Tassel twirling is a signature part of a burlesque performance. Albeit it is not in every burlesque performance but along with “feather fans” it is what many non-performers think of when they hear burlesque and is still very prominent on the burlesque stage today. Who was the first performer to twirl her tassels and how has tassel twirling evolved in over 50 years? Millions of tassels have been twirled in that time and here are some of the ladies that made their mark in the history of tassel twirling.
The history as to where tasseled pasties came from along with who was the first tassel twirler is unclear. As cities around the world were cracking down on burlesque performers and nudity, performers started to wear pasties. It is rumored that tassels were added to the pasties so that it was obvious the ladies nipples were covered and twirling those tassels evolved from there. Carrie Finnell is noted as being potentially the first tassel twirler. She was known for having “Educated Breasts” and being “The Most Unusual Act in Show Business.” Starting her career in the 1920s, she would manipulate her pectoral muscles to twirl her tassels while the rest of her body didn’t move a muscle. Her twirling talents didn’t end there, she was even known to twirl bells and sometimes lights that hung from her pasties all using her pectoral muscle isolation technique. In the 1950s other famous tassel twirlers made a lasting impression! Doreen “The Tassel Queen” and of course, Jennie Lee, “The Bazoom Girl,” also used their assets onstage to entrance the audience tassel twirling in a variety of positions.
Carrie Finnell passed away in the early 1960s after over 40 years of tassel twirling in the business. It is around that time during the 1960s and into the ‘70s that tassel twirling is said to have become outdated. However tassel twirling was about to make a move into the future. Satan’s Angel began her burlesque career in 1961. When she first started performing she had five tassels: 1 on each breast, 1 on her crotch and the other 2 on her bum. After being told that tassel twirling was nothing special as everyone did it and she jokingly replied about setting her tassels on fire, fire tassel twirling was born. Now that people would pay to see. Satan’s Angel became the Queen and Originator of fire tassel twirling. Satan’s Angel has popped in and out of retirement in recent years but has sanctioned fire tassel performers as well as teachers, such as Bettie Blackheart in Finland, to teach the art of fire tassel twirling.
It is unclear when the assel became prominent in burlesque performances.For those who haven’t shared a stage with a performer and her assels or even seen them from the front row, assels are tassels that are placed on your bum cheeks and twirled. Just like tassels on your breasts they can be twirled in all sorts of positions ranging from twirling them in a split to even twirling in a handstand! A very notable assel performance is that of Phoenix Flame in Ann Corio’s This Is Burlesque in 1977* where she graced the stage in a classic burlesque number only to grab extra tassels laid out at the side of the stage and give them a twirl. Since then many fingers point to Jo Weldon as the woman who has brought assel twirling back to the forefront of performing when one of her acts(pictured backstage) debuted in 2002. Jo features asseling in more then one of her acts and even throws together impromptu assel parties at the pool at Burlesque Hall of Fame, “When I’m touring with my Godzilla number, which features asseling, I like to find two local dancers, teach them asseling, and have them join in. I’m spreading the assel gospel.” Other famous assel twirlers include: Foxy Tann and Peekaboo Pointe, “The Fastest Tassel Twirler from East to West.”
Just as burlesque has come a long way, so has tassel twirling. From muscle isolation techniques to twirling tassels on bumcheeks! Tassel twirling has even been used in recent years for fundraising at the Stockholm Burlesque Festival’s event, “Octbooberfest,” a tassel twirling competition and breast cancer fundraising benefit. So what will be the next trend in tassel twirling? Which performer will take it that next step further? No matter how you tassel twirl, whether it be bouncing, shimmying or even twerking for some of those asselers out there, it is an exciting feat and a unique talent to accomplish. Now that you know about the evolution of the twirl, slap on those tassels and give ‘em a whirl ladies’n’gents!