The Minsky Sisters ~ photo by Erin Patrice O'Brien

The Minsky Sisters have been on our radar for some time, so we asked them to tell us about themselves.

CC: We’re here with Jen and Kristen, the Minsky Sisters! Hello!

Jen: Hello!

Kristen: Hello!

CC: When did you guys get your act together, so to speak?

Jen: We’ve been performing together for several years but Minsky sisters became a thing July 2008. Our friend Shien Lee, the producer of Dances of Vice, asked us if we would do a tap number. Both of us have been dancing for most of our lives. And we didn’t have a name, we were just ourselves. We didn’t have an identity, and we performed just thinking we were gonna do just one dance and that was going to be it. But people really liked us and we started getting asked to perform at other venues, not just Dances of Vice, and we thought, OK, I guess we’re a thing now — an act. So we got a name.

CC: how did you come up with the name?

Jen: We wanted to do something with sisters in the name…

Kristen: — Of the era that our identity is based on, so like the 20s and 30s and not the 40s.

Jen: And Minsky, as a lot of people know, was one of the premier burlesque places in New York City. Minsky’s Burlesque house actually began in the teens, but it really came into full-swing towards the 20s. At that time burlesque was not about the strip tease, it was about tap dancing and big dance numbers and vaudeville and comedians. It was a variety show. So we thought that would fit us perfectly, because we do fit into the burlesque scene, but we’re not about the strip tease, really.

Kristen: We have reveals in several of our numbers, but they’re not as extensive as burlesque performers.

CC: Why the 20s as opposed to the 50s which is the period of classic burlesque?

Kristen: One of the reasons is because we are tap dancers, so we were looking at the period when tap was coming of age and when it was getting to be very popular in America, and that lasted up to the mid-40s perhaps. And then additionally the first party — all the Dances of Vice parties initially — were of that period as well, and so that was a big part of it too. In terms of our performing our identity, that was kind of as an extension of that first performance.

Jen: For a while we were resident performers at Dances of Vice. We were there every single month, so that definitely shaped us.

CC: How did you guys meet Shien Lee?

Jen: In 2006 I was a part of a group that helped bring Vaginal Davis’s 1920s club Bricktops to Manhattan. We did this one-night-only show called “Bricktops Takes Manhattan.” There I met Don Spiro, and we got to talking, and I was just piquing my interest in burlesque, so he started bringing me to burlesque shows. He was friends with Shien in LA, and Shien had been talking to Don about doing a 20s club in New York, so then he kind of hooked us up so I could help her out. She didn’t actually move to New York until the month that that Dances of Vice premiered that August? Was it August 2007?

Kristen: Yeah, 2007.

Jen: And so yeah, I just helped her out with what venues to look at, gave her the tip on New York performers, and all that. And now we’re friends!

CC: Tell me more about how you guys met.

Jen: We both came to school at NYU.

Kristen: We met at orientation, and we started talking around that time too. We were taking classes with Roselee Goldberg, who is the director of Performa and were both interested in installations with interaction between performers and spaces. And then our senior year our studios were across the hall from one another, so we continued that dialogue and started dancing for Maxi Geil! & Playcolt as the Maxi Dancers. There was a lot of glitter and a lot of gold lame and hair gel. [Laughs.]

CC: You said World Famous *BOB* said you guys have “the sickness.” What is “the sickness?”

Jen: She said it because at the New York Burlesque festival we performed with the two man gentleman band, and we had lots of props. And every prop we had was covered in rhinestones. We had rhinestone kazoos, we had rhinestone beer mugs or beer steins?

Kristen: We called them our Rhine-steins.

Jen: And backstage after she saw us perform she said “you guys have the sickness! We love people with the sickness! We noticed every single thing that you pulled out was glittery.”

Kristen: And we performed in other capacities as well, mostly visual arts performance. We take on various characters. I think they usually start with some sort of accent that I’ll pick up, or we’ll pick up in our daily lives, and we’ll start to cultivate these characters out of that. Usually there is a didactic way we go about interacting with viewers or participants in these pieces where either we’re instructing a ballet class, or assisting a Russian dance teacher, or we’re shooting a workout video, or most recently in a piece we did for the College Art Association last spring we were these two southern church ladies in a traveling cooking show.

