, as you can imagine, there was no “tease.” No building of the relationship. No correlation between the emotions and the sex. I stopped reading.

    Anything that’s savored is that much sweeter once you finally get it. Build the anticipation and enjoy the tease. And, as Gypsy Rose Lee understood, have fun along the way.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore

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