We know we love the erotic dancers at RI Dolls in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. We are familiar with them and generations of men (and more lately, women) have been enjoying gentlemen’s clubs and the beautiful women that entertain us. Not everyone realizes that erotic dancing is an age-old profession that goes back centuries. In fact, it was socially acceptable and didn’t hold the taboo connotations that it sometimes does today.

You can find mentions of exotic dancers from the time of ancient Greece and Babylonia. It did take some time before it found its way to North America and England though.

There is some dispute over when the ancient art of erotic dancing first appeared. One of the first recorded instance of erotic dancing occurs in the Sumerian myth where the goddess Inanna took an article of clothing off at each of the seven gates to the Underworld in search of her lover. Some people believe this myth is based on the dance of the seven veils of Salome, a woman who danced for King Herod. This dance is also mentioned in the Bible, in the New Testament Matthew 14:6 and Mark 6:21-22, but it doesn’t say Salome removed her clothes. 

Near the end of the 6th century BC, there were multiple classes of prostitutes in ancient Greece. They often danced naked to tempt the audience of men in ancient Greece. In ancient Rome, there was a festival held in April to honor the goddess Flora, called Floralia. The entertainment during this festival included female dancers who stripped their clothes off. The way these accounts are told, it appears that dancing naked was not new. But in time, with the Christian Church opposing the act of dancing naked, statues started popping up that banned such entertainment. These seemed heavily enforced since there are no reports of dancing naked in texts written during the Middle Ages.

It wasn’t until 1677 when we find the next documentation of nude dancing. A comedy titled The Rover featured a man strip teasing. Women strippers are alluded to in a1681 comedy called The Soldier’s Fortune. In 18th century London, brothels were standard sights. Posture Girls would stand on tables and take their clothes off for gentleman’s entertainment.

At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Middle Eastern belly dance was made popular by a dancer named Little Egypt. Around the same time, the Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergere in France featured scantily-clad women dancing, while some women posed nude. These acts are formally credited as the origin of striptease dancing. These shows continued in France through the turn of the century, with the famous Mata Hari stripping until she was wearing only a jeweled bra and a few ornaments on her head and arms. In 1907, Germaine Aymos was famous for stepping on stage and performing while wearing only three small sea shells. 

In the 1920s and 1930s, the famous topless dancer Josephine Baker danced at the Folies and similar acts performed at the Tabarin. While these shows featured naked or near-naked women, they all featured sophisticated choreography and glitzy costumes featuring feathers and sequins. By the time the 1960s came along, places in France like Le Crazy Horse Saloon provided fully nude shows.

Specifically, in the United States, modern strip clubs like RI Dolls were preceded by burlesque shows and traveling carnivals. These shows featured famous strippers Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose. In April 1925, audiences saw the legendary show The Night They Raided Minsky’s at Minsky’s Burlesque theater. After a legal ruling in 1937 that prohibited striptease dancing as a form of entertainment, these theaters were turned into cinema venues.

The real boost for erotic dancing in America came with the 1960s go-go dancers. Carol Doda  from the Condor Night Club in San Francisco is considered to be the first topless go-go dancer in 1964. In 1969, the club began to feature fully nude women dancers. It was in 1980 when another strip club in San Francisco, the Mitchel Brothers O’Farrell Theatre pioneered lap dancing. In the late 20th century, pole dancing began to have a prominent place in the world of erotic dance and strip clubs. Starting in Canada, this type of exotic dance quickly spread down into America and then over to the United Kingdom and into central Europe, then Russia, and reached Australia. 

Today, the adult entertainment industry continues to thrive, especially with the popularity of strip clubs and gentleman’s clubs like Rhode Island Dolls in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Striptease dancing is considered by many to be a form of art, as well as entertainment. And there is no sign of it ever slowing down.