Whether it’s the local county fair (which was all about meeting boys as far as me and my 13-year-old girlfriends were concerned) or the larger scale CNE (ah yes, necking on the bus back to our small town with Randy No-Longer-Remember-His-Last-Name after hooking up with him at the CNE), summer fairs are the stuff of romance.

But the fair wasn’t always quite so innocent. Today’s CNE is a far cry from its raunchier past when girl shows and burlesque were a regular midway feature.

In his book, Girl Show: Into the Canvas World of Bump and Grind, A. W. Stencell credits the Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1893 as the place where traveling carnivals and girl shows got their start. It was the first major fair in North America that set aside a special area for show people, known as the midway.

Looking for entertainment for its midway, the Chicago Fair featured dancers with exotic names like Fatima and Husaria dancing in sideshows called such things as Persian Palace and Turkish Village. According to the history books, many of the girls were Ghawazi dancers and Gypsy prostitutes from Egypt. “At a time when most women wore corsets here were these dancers who were shaking the heck out of their boobs and hips,” says Stencell.

In her book, Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex and Sin in Postwar Vancouver author Becki L. Ross documents the popularity and evolution of girl shows at Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition from 1910 through to the 1970s where white and black dancers did not share the stage until the 1960s.

“White Shows” and “Black Shows” were presented separately, with the latter being marketed as exotic, savage and ethnic novelties, writes Ross, with the carnival barker announcing things like: “The African Queen, DIRECT from the jungles of Africa! We can’t bring her out yet, but we’ll bring her slave girls out” whereby out came “Nubian slave girls in chains, a thumping and a bumping.”

Given this history, it probably wasn’t such a bad thing that, as Stencell writes, “by the ’70s, carnivals became big business, high-tech; expensive rides were all the rage and girl shows got squeezed out.”

This history however, lives on in strip clubs everywhere. Pole dancing is thought to have originated in the old carnival days when tents were so small the stage often butted up against the centre tent pole, creating the ideal thing to hang on to and work up against.

Sleep before sex?
Read more on Josey’s blog at www.metronews.ca/blogs

– Josey Vogels is a sex and relationship columnist and author of five books on the subjects. For more info, visit www.joseyvogels.com.

Latest From ...