Bombshells Away!

The New Burlesque Hits Gotham

Many of today's performers have a background in theater or dance or acting. Most are college educated. Nearly all of them make their own costumes, book their own shows, and direct their own skits. And Gosney's Show excluded, the new burlesque doesn't have the bitter aftertaste of a man parading women out onstage for male pleasure, which leads to the inevitable painting of the new burlesque as a post-feminist movement.

"It has a lot to do with where we are in our feminist history and the fact that we couldn't explore sexual nature and poke fun at it in the years before," says Dirty Martini. "Now it's so much easier to be strong and sexual."

Not everyone thinks so. Angie Pontani recalls a corporate event where the Pontanis were asked to leave. Women in the audience were upset and thought they were "pushing back feminist movements. We were floored. We're an all-woman operation," she says. "They asked if we could tone down our dances. We said, 'We could mime.' "

Pretty n pink: *BOB* goes nightie-night
photo: Amy Pierce
Pretty n pink: *BOB* goes nightie-night

Today's burlesquers bust their behinds to put on shows, but most don't make a decent living. Sometimes they bring in $50 a night; if they work every night, they can make $500 a week. Or sometimes they come home with empty pockets and full hearts. In contrast, old burlesque stars like Tempest Storm were paid handsomely for less-skilled performances—sometimes $1500 a week, which is more along the lines of what a garden-variety stripper makes.

Va va voom: Dirty Martini
(photo: Amy Pierce)
"You do it because you love it," says Kate Valentine.

If there's one troupe that's figured out the key to unlocking the burlesque treasure chest, it's the Pontani Sisters. Classically trained dancers, Angie, Tara, and Helen started performing at Windows on the World a few years ago. Besides being glamorous Italian stallions, the Pontanis are a savvy bunch, expanding their empire to such an extent that they now live up to the "World Famous" part of their name.

They've traveled the country six times, appeared numerous times on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, and toured with surf band Los Straitjackets. They've also made a workout video, Go Go Robics, and teach classes at the Soho Crunch gym.

"It's more time consuming than any other job I've had in my entire life," says Angie Pontani.

A job that's allowed them a firsthand look at the country's budding burlesque scenes—strong enough to accommodate an annual roving convention called Tease-O-Rama, and the Miss Exotic World Pageant.

Come May 24, the Pontanis are co-producing, with Thirsty Girl Productions, the first-ever New York Burlesque Festival, to be held at the Knitting Factory. Gotham audiences will see how the local lovelies measure up. Surprise—we're gritty. "Aesthetically, the L.A. girls are so over-the-top. They are top-shelf, beautiful classic burlesque," says *BOB*. But, she adds with a wink and a smile, "New York girls are making their own shelf." Burlesque has come home again.

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