What Is a Cabaret Party?

by Aaron Charles
Contemporary American cabaret emerged in the 1970s.

Contemporary American cabaret emerged in the 1970s.

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Author John Kenrick notes that in late19th-century France, a cabaret was known as any place that served liquor. In addition, cabarets offered an atmosphere for poets, artists and composers to share ideas and to test new material, while an audience could absorb it all and enjoy a few drinks. Over time, the concept of what a cabaret party was began to change, evolving from the influence of different cultures. At cabaret parties nowadays, regardless of form, one thing remains the same -- liquor is often involved.

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The Film

The cabaret nightlife depicted in the 1972 movie "Cabaret" features a suggestively-dressed woman played by Liza Minnelli, who performs on stage before well-dressed patrons who dance, drink and eat at leisure. A party's decorations inspired by the film would highlight the movie's predominant colors of red and black. Clothing could include red and black hats, stockings, corsets, skirts and dresses. Men might dress in classic black slacks and suspenders. Boas, canes and top hats could be accessories for both sexes, adding a touch of class to the ambiance.

The Play

The film also inspired a Broadway musical of the same name. Since the plot of the movie and play accentuates the nighttime entertainment and escapism of 1930s Nazi Germany, a party inspired by this serves as an example of finding levity in heavy times. While similar to the movie, "Cabaret" the musical may inspire a party that draws a crowd that gravitates toward the stage and sweat of theater culture. Sally Bowles, the show's main character, wore a costume of black fishnet stockings, hot pants, a satin corset and bowler hat. "Cabaret"-style makeup includes red cheeks and lips and lots of black eyeliner. To add a Germanic flourish, you might find a variety of German foods and beers mixed with cola.

Black History

During the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s and 1940s and in the post war era of the 1950s, cabaret parties were places for blacks to express their soulful identities and have a good time. In particular, cabaret parties during the Harlem Renaissance stood against what was viewed as "uplift ideology," or the creation of an upper class within the black community that was supposed to indicate racial progress, but really served the interests of a society dominated by whites. Cabaret parties were liberal counterculture hotspots with nights of dancing, singing, drinking and eating. Within the black community, a modern day cabaret party would most likely reflect this period of history.

Local Taste

And then there are cabaret parties that may retain some of the aforementioned themes, but with a more licentious twist, that being nudity and beyond. For example, Dante's, a nightclub in Portland, Oregon, houses the Sinferno Cabaret which hosts a "Sex Industry Night" every Sunday. Conversely, there are modern cabaret clubs that offer family-friendly party entertainment. For example, the Carnival Club in California's Lake Tahoe promotes entertainment fit for most ages.

Resources

About the Author

Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images