CONEY ISLAND – Burlesque can be creative, sexually expressive and at times, gender fluid. In some cases, cartoon characters and pop culture icons become something totally unexpected as the performers release themselves from social norms – they dance and then, shed their clothes.
This brought great delight to the packed audiences at Coney Island USA fifth annual year of “nerdy nudity” on Saturday and Sunday, with the visiting “nerdy burlesque,” the International Nerdlesque Festival, featuring performers from throughout the country and Canada.
It was a feast for both eyes and ears as the “sexiest nerds” pranced across a small stage in the intimate theatre on Surf Avenue in a venue that doubles as the Coney Island Museum and bar. Performers made transformations from goodie-two-shoe normal people, pop culture icons or Disney characters, to outrageous stripper burlesque – pushing the limits of sexual explicitness without actually showing body parts that might get society censors riled.
The show was hosted by Miss Coney Island 2016, stage name Fancy Feast, who kept the crowd rolling with off-color jokes and sexually enticing language, at times talking about sex toys and sexual lubricants. All the while, her spicy language brought delight to her adult audience.
Many of the characters paid homage to Star Wars stormtroopers, Lord of the Rings characters, Pokemon, Thor’s Chris Hemsworth, Disney cartoons including Snow White evil Queen and Cinderella. But then, the transformation begins as their inner selves propel them to shed their clothes and reveal a secret place that people occupy.
One particular performer, Jacqueline Boxx of Baltimore, Maryland, did a rendition of Snow White’s Evil Queen – from her wheelchair. Boxx, disabled for the past 10 years after being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare incurable genetic disease that weakens the connection between bones, skin and organs. She said she wants to show that disability doesn’t mean a person “can’t be whatever they want to be.”
“I love Snow White’s evil Queen so much, she’s such the image of vanity and I believe disabled performers should have a little bit of vanity – so I claim that vanity for disabled people,” Boxx said of her performance. “I’m treated that way (as a role model), but I think that every disabled person has the potential to get on stage. My goal is to make sure more disabled bodies are on stage – no limitations.”
Some of the local ladies of the evening danced on the bar and stage, but also helped out removing props for the performers. Both men and women stuffed dollar bills into their garters as they danced, more like a strip club, but not a strip club. This was mainstream people giving tips to the entertainers.
Maggie McMuffin of Washington Heights, danced on stage, while eating a Nathan’s Hot Dog and one moment – is there a hot dog eating contest in her future? She was dressed as the maniacal supervillain Harley Quinn.
“I just like nerdy things – I love comic books, I grew up watching 90’s cartoons and I really believe in pop cultures and how it can educate people about social justice, about marginalized groups and varying identities outside the norm and what we think of. It’s really great to support this, but at the same time, it’s really just fun to dress up as someone with super powers who wears almost nothing.”
McMuffin danced with Betty Brash, a resident of Marine Park. Brash, playing Sailor Moon, had bright yellow hair in a bun with red ribbons, a white garter and bright red bra. Fans stuffed dollars into her garter.
“It’s just a lot of fun and I love doing this,” she said.
Anja Keister, sponsorship manager and chief graphics designer of the show, said nerdy burlesque is something totally different from other types of entertainment.
“For me, I love that nerdy burlesque is a sort of fan fiction in real life,” she said. “You get to take characters you know and love (or love to hate in some cases), and continue their story on your terms and using your creativity. It is a great way to pay respects to creators, stir up your own creativity, and give an audience a new experience with something they thought they knew everything about.”
The weekend featured two International showcases as well as classes with the New York School of Burlesque, parties, game night, a Burlesque Bazaar.
Coney Island USA holds many burlesque performances during the spring and summer. They also have magic shows, freak shows and a museum of Coney Island yesteryear, and are the prime organizer of the Mermaid Parade, scheduled this year for June 22.