Be There: Jager, Bedazzled Pasties & Feather Boas

The Burlesque Festival twirls through town

100309 Burlesque Festival
Courtney Humiston

The four-day New York City Burlesque Festival is officially in full shimmy.

The "teaser" show at Public Assembly on Thursday truly was a tease with students from the New York City of Burlesque fanning the crowd with giant pot leafs and Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School challenging dancers to hold still long enough for artists to get something on their drawing pad. The event's full-blown kick off took place last night at The Bell House, a bar and music venue on an industrial block off the Gowanus Canal.

While dancers were busy backstage securing their tasseled and bedazzled pasties (one dancer lamented a time one had actually come unglued mid-twirl. Embarrassing? "No," she laughed. "But there isn't much you can do with a nipple"), the MC, in an electric blue bunny costume, warmed up the crowd by doing obscene things with the microphone and sharing a bottle of Jagermeister (one of the event's sponsors) with those in the front row.

Forget about satin gloves and silk stockings. At the festival, such throwbacks to the Golden Age are not only ubiquitous, but just the beginning. Costumes range from a simple feather boa to a full Chewbacca suit. Fan dance? Yes, but instead of being done to the usual bump n' grind it was Prodigy's "Fire Starter." Black-light body paint was used by one dancer to guide the audience's eyes on what was an otherwise completely dark stage. The eight-person "Fame" number with its 16 breasts, on the other hand, didn't need any help attracting eyes.

What makes the Festival (now in its seventh year) unique from the many other burlesque events during the year is the international performers it attracts, according to Jo Weldon ("Boobs Malone"), veteran dancer and founder of the School of Burlesque.

The city's burlesque community is close, but definitely not closed off. Milling around the lounge area during the intermission, one gets the feeling of crashing a sorority's costume party. Everyone seems to know each other, running into each other's bare arms to exchange pecks on the cheek and discuss various wardrobe malfunctions. Dancers in corsets and garter belts sip PBRs (the other event's sponsor) out of straws so as not to smudge their red lipstick.

By the end of the evening, the bunny is so drunk he can barely read his tattered program and most ticket holders have left, leaving a crowd of fellow dancers to cheer on the final number: the native Lil' Brooklyn performing a jungle-themed number to drum circle beats.

During Burlesque Fest there are even silk stockings on the subway. At 2 a.m. a group of German girls on the F train ignored stares as they shook out mounds of blonde hair from their neat black wigs and exchanged sequined tops for hooded sweatshirts.

Sound like fun? Oh, but it has only just begun. Tonight's show at B.B. King's promises to be anything but more of the same. For starters, Jo promised us that she will be performing "the World's Largest Tassel Twirler number." Stay for the after party at Lucille's and listen in on tassel-twirling tips. The festival winds up on Sunday the glamorous Golden Pastie Awards, an Oscar-style awards show, where winning dancers are awarded with -- what else -- a giant golden pastie.

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