Circus Freaks Swarm Lower East Side Party for Coney Island

Mermaids, hula-hooping transvestites, scantily-dressed burlesque dancers, tattooed carnies, and a host of other Coney Island characters took their act over the bridge last night to raise money for Coney Island U.S.A., a 29-year-old, nonprofit arts program that supports the amusement park’s mainstream underbelly.

If Memorial Day was not approaching, the good-naturedly lascivious scene inside the Angel Orensanz Foundation’s headquarters—ironically a former Lower East Side synagogue—could have easily been mistaken for a Halloween party.

Busty, bikini-clad, not-quite-spring-chicken, burlesque dancers and mermaids mingled as costumed swing dancers twirled their way across the dance floor to the music of Lady Luck and the Suicide Kings.

Circus freaks resembling the cast of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” passed out beer—brewed in Brooklyn of course—cotton-candy, candied-apples, hotdogs and hamburgers, corn-on-the cob, and popcorn from an old-school machine.

The arcades were divided into booths for games like “Mystery in a Box” and “Shoot the Mayor” and a silent auction. ("Shoot the Mayor" had nothing to do with Mayor Bloomberg; it was more about Dick Zigun, Coney Island U.S.A.’s director and the unofficial mayor of Coney Island.) Some of the standout offerings included vintage gag-gifts like boob-shaped “Bally Hi Ball Coasters,” and a red, white, and blue, penis-shaped, “Hot Spot Mini-Electric Blanket: Just for Him,” each priced at $10 opening bid; a condom mold with $100 opening bid; and vintage coffee table books with titles like Stacked Decks: the Art and History of Erotic Playing Cards and A Pictoral History of Strip Tease.

Coney Island’s uncertain future lingered beneath the festivities.

“Ask us in three months,” a gold-dusted burlesque dancer, wearing a matching sequined bikini with a feathered tail and five-inch heels, said of what this summer will hold.

“Well, we’re having our second, last season ever,” joked a pink-haired, trident-toting, Nordic-looking Mermaid, wearing her silver costume from last year’s parade.

Though the fate of the 150-year-old amusement park is up in the air since the city backtracked on its first rezoning proposal, Coney Island U.S.A. is “institutionalized in perpetuity,” said director Dick Zigun.

In August 2007, the organization bought the building they had rented for over a decade, with the city’s help. This proceeds from last night’s benefit will go toward supporting Coney Island U.S.A.’s programs and sprucing up their space. So far they have renovated the bathrooms and dressing rooms and built a “condo” for the snakes, but they still need heat and air conditioning.

“The city helped with the funding so it’s a bit awkward now to oppose some of the politicians who were the same people who helped us but one has to take a stand and defend one’s neighborhood,” Mr. Zigun said as Ms. Saturn performed a hula-hoop feat to the Scissor Sisters tune, “Relax.”

“Although the initial city plan had merit and wisdom to it and the entire neighborhood had signed on," Mr. Zigun said, "and the city has watered it down and watered it down again to the point where the new plan sucks, and I choose my words carefully.”

Mr. Zigun is doing more to oppose the new rezoning proposal than just talk. Coney Island U.S.A held a protest this morning to convince the city to go back to the original rezoning proposal, “which had consensus.”

“If we don’t, no rezoning is better than what they are proposing now,” he said.

Circus Freaks Swarm Lower East Side Party for Coney Island