Before the show I had the chance to meet with glamour vixen Angie Pontani, the show’s star and reigning queen of burlesque, Miss Exotic World 2008. We had tea and chatted about jungle girl stripteases, mishaps with bathtubs and why women love burlesque so much.
Chicktellectual dot com: How did you get started?
Angie Pontani: It was kind of accidental. I had always wanted to be a performer ever since I was a little kid. Growing up I was in dancing school with my sisters from about the age of four and I was always into entertaining. I used to put on shows in my living room and in the back yard on the picnic tables.
C.com: Who are some of your influences?
AP: I come from a very traditional, Italian-American family, so we only listened to the Rat Pack and old Italian music. So all my influences, even though I grew up in the 80s and the 90s, were all vintage -- Las Vegas, 1940s, 1950s golden era entertainment.
C.com: I heard that you were raised in Trenton -- how did you end up in New York City?
AP: I went to NYU for theater and dance and it bored me to death. I was so not bedazzled – it was all unitards and monologues. It wasn’t for me and I dropped out. I ended up working as a waitress and one of the waiters said to me, “You would be perfect for the show that I’m doing.” So I went to the show and he had literally turned his railroad apartment into a speakeasy. I had no idea what I was walking into and I didn’t even know what the word burlesque meant, at the time so I didn’t even use the word when describing the show. There were stripteases, chorus lines, slapstick humor…It just blew my mind. And I thought – this is what I’ve been looking for.
And so I auditioned and I got in as a chorus girl and stayed with the show for about three years and by the time I left I was one of the featured solo strip tease performers.
C.com: So what happens after that?
AP: The show closed -- it was busted by the police and was completely illegal – so we hopped from spot to spot but once it was legitimized in an actual venue it lost so much of its charm. But after that I didn’t know what to do – this is what I wanted to do and there were no other shows in town – and that’s when I literally made costumes out of my curtains and my sisters and I put on some dance routines and went out to Coney Island and started performing at the Mermaid Parade and the sideshows at the seashore. It just kinda caught on and the next thing you know we were doing four nights a week at different clubs in the city.
C.com: When do you think burlesque become trendy in New York?
AP: We had been doing it literally in the city since 94, and probably in 99 is when it really began picking up steam in New York. There were not a lot of people doing it in the city before then– no one really knew what burlesque was. When I was trying to book us into venues they would say “What do you want to possibly do in my live music venue?” They would even think that we were more like a modern dance troupe and tell us to go to Joe’s Pub, or they would think we were strippers and tell us to go to Satin Pumps in Queens.
Now any night of the week you can go see a burlesque show in New York – it’s everywhere – and because there are so many performers and artists here I think it takes on another form where it borderlines performance art.
C.com: Are there many different subsets of burlesque?
AP: Even states have different styles of burlesque. New Orleans has a very specific, bluesy style, LA has a very glamorous punky style. New York – it’s almost impossible to categorize the style of NY performance except to say that it’s not categorizable. There are plus size performers who use it as a platform about embracing your body image. There are performers who really push the envelope, there are transgender performers, all these different things that happen in New York.
C.com: Tell me about one of your acts.
AP: Right now I have a jungle girl routine. I come out in this black gown – and it’s a beautiful, classic gown but it has leopard accents. And as the layers go down and down it’s more like this wild leopard print jungle girl costume. And then I play the bongo -- I took bongo lessons for that.
C.com: Are these things hard to do? Are there any funny stories where you experienced any mishaps or crises?
AP: One of the first times when I was doing an act with a glass bathtub the tub was set up where they didn’t turn the spout on to lock it. So I’m doing the number and the tub is leaking 30 plus gallons all over the stage! Luckily 30 gallons takes awhile to drain so when I finished the number there was still water in the tub.
C.com: Does having the kitsch factor in burlesque give you room to play with, if say, you end up on a stage leaking 30 gallons of water?
AP: That’s one of the things about burlesque that I think is so important – it’s sexy, and it’s titillating and it’s fun, but at the same time there’s always this tongue in cheek aspect to it. It’s all smoke and mirrors. You can laugh at it while it’s happening. It’s not real.
C.com: One of the things I’ve noticed when I go to burlesque shows is that there are almost always more women than men, or the men are there at the invitation of the women.
C.com: Why do you think that is?
AP: It goes back to a couple of different things. I think all varieties of burlesque have helped women to reclaim their femininity – “I can be sexy and I can be smart, I can show some cleavage and I can be the sexpot. I can be Bridget Bardot” – there’s nothing wrong with that. You can be as glamorous as you want to be. And in burlesque, it’s all on the woman’s terms. It’s an industry that is 99% driven by females. So when people come to the shows, and I hate to use the word empowering – it just seems too heavy of a word when you’re talking about a lighthearted form of entertainment – but there’s something so lighthearted about it that I think it does empower people. And I think especially in New York where there are so many body types are performing that it doubly does empowers women in effect and boosts confidence. Burlesque is all about loving your body. The girls at our show are always the rowdiest audience members. Hands down.
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