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The World Famous Pontani Sisters:

Photo by Orlando Marra

     They are burlesque's triple threat--three sisters who are shimmying and shaking their way to world domination. They are The World Famous Pontani Sisters! And this summer, Angie, Helen, and Tara are hitting the road with with their big show: Burlesque-A-Pades. (Java is actually going to play guest DJ for their June 27th show in Champaign, Illinois.) 
     Java's Bachelor Pad recently sent off a set of questions to these three lovely ladies asking about their tour, their recent appearance at Exotic World, and that ever important question...how does one tell these three sisters apart?

Java's Bachelor Pad: So, tell me about your latest tour Burlesque-A-Pades. What can people expect to see from the Pontani Sisters and company? 

Angie Pontani: Expect the unexpected! This tour really combines so many different types of performers.  We've got classic burlesque, modern burlesque, circus, side show, live music and Corn Mo, who is beyond words, I can't really explain him but I can promise you will love him!  The entire cast is amazing. Everyone brings something fabulous and different to the stage! 

Helen Pontani: As a performer this is personally one of my favorite shows that we do. It's pure fun, and outrageous entertainment. Just when you think it can't get any better. It does! Monkey's jumping, tassels twirling, hula hoops swirling, fire breathing, hips a shaking, glitter glittering, Sensory overload!

Tara Pontani: They can expect to see gorgeous gals, glamorous costumes, outrageous stunts!  But there are tremendous sounds, too!  The vocal and comic ability that Corn Mo brings to the stage is outta sight!  Not to mention the groovy tunes of Fisherman.  It's a party.

Angie Pontani--Photo by Viva Van StoryJBP: For those few people who don't know about you, give us a thumbnail history of the Pontani Sisters

AP: thumbnail story is we have been dancing since we were itty bitty Pontani's. We grew up under the influence of the Rat Pack, MGM Technicolor Musicals & other over the top styles of  entertainment that our family favored. When we got older, Helen and I were performing professionally in NYC and asked Tara to join us for a stage show we were hired to put together for the popular swing band The Flying Neutrinos. Of course our stage show emulated all the things that had inspired us when we were young and impressionable, the Village Voice dance editor reviewed us and exclaimed, "Now that's Burlesque!" We've been globe trotting and tail feather shaking ever since! Full life story is available at www.pontanisisters.com

HP: We are a trio of dancing sisters that started around 7 years ago mainly performing all over NYC. Our act is very Carmen Miranda/Gene Kelly/Vegas Showgirl. The act just started to snowball. We kept putting together more numbers that covered every genre you could possibly think of, and started touring all over the country. Here we are! I have lived out many performance

TP: We've been together forever.  Our performance history has really been shaped by our lives experiences and our over-the-top taste in costumes, dance, entertainment.  We've been traveling the world for year's trying to spread the glory of glamour in entertainment.  Be prepared to smile.

JBP: Since you're sisters, is there cheat sheet on telling the three of you apart? 

AP: I'm the tallest by 1/8", Helen doesn't have any tattoos that you can see and Tara is typically the one wearing the most sensible shoes. But good luck, people always confuse us!! 

HP: I'll never tell. I like to confuse people. When people talk to me, and think that I am one of my sisters I just pretend that I am. That's the fun part of doing a sister act. You have to take advantage of those moments.

TP: Hmmmm...That’s always been fun.  Growing up, we used to confuse everyone and love it!  I am sporty spice--Angie and Helen always help me to bring my inner glamour girl to the surface.  Helen is funky gal and Angie is Raquel (Welch) meets Sophia Loren!

Helen Pontani--Photo by Viva Van StoryJBP: Tell me about your approach to burlesque. It seems to me what the Pontani Sisters focus on more is choreography and costume with a mod sensibility rather you classic bump and grind striptease. Am I close or way off the mark? 

AP: Our approach is more towards  what is inspiring us at that moment. We have dances where we are doing straight on 60's go-go in fringe, tap dancing in mini tuxedo's and others where we are doing more classic bump and grind.  We never set out to really recreate a style of entertainment, but rather to do what we loved in entertainment, and there are so many things we love. We have a repertoire of over 40 routines and they are all different! To me, burlesque is a huge umbrella of performance that encompasses everything from the can can to a fire dance to a classic strip tease, and it's the variety that makes it so enjoyable. 

HP: You got it! We are very much into the choreography, and way over the top costumes. Although the Pontani's have been known to pull out some classic bump and grind from time to time.

TP: The Pontani Sisters don't focus on one particular aspect of Burlesque, rather we incorporate all of our favorite things into our numbers.  If a number requires the bump and grind, we put it in, if it requires a shuffle ball change, there you have it.  It's all relative to what fits the song, the moment and we all bring our ideas to the table.

JBP: At the most recent Miss Exotic World weekend, you recreated Blaze Starr's famous panther dance. Talk about putting that together. I heard you actually contacted Blaze Starr herself and got her blessing. What were your conversions with her like? Did you get a feel on how she feels about the current generation of burlesque girls. 

