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New York Burlesque Festival celebrates 15 years with 100 acts

This New York Burlesque Festival is expected to

This New York Burlesque Festival is expected to attract around 3,000 people and 100 performers from around the world. Photo Credit: Burlesque Beat / Jen Gapay

Stocking by stocking, more than 100 dancers from around the world will strip down and strut their stuff at this year’s 15th Annual New York Burlesque Festival.

Performers like Boo Boo Darlin’, who stripped off a dress of tissues with each sneeze last year, and Perle Noire, who recently created a namesake troupe called “House of Noire,” will make appearances this year alongside Angie Pontani, the festival’s co-founder, who has been dancing since the 1990s.  

The performers, who include women and men, will appear at five venues -- the Bell House, the Brooklyn Bowl, BB King Blues Club, the Tippler inside the Chelsea Market, and the Highline Ballroom -- between Sept. 21 and 24.

On Sunday, the festival will conclude with a big ceremony called the “Golden Pasties Awards,” where performers are honored for “ridiculous” characteristics like “the performer most likely to ride a broomstick,” “the performer most likely to smash the patriarchy,” and “the performer most likely to be blocked by Donald Trump on Twitter,” according to the founders.

And while the festival attracts voyeurs and vendors alike, it’s also become a place where all body types, personalities and art forms are celebrated, according to both Pontani and co-producer Jen Gapay.

“You can do anything you want to, like crawling out of a giant shell or the classic striptease you’d see in ‘Chicago,’” Pontani said during a phone interview. “It’s a unique form of entertainment because it’s really about bringing joy to the audience and having a good time. It’s also about comedy and humor and putting it all out there.”

Boo Boo Darlin', a 33-year-old Bed Stuy resident, prefers to add a sprinkle of humor to her sets, including the time she dressed up as a shrimp.

“Even now, more than ever, it’s important for people to be entertained and have something to laugh at and enjoy,” she said.

And while burlesque is considered a subculture, it has started to become mainstream, especially compared to when the festival started back in 2003, according to Gapay.

The first event went on with just 30 performers and 800 attendees over the course of two days, but has grown to span four days with roughly 100 performers, attracting almost 3,000 people every year.

“Fifteen years is certainly a long time, and when we started it, we didn’t have any idea that it would last this long and be this successful in terms of fans and other performers who are involved,” Pontani said. “And as we get older, we try to keep the history alive and make people aware of burlesque’s roots. It’s American history.”

The history of burlesque

The roots of New York’s burlesque history go back to Lydia Thompson, a dancer from England who brought the “British Blondes” show to the States in the late 19th century, according to Jo Weldon, a performer and author of “The Burlesque Handbook.”

“They wore tights and corsets — what were considered revealing costumes,” said Weldon. “They really took New York by storm.”

The famous striptease acts came years later with female dancers inspired by a belly dancer named “Little Egypt” who performed in Coney Island.

“There were big chorus lines, comedians and jazz musicians,” Pontani, said. “It was wild and funny and the only thing so many people could afford. A lot of burlesque was parody about what was going on in the world.”

City officials — under Mayor LaGuardia — famously raided the Minsky brothers’ titillating Times Square burlesque show in the late 1930s amid complaints of indecent behavior at the site.

That pushed some acts across the river to New Jersey.

But burlesque declined in the 1950s and beyond as more Americans got their entertainment from television variety shows.

Some revues and revivals continued through the years, with a resurgence in the 1990s.

“The neo-burlesque movement in New York had the goal of reinterpreting classic burlesque for a modern audience,” said Weldon.

Another take

Go-go dancing, an off-shoot of burlesque that appeared in the 1960s, is also making a resurgence, according to Ronnie Magri, a DJ who performs at burlesque events.

During the burlesque festival, go-go dancing will have its own “unofficial” event at Ethyl’s Alcohol and Food on the Upper East Side.

Starting at 10 p.m., between Wednesday and Saturday, go-go dancers will perform to 1960s and '70s tunes spun by a different DJ every night, Magri, the event’s organizer and DJ, said.

“This is our answer to [the burlesque festival],” he said. “This is the next extension – what happened to burlesque.”

Other options for burlesque

If you can't make it to the festivals. here’s where you can catch this genre of dance around the city:


Le Scandal Cabaret 407 W. 42nd Street, Theater District

The Slipper Room 167 Orchard Street, Lower East Side

Duane Park 308 Bowery, NoHo

Nurse Bettie 106 Norfolk St., Lower East Side

Sid Gold's Request Room 165 W. 26th St., Chelsea


House of Yes 2 Wyckoff Ave., Bushwick

Bizarre Black Box 12 Jefferson St., Bushwick

Burlesque at the Beach (summers) 1208 Surf Ave., Coney Island

With Lisa Colangelo

Correction: An earlier version misidentified New York Burlesque Festival's co-organizer; she is Angie Pontani.


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