While much of the theater and dance world are dominated by lithe white artists in their prime, burlesque has always been a haven for all ages, body types and backgrounds. That’s never been more apparent than at the 14th annual New York Burlesque Festival, which presents four days of performances and events from Sept. 29-Oct. 2.
One way the Burlesque Festival commits to inclusivity is by opening its application process to anyone.
“Over 400 people apply each year, and we spend a lot of time curating a show that is going to be fun for us and festival-goers,” says Jen Gapay, co-founder of Burlesque Fest (along with dancer Angie Pontani) and head of Thirsty Girl Productions. “Because we’re in New York and have a great reputation, we attract a high caliber of performers. Audiences are really seeing the best burlesque performers in the world.”
They include Poison Ivory, the winner of Miss Exotic World 2016 and the cover girl of this year’s festival. She performs during the Saturday Showcase at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, which is hosted by cabaret mainstay Murray Hill.
Older dancers also have a place at Burlesque Fest. “A couple of years ago, we started bringing in burlesque legends (from the ‘50s, ‘60s) and having them perform,” says Gapay. “They also host a panel at our Burlesque Bazaar and Showcase.” This year’s legend is Camille 2000, who will do her own routine on the festival’s closing night during the Golden Pasties Awards at the Highline Ballroom.
In addition to the performances, shopping bazaar and awards show (where the towering figure of shimmery spandex that is Scotty the Blue Bunny crowns the best of the fest), there are also parties on Thursday and Friday packed with unique burlesque acts. “Trends tend to be influenced by what’s happening culturally in entertainment or politics,” says Gapay. “This year we had a lot of people apply with bird acts for some reason. I’m not sure why, but this year people want to dress up like birds!”
Because the general population is becoming more appreciative of burlesque, the fest continues to thrive. “Pretty much everyone who has been to a show embraces the sexuality, sensuality and comedy,” Gapay says. For newcomers, she suggests: “Just come with an open mind and heart, and know that burlesque welcomes and supports people of all bodies types. And be ready to have a great time!”
New York Burlesque Festival
Sept. 29-Oct. 2