Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Ben Kassoy

When I arrive at Louie & Chan on the Lower East Side, Ben Kassoy is already downstairs. This cocktail area that’s typically reserved for the venue’s late night parties is almost totally empty, save for Ben. He’s sitting in a plush, black leather booth accented by an artfully stained mirror, a cocktail in his hand. I’m immediately greeted with a warm hug, the kind I have come to know from this fellow writer I’ve been lucky enough to call a friend for the last several years.

Ben is the editor-in-chief of DoSomething.org, a site which empowers young people to affect social change. He started working there as a content writer in 2012, and subsequently worked himself all the way up the ladder (and recently interviewed Katie Couric). He’s also the co-author of eight children’s books in the “No Way!” series, which shares fun facts about everything from Strange Foods to Wacky Sports, and a freelance writer who has contributed to places like GQ, ELLE, Glamour, TeenVogue, and more.

One of the first things I knew about Ben was that he was a writer, but the second thing I knew about Ben was that he was a dancer (once upon a time a b-boy and ballerino). It’s fitting, then, that we’re at Louie & Chan on a Friday night at 9:30. At 11 the dance floor will erupt with Shapes, a weekly party known for its R&B, Dancehall, Hip-Hop, House, and more.

But before that, we catch up. I haven’t seen him in a few months and there’s much to discuss: writing, what projects we’re working on, the people we’re kissing and not kissing and want to kiss. And it’s with all of the sparkle, pizzazz, unfettered honesty and openness I have long associated with Ben, not to mention a rad pair of sneakers that look to my untrained eye like they’re from the 1980s, houndstooth pants, and his signature beard/nose ring combo. Tonight he also wears a silky embroidered jacket that says “Music King” on the back, a gift from the DJ at his bar mitzvah that he jokes he has finally grown into. “You’re such a smokin’ hottie!” I laugh as he poses for the camera near the entrance to the bar. I sip one dirty martini and then another.

Soon there’s a wicked bassline that pumps through the corridor and Shapes is underway. We dance to Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, beats tiptoeing up the spine and sending shockwaves through our shoulders, our backs, our legs and feet. The dance floor is empty early on and we get some good grooves in, space to stretch legs into turns and spins we won’t have in as little as an hour, when the room will be packed with bodies singing along to ‘80s soul and ‘90s R&B. A disco ball spins above us and its sprinkled light glistens on Ben’s face and head as he dances, at home in the dark, in the music, in his body.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Dr. Erin Honcharuk

When I arrive at Erin Honcharuk’s apartment in New Jersey, it is covered in a flurry of lavender and baby’s breath. There are flowers on the counter and the dining table, buds swirling on the floor with a rainbow of leftover sprinkles.

Tomorrow Erin is getting married, and today she’s putting the finishing touches on a few of the many things she and her fiancé (now husband) Sean, DIY-ed for the wedding. This includes but is not limited to the bouquets and boutonnières and the four-tier wedding cake that Erin made herself from scratch. It has two tiers of raspberry mascarpone and two tiers of carrot cake, and is alternately covered in rose gold and rosettes she piped on herself. Later I’ll get a chance to taste the frosting and I have to do my best not to lick the bowl.

I’m probably supposed to be more helpful--I’m one of her bridesmaids, after all--but at first my task is relegated to “Tell me if this sucks or not” when Erin gathers the bouquets together, so I take a bunch of pictures as well. None of the bouquets suck. In fact, they smell delightful and I rub some of the lavender on my wrists, crushing the tiny flowers to release the oil onto my skin.

You’d think that taking on tasks like these for her own wedding Erin has all the time in the world, but in reality she is an orthopaedic surgery resident at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital where she specializes in pediatrics. She is regularly on call, works long hours, and books her vacation time months in advance. Which worked out in this case because she took this week off to prepare for the wedding. Before today, she and Sean have also made their centerpieces, table cards, welcome bags, and heavens knows what else. Soon everything will be piled into their respective cars and taken to the wedding venue, Rutherfurd Hall in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

But first, Erin, her mother Lois, and I get manicures and pedicures. Erin’s “something blue” will be her toenail polish, pastel blue with sparkles, with a neutral gel on her hands. Post-nails, we pick up sandwiches and bring them back, where a friend of Sean’s and his wife are working on the groom’s cake. Erin jumps in the shower while Sean and I tie ribbons around the bouquets and boutonnières.

Dressed, she begins stacking the cakes as they’ll be delivered, piping additional rosettes and bringing more frosting with her in case she runs out of time. Cars loaded, we head to Hackettstown to drop everything off and rehearse. But we get stuck in traffic and the rehearsal gets tabled to the rehearsal dinner. Erin puts her makeup on in the car, and we dash over to the Inn at Millrace Pond in Hope, New Jersey. Unwinding with hors d’oeuvres and drinks, Erin thanks everyone for coming. The space is filled with laughter, fine food, and a group of people that will soon become family.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...at the New York Burlesque Festival

Whenever there’s a possibility to see glitter and glamour, I’m there. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, I’ve been going to the New York Burlesque Festival almost every year since I moved to the city. I’ve written about and shared images from the festival before on my blog, and I thought it would be fun to also share some this year on TinyLetter.

The New York Burlesque Festival is now in its 16th year, a four-night event (Thursday-Sunday) that regularly sells out. Jen Gapay of Thirsty Girl Productions, who co-produces the festival with burlesque legend Angie Pontani, was kind enough to have me at the festival’s Premiere Party at Brooklyn Bowl this past Friday. As ever, the glitter and glamour was more than just a possibility, but a fully realized, nonstop sparkle extravaganza.

Even arriving and perusing vendors, there were intricate rhinestone pasties in the shapes of flames, butterflies, and emojis. Long studded gloves in all manner of colors. Another burlesque legend Jo Weldon with her new book Fierce, about the history of leopard print.

I don’t remember exactly why I went to a burlesque show the first time, but I knew almost instantly I’d be back. I love burlesque for how it creatively parodies or exaggerates (or, uh, burlesques) sexuality, how it’s used to make us laugh, how it spins taboo on its head and asks us to see the theatricality and comedy and even beauty in something we’re so often taught to hide. Performers fully own their bodies, and their pride is inspiring.

Soon, with the rest of the audience, I will be enveloped in a swirl of striptease, of comedic and glamorous (or both) performances by entertainers with deliciously punny names like Broody Valentino, Rosie Cheeks, and Taradise. Their acts will be inspired by the likes of everything from Satanism to peacocks, Space Jam to romance novels, Sunset Boulevard to Jesus Christ Superstar.

But first, go-go dancers shimmy and swivel across the stage in heels, dollars tucked into garters and mouths and corsets. Broadway Brassy, with her red and black hair and gold sequin-encrusted wrap dress opens the show with her band, the Brass Knuckles. She sings covers of tunes like Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto’s “The Girl from Ipanema” and Amy Winehouse’s “Valery.” The evening’s hosting duties will be split between Albert Cadabra (yes…) and Shelly Watson, “The Singing Siren." She’ll be flanked by “her two ginger giraffes,” as she calls them, two sky-high showgirls dripping in red fringe. They will introduce acts from all over the world, as far away as Japan, Argentina, and Montreal, and as close as our own New York City. Aria Delanoche is a glamorous peacock, Miss Orchid Mei is a fluffy leopard kitten, Harvest Moon and Jason Mejias swing across the stage on silks and ropes, and more.

How do they get the glitter to stay on their lips? Their fringe to shiver so sensationally? Their costumes slip away with such style? Headdresses to balance without bouncing? I am, as ever, entranced.

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