Angie Pontani, holder of the Miss Exotic World 2008 title and the New York Burlesque Festival’s Best Body 2007 award, wants to give you a very special Christmas gift. With her sisters. It’s really much tamer than it sounds.
The Pontani Sisters’ seasonal show, “Burlesque-A-Pades: Holiday Inn,” is certainly racy, but in a modestly retro way.
“Going to a burlesque show is a different experience than going to a modern-day gentleman’s club,” the 36-year-old performer says. “At a burlesque show, there’s a fourth wall between the audience and the performer. And the performer is clothed for 90 percent of the act, usually in something huge and ornate. Yeah, they’ll get down to pasties and a G-string, but it’s for about 20 seconds.”
Wholesome as it might be, you’ll probably want to leave the kids and Grandma at home — though Grandma might be more familiar with burlesque than you think. The sultry style of variety act had its heyday in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, with roots in vaudeville.
“When you look back at the history of burlesque, it wasn’t just dancing
girls doing striptease acts,” Pontani says. “A huge part was little comedic skits and illusionists. It was entertainment slanted toward adults in a way that our culture would still consider PG-13.”
The Pontani Sisters — the current lineup features Angie; Helen, 37; and cousin/honorary stage sister
Tansy, 32 — have been stars in the neo-burlesque scene since fan-dancing and lying in giant martini glasses regained popularity in the early ’90s, along with swing and rockabilly.
When she was 17, Angie, who’d had a lifetime of ballet, jazz and tap lessons and was trying modern-dance classes at NYU, pitched the idea of forming a burlesque group to her sisters (at that time, Helen and another sister, Tara), who had similar formal training. They started opening shows for surf-rockers Los Straitjackets in New York clubs.
In 2007, the sisters put together an off-Broadway act called “This is Burlesque” with drag king Murray Hill at the Corio Supper Club in Manhattan — two shows a night, three nights a week. The run ended a little more than two years later when the venue closed, and the sisters focused on their touring revues as well as their families and individual pursuits.
For Angie Pontani, that meant starting to pull in awards, including the title of Miss Exotic World Queen of Burlesque. The annual competition is held in Las Vegas and judged by a panel of original scene queens, including Tiffany Carter (Miss Nude Universe 1975) and Dixie Evans, a star in the ’40s and ’50s.
“It’s pretty much the highest honor in burlesque to get the thumbs-up from the ladies who were doing it back then,” Pontani says.
In the past couple of decades, “Burlesque has grown into its own genre of entertainment,” Pontani says. “It’s this umbrella word that covers so many styles of live performance. Some people get very performance-arty; some people, like myself, are very classic. But at its core, burlesque is a very American art form that centers around comedy, striptease and beautiful girls dancing in the magical snow globe of the stage.”
To create that magical world for the 12-city tour of “Holiday Inn,” the sisters are sticking with a retro yuletide look from the ’40s and ’50s and taking cues in part from the Rockettes — incorporating lots of kick lines and synchronized dance moves.
“Tansy is a fantastic dancer, and she’s really opened up the window to go a little wild with our group dances,” Pontani says. “And we certainly have.”
“My father’s one of my biggest inspirations,” says Angie Pontani. “He was the one who was always telling me, ‘Watch this Busby Berkeley movie; look at how the girls used to dress!’ That’s where it got imprinted in my brain. I’m sure [my parents] would have preferred I was a surgeon, but they’re proud that I took it from dancing on a picnic table and making my sisters do a kick line into a career that’s enabled me to travel the world and do a lot of exciting things. It has its moments.”
Don’t confuse the Pontani Sisters with the D.C.-raised Del Rubio Triplets, who had their own singing-variety act in the ’80s (and famously appeared on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special” in 1988).Ram’s Head On Stage, 33 West St., Annapolis; Sun., 7:30 p.m., $22.50; 410-268-4545.