If you’ve ever seen me perform in the last 4 years, you would say there is no doubt that I am a classic Las Vegas showgirl, even though you can only find me on a burlesque stage. But what does it really mean to call oneself a showgirl?
When looking up the definition online, one will find the following:
1. an actress who sings and dances in musicals, variety acts, and similar shows.
While this is the google definition of a showgirl, I have never considered myself an actress or a singer. And they are forgetting one of the most important aspects of the icon, the costumes.
From my experience while performing in the show Jubilee! at Bally’s Las Vegas from 2000-2005, I can tell you what a showgirl is. She is:
- Tall, 5’8” or taller (some as tall as 6’!)
- Has “legs for days” (40/60 body type to show off the magnificent costumes)
- Physically fit (1,000+ stairs a night, 10 costume changes per show, 5-35 lb. costumes, 10-12 shows per week)
- Costumes (intricate feathered hats and backpacks that cost tens of thousands of dollars each)
- Classical dance training (mostly ballerinas, but a few jazz dancers in there)
- Topless (or not, depending on the producer’s artistic vision)
- Elegance and Grace (no twerking or jiggly body parts allowed)
- Untouchable (they have always been presented in a manner to be revered from afar)
Gazella Galore debuted as a burlesque artist on 12/7/13. It was the first time I had been on the stage since I left Jubilee in 2005. I was ridiculously nervous that night, and the video reveals a leggy Bambi-like performer walking to and fro, and attempting to seduce the audience according to the lessons she learned in a burlesque workshop that was showcasing the students that evening. As awful as I thought my performance was that night, I was hooked back into the scene. The stage had been calling me for awhile…
In four years, I have travelled to various parts of the country attempting to fit in as a strip-tease artist and build a brand. I perform 5-10 times a month, which is quite a lot for the burlesque world. But as I experienced in the ballet world, it isn’t really a good idea to try to force something you are not.
I began to wonder what is the difference between a burlesquer and a showgirl??? Especially after my performance on the Las Vegas Burlesque Festival stage when one of the legends (I think it was Dusty Summers,) approached me and lovingly raved about my burly act and told me “I always wanted to be a showgirl!” back in the day. What does that mean? Do the legends not consider themselves showgirls?
Fast-forward to today. Gazella has dropped her burlesque image (as well as “Galore”) and continues to shape and define Gazella back into the showgirl I should be. I purposely have walked away from the previous title of “burlesque artist” due to my interest in keeping the showgirl alive since Jubilee took it’s last bow in February 2016.
Sadly, Las Vegas had created the most amazing icon of the female form and has since destroyed it with infinite circus and magic shows. The visionaries that produced the big shows no longer exist to create the shows that made the showgirl THE icon of Las Vegas. You can’t even purchase a showgirl-themed trinket at the gift shops in Vegas anymore!!
As I wonder where all the showgirls have gone, a little google search revealed this blog post: What is a Las Vegas Showgirl?
(Turns out this post is written by a former Jubilee! Bluebell, Andrea Russ. She and I were in the show together!)
Excerpted from that blog post, is this section about “What a Showgirl is Not”
What is a showgirl not?
The term “showgirl” has been hijacked by many strippers, strip clubs, escort services, and topless dancers.
Each of these other professions and dance styles fulfills legitimate needs and tastes of the public, audiences, and choreographers. However, this blog addresses specifically the definition of what a classic showgirl is, so it bears clarification of what a showgirl is not.
Dancers whose movements simulate sex, with bump-and-grind, raunchy, suggestive, or more recently, hip-hop style are not classic showgirls. Classic showgirls glide, twirl, and entice in a demure and elegant fashion, using highly-trained dance technique.
Topless dancers who gyrate lasciviously or employ poses or movements in which their legs are spread far apart to arouse audience members are not classic showgirls – they are topless dancers (and very often, quite good dancers). Burlesque dancers frequently wear very glamorous costumes like showgirls, but in peeling them off and bump-and-grinding, they shed any vestiges of being a showgirl.
Despite similar exposure of skin, showgirls are very different than strippers and escorts.
Strippers are not showgirls. The terms are not interchangeable.
Showgirls do not strip.
Strippers dance lewdly; showgirls dance elegantly. For both, this is what their audiences seek out and pay for.
Strippers elicit lust; showgirls elicit desire, wonder and worship.
Escorts provide sex; showgirls provide glamour.
Strippers sell their assets; showgirls showcase their beauty.
As I read this list, I was reminded of the allure of the Jubilee stage. What it means to be a showgirl, how to behave, how to present oneself, how to embody the icon, how to dress, how to costume. It brought me back to the feeling of the ultimate glamour and grace it is to be a showgirl. The reason why I am a showgirl. Again, if you read this post, it comes down to the why I do what I do, again and again. And that is to uplift and inspire.
So as Gazella continues her path of keeping the showgirl alive and producing showgirl products and shows, it is with deep reverence to the showgirls that have come before me. They inspire me to keep the icon alive.
Long live the showgirl!