The bubble frenzy stirred by Lady Gaga’s bubble dress is only the latest in the uses of this ephemeral children’s activity in popular culture.
Sally Rand introduced the bubble dance to the stage. She and other exotic dancers used a large balloon to play an erotic game of hide-and-seek with the audience.
My mother is fond of recounting her time as a Navy wife in the midWest. Young and naïve, she didn’t find out for quite some time that the kindly couple who often stopped to chuck her babies under their chins were a bubble dancer and her husband, who accompanied her on the piano.
At an afternoon party for military families, they performed their act, without the erotic striptease. The children loved the bubbles.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood sanitized the use of bubbles to simultaneously show and hide the female body. Bubble bath girls appeared taking utterly feminine bubble baths in foam up to their necks.
Andrew Einhorn has devoted an entire book to this cultural topic.
Thus, absolutely nothing erotic was visible. Yet, the knowledge titillated of a naked women’s body shimmering in clear water beneath the ephemeral surface. Salacious allusions of foam to cream add another dimension to this iconography. Lawrence Welk, who once fired a Champagne Lady singer for showing too much leg, reintroduced bubbles as family entertainment.
Welk's prolific use of the bubble machine constituted a new bubble frenzy that persists to this day. It drives up the price of this item of Welk memorabilia.
Lady Gaga -- the most original glamorous eccentric in quite some time -- is wrongly hailed as an innovator for the bubble dress.
Rather, she is an inheritor of an entertainment tradition who has made bubble frenzy uniquely her own.