CC: So how do you guys manage the duo “The Minsky Sisters”?

Kristen: We really divide things quite evenly. Where one person will choreograph a number then usually the next time the other person will bring a new set of ideas to the piece or the project. In terms of costuming we do a lot of it on our own, and we have some really great friends who have helped us out with that recently, but we design them ourselves. Jen does a lot of the web work as far as website and Twitter and Facebook.

CC: Speaking of social networking platforms, the new media of this new century has created a lot of new opportunities for performers. Back in the day you had to have an agent and deal with sleazy producers. How has that changed, or has it? How do you get gigs?

Kristen: We go through phases where we attend several events and enjoy ourselves for the evening. We spend a lot of that time with friends, and our friends produce a lot of events. It’s very organic the way it happens now. You meet somebody who says they’re producing a show or upcoming events, and they’ll ask us to perform.

Jen: It depends on the season too. Summer was very slow for us but there were a lot of people out of town. Fall has been busy. It’s between people we meet, and I’ll scour Craigslist a lot of the time looking for gigs. We did this random private party I found on Craigslist once for Halloween, which was really fun. And we just had a random person contact us who we don’t know to do a party, so word gets out I think.

Kristin: And I am producing my first event in December in Providence, RI. December 18th.

CC: Congratulations!

Kristen: And Michael Arenella’s Winter Ball…

CC: Tell me more about the Winter Ball.

Jen: Michael Arenella has always done the Jazz Age Lawn Party, but he hasn’t really done events other than that. The government cut the funding for Governor’s Island so he decided to throw parties at The Green Building, which is an old warehouse space in Caroll Gardens, Gowanus area. We did two fundraisers, one in May and one in August, two lawn parties. He decided, “this was fun, I want to keep doing this” So he just had his first non-fundraiser on October 30th — a masquerade ball — and now he’s doing a Winter ball. He’s pairing up with the George Gee Swing Orchestra so it’s gonna be really cool. Michael does mostly Jazz Age events and music, but this time it’s going to be Jazz Age through the 40s ’cause George Gee is more of a swing band. Grace Gotham will be doing burlesque. Rodney Caravella who is an amazing dancer and teaches at Sandra Cameron Dance Studio, he’s going to be choreographing a couple of numbers for the group. It’ll be a good dance party.

CC: What are your plans for next year?

Kristen: Each season brings different challenges and opportunities. Right now we’re starting to receive recognition. We were nominated by Loungerati for their best of survey…

Jen: The best burlesque act which is funny because we always — I guess I shouldn’t say always — we sometimes get flack for performing at burlesque shows. We performed in L. A. a few times, and there was someone at one of those shows that was complaining to the producer. We were about 10 feet away, so we could hear their conversation, and she said, “why are they here? They’re not burlesque dancers!” And the producer was like whatever I say is burlesque is burlesque — it’s my show.”

CC: It does seem like the burlesque scene is evolving very quickly. Taken as a whole it’s more like a Vaudeville revival that strictly burlesque.

Kristen: Absolutely! I think that our ideas are becoming stronger and our identity is evolving in a really fantastic way. And we’re having a really good time.

Jen: We kind of have a little family that’s been created in the 20s scene that just happened as we’ve been performing, which is nice because we can go to any of those events like the Salon or Wit’s End and find a handfull of people that you know. It’s really nice and everyone is really great.

CC: Do you think you would be interested in doing it professionally, as your sole source of income?

Jen: If we could swing that, yeah. We both have roots in the visual arts. I think in the end we would both like to be artists. That’s kind of the grand plan, at least for me. I would love to make my income just as an artist, whether that means as a performance artist, or taking pictures — I am a photographer too — or as the Minsky sisters. We’ve been toying with the idea of how to make the Minsky Sisters performance art, or how can we make it more conceptual and tie it in with the performances that we do at galleries, instead of it having it just be tap dances.

Kristen: I would like to see my work evolve in a sustainable way as an artist. And I’m going to school for sculpture, which is not what I expected to be studying per se, but I guess in the end it’s dealing with three dimensional space and the way people navigate space, so in that regard it very much has to do with what we do on stage as a performer.

CC: That sounds awesome! It looks like we are out of time, but thanks for talking to us, and good luck!