Starting Thursday evening, the 12th annual New York Burlesque Festival kicks off in New York City.
Performer Angie Pontani, who co-founded the festival in 2002 with Jen Gapay, said the festival has grown from about 45 performers they invited, to 120 international performers who were selected to attend after a finely curated application process.
But what has changed the most, Pontani, 37, said, is the public’s understanding of burlesque, which she believes is a rich “genre” in the American theater tradition, and not a passing “fad.”
“In the beginning we were explaining to people a lot what this was,” Pontani said, dressed in a black and pink corset, sitting in the front window of the Bell House, one of four venues for this year’s festival.
“This is not exotic dancing as we now know it in this century, this is a different kind of strip tease, a theatrical presentation, very different from what you would experience at a gentleman’s club,” Pontani said. “It’sbecome more of a household name right now, you say ‘burlesque’ and nine out of 10 people are going to understand what you’re talking about.
Pontani, who has been dancing since she was a kid, said she’s always wanted to look more like a performer in a 1950s technicolor musical than the modern dance companies she started auditioning for when she was about 17.
When she went to audition for the Dutch Weismann Follies, a contemporary burlesque show, she knew she was exactly where she needed to be.
“This is what I’ve been looking for,” Pontani said. “This is glamor, this is burlesque.”
Tapping into the rich history of burlesque in the U.S., Pontani said this year’s festival will feature a performance and panel talk by Val Valentine, who performed in the 1950s through the 1980s.
A lot has changed since Valentine started out, Pontani said, with women making up the vast majority of burlesque producers and audience members.
“It’s really been reclaimed (by women),” Pontani said. “Ilove lipstick and I love high heels; I’m doing it for myself, my performance is for myself, and I think there’s something really empowering in that.”
Pontani said the festival’s events also include a bazaar with vintage and burlesque-style pieces for sale, as well as a world record attempt. On Thursday night at the Bell House, she’s hoping about 50 people will don pasties and twirl their way into a new world record.
“It’s a really well-rounded show,” Pontani said. “It’s so chock full of entertainment, there’s going to be something for everyone this weekend.”
More information on the New York Burlesque Festival is available athttp://www.thenewyorkburlesquefestival.com/.