When we think of famous burlesque dancers, names like Gypsy Rose Lee, Dita Von Teese and Josephine Baker may come to mind, but rarely are Asians mentioned. But you can now add Chinese American Barbara Yung to that list. The still alive and kicking 92-year-old Yung was inducted into the Burlesque Hall of Fame last month and received the 2011 Legend of Burlesque Award (click here for an overview of the history of women in color in Burlesque).
Yung had a long career as a burlesque dancer from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s. She got her start as a dancer in San Francisco on the “Chop Suey Circuit” and by 1949 was headlining the “Chinese Girls-a-Peekin’” Revue at Fong Wan’s Club in Oakland and the “China Darlings of 1950” Revue at Fong’s Club Shanghai in San Francisco. By 1952, she was starring in the “Chinatown After Midnight” show at the historic El Rey in Oakland. Yung went on to perform at clubs and cabarets all across the United States from Hawaii to New Orleans at such legendary venues as the Kubla Khan and the Sky Room.
Soft Film recently blogged about Yung and also dug up these tidbits from the Oakland Tribune’s “Going Places” gossip column:
“Barbara looks very much like something you might see in Terry and the Pirates. Tall, shapely as a Varga girl, and dances beautifully to music like “Rhapsody in Blue” and other intricate symphonic arrangements.” (June 11, 1949)
“Barbara Yung is one of the cleverest tall, willowy dancers in show business today. Quite rare to see a Chinese girl with her elevation. Her routines these eves at Fong Wan’s Club Oakland are sophisticated yet quite artistic.” (June 25, 1949)
Barbara made her own costumes and was “something of an outstanding couturier when it comes to sequin needlework” (October 15, 1949).
Congrats to the fab Ms. Yung!