AP: I have always been a huge Blaze fan. She is a woman who went for it in life and when you watch her performances she is literally smoking. Wildly sexy and brash yet classic, classy and gorgeous, not to mention her brains, sass and style!!!! A few years ago, one of our favorite promoters in Alexandria, VA, asked us if we could do a Blaze tribute number at his venue. I contacted Blaze through the museum to get her permission to recreate some of her acts. She was very behind the idea. The routine we put together encompasses several of the elements that Blaze is really known for. Her usage of live panthers in her act, her smoldering and smoking couch and the bongo, which she posed with in one of her most famous photographs.  I have a great photo she signed to me, I carry it in our costume trunk when we are performing the tribute, I love to look at it the second before we go on!  When Luke and Laura of Exotic World asked us to to the routine in Vegas at the Miss Exotic World Pageant and use Blaze's original smoldering couch from the museum I really almost passed out. Just knowing that Blaze and Dixie (Evans) both approved that we could use this amazing piece of history was such a huge honor. That couch had not been active in over 25 years and the last person to do what I did on it was Blaze! That is so fantastic to me. That entire performance, from the moment we stepped on the stage was amazing for me, a total moment in time that I can hardly remember, but know I loved.  It was without a doubt one of the top 3 stage moments of my lifetime, probably #1. 
     Folks can visit Blaze's site www.blazestarrsgems.com where she sells a lot of hand crafted jewelry, photo's art work and more! She made most of her costumes back in the day, and they were amazing and that carries through in her fab jewelry. 

HP: Angie contacted Blaze to do the number, and it was such an honor to get her permission to recreate her act. Tara and I played the panthers in the Blaze Starr tribute. It was a performance dream come true for me. Not only did I get to play a sexy panther, but the panthers die in the end of the number. I know this sounds weird, but dying on stage is something I always love to do. It's so dramatic.

TP: I have to say that the Blaze Starr number is one of my favorites. Angie does a fantastic job capturing the exotic, sexy spirit of Blaze and Helen and I slip quite easily into our feline roles.  It must have been our overexposure to CATS (the musical!).

Tara Pontani--Photo by Viva Van StoryJBP: Along that the same lines, what's your take of modern burlesque? How have you seen it change over the past few years? Is there something else you would like to see from the burlesque community? 

AP: Sure, the new burlesque has certainly changed over the years, and will no doubt continue to. There are a lot more performers doing it, people incorporating even more performance aspects into it, like singing, side show, circus, performance art, etc.. The public has a much greater awareness of it as well. I think the growth of the community is fantastic, it is as well a very supportive community and that is a very unique aspect to it that I think especially 

HP: Modern Burlesque is like anything that is revived. It has many nuances of the old style, and people make it there own with current influences. Sometimes you will see it in the costume creation or some girls do very performance art style pieces addressing current issues while they peal layers of clothing off. That's what so great about this community of performers. You will see just about anything and everything. As far as something else I would like to see. I am surprised every time I see a show with something new. So I guess that means the performers are doing a good job.

TP: We've been performing as the Pontani Sisters for over 7 years now.  The changes have been exponential and marvelous.  It's spreading like wildfire and so many performers bring such innovative and creative ideas to the stage, redefining conventional ideas about Burlesque.  Were there ever conventional ideas about Burlesque?
     It's a fantastic community – very supportive.

JBP: How about those people who come out to see your shows. Are the crowds changing? Do you see a hunger to see more burlesque shows? Why do you think that is or is not? 

AP: When we first started our fans/community was a mix of drag queens and the swing dancing crowd. Now our shows are wildly mixed.  Though it is still a niche style of entertainment, the great press that the new burlesque has received has really helped to widen the audiences.  You'll find all kinds of people in the audience. It's not just for the underground anymore. People read about the show, or the burlesque revival in a  main stream magazine, or see something on television, and when the show comes to their town, they want to come out and see it live, and that is just fantastic. I really love the variety. Some of my favorite audience goers are the folks who were around when ladies like Blaze were working the circuit and they come out to see it and they love it and tell us stories of the old days! 

HP: The crowds seem to be growing. The audience has always been a nice mix of all kinds of people. I especially enjoy the fact that so many women love this form of entertainment and come to see it. I do feel that even though a few years ago it seemed to be growing in popularity it's really reaching a wider range of people today.

Burlesque-a-pades--Photo by Orlando MarraTP: The crowds are getting bigger, which is fantastic! 

JBP: What else are the Pontani Sisters working on? 

AP: A vacation, I really want one of those! 
     But first...we just wrapped a CD/DVD release project with Los Straitjackets & Kaiser George that will come out this fall, and we will be touring East Coat/West Coast and Mid West in conjunction with the release. The DVD will feature several music videos, dance instructional segments and more. It is really fantastic, we had such a blast shooting.  A lot of the material is a real departure from what we normally do. We got to act, we even got to do a fight and limbo scene! 

HP: We are always working on something. Right now focus is on Burlesque-a-pades. There has been talk about movies, and did you know that the we made our singing debut on Conan O'Brien last month? Watch out!

TP: World domination.  Taking over the White House!  Or maybe a TV show or feature film.

Friday - 6/16 - Southpaw - Brooklyn, NY
*With special guest host Murray Hill!
Saturday - 6/17 - The Five Spot - Philadelphia, PA
*With special guest Lobster Boy!
Wednesday - 6/21 - Martyrs - Chicago, IL
Thursday - 6/22 - The Varsity Theater - Minneapolis, MN
Friday - 6/23 - House of Bricks - Des Moines, IA
Sunday - 6/25 - The Englert Theater - Iowa City, IA
Tuesday - 6/27 - The Highdive - Champagne, IL
*With special guest DJ Java
Wednesday - 6/28 - Shank Hall - Milwaukee, WI
*With special guest Lobster Boy
Thursday - 6/29 - Smalls Bar - Detroit, MI
Friday - 6/30 - The Beachland Ballroom - Cleveland, OH
Saturday - 7/01 - The Otto Bar - Baltimore, MD
Sunday - 7/02 - Joe's Pub - NYC

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