How did the ballerina become a Showgirl?
I wasn’t always a showgirl. While I became obsessed with Showgirls when I read Josephine Baker’s autobiography in the 7th grade, it wasn’t ever a life goal of mine to become one. I had no idea that this baby ballerina would become a Showgirl one day.
I wanted to be a prima ballerina. That’s all I ever wanted. Then puberty hit. And I was no longer a waif-like tiny dancer. I had become a tall and voluptuous young woman. This was a hard hit to my self-esteem and confidence in my dance abilities. I suddenly became the one that was too tall to partner and too heavy for the boys to lift. (Personally, I thought they could have spent more time in the gym, but it seemed to be placed on my poor little head to fix.)
Over the next five years, after I had put on twenty pounds, grew an inch and a half and went from a AA cup to a C cup in the span of a month, I struggled to find my place in the ballet world. Too tall for most ballet companies or too curvy. I really wasn’t that curvy to be honest. I was now 5’9” and weighed 120 pounds. Still rail thin, but my large rack was not helpful in securing me a job in a professional ballet company.
Auditioning for ballet companies
I sent out all the videos (VHS tapes and 8x10s were still the norm in securing a live audition at that time) to all the companies. Very few called me in for an audition. I finally got my big break in Las Vegas, of all places! There was actually a ballet company there and they wanted me!
So I went. I became a professional ballerina, rehearsing 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week, 6-8 weeks at a time—all to perform for 5 or 6 shows in a run. I had become a professional rehearser. It was not my dream job. At all.
I stayed with the company for 3 seasons. Living the starving artist’s life and not really thriving.
The audition that changed everything
Then, one day, one of the old male dancers that had left the company and “sold out” to the shows on the strip, came back to take company class. He told me Jubilee! was auditioning for new dancers that weekend and that I should go because “they would LOVE you.”
I braved the challenge.
I had never seen the show, hadn’t danced in heels since character class a few years prior and had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
But there I was, on the Jubilee! stage in my fishnets, 1 1/2” character shoes and highest cut leotard I could borrow, (yes, I had to borrow one,) standing amongst the leggiest girls I had seen in my life.
We were taught a jazz combination by Linda Green. I had no idea at the time that she was one of the principal dancers that had been in the show since it opened 21 years prior. She was graceful, fluid and had the most beautifully developed legs. She too had been a ballerina.
Although I had a full dance background including jazz, tap and lyrical, this choreography threw me for a loop. It was the most ridiculous choreography that I had ever attempted to dance. Plus, the stage was uneven and hard to maneuver with cracks and steel rails running the length. I was scared for my life!
After demonstrating what I thought was the worst attempt at executing jazz choreography in my life, we were put in a lineup with all the girls that were in the show currently. We lined up according to height, and I was shocked to learn that I was closer to the end of the line than the center where the tallest woman stood at 6’3”.
They called me down from the stage.
“Are you willing to go topless?”
Fluff and Diane introduced themselves and asked if I was willing to go topless. I reluctantly told them no, not knowing if that would be a deal breaker or not. After being introduced to Donna London, the wardrobe manager, I was sent down to wardrobe to get measured. I had no idea what was going on.
Turns out I got the job.
What I experienced that first day was unlike any other story I had heard from others when they auditioned for the show. All the other girls were told that they would let them know in a couple of weeks.
The journey from Bluebell to principal was a tough one. But I had found my home. The place where I belonged and fit in among other tall, leggy former ballerinas. I had finally found the place to shine.
My favorite part of this story is not that I immediately got the job. It was that my friends that convinced me to audition said that the combination we learned was the principal white disco number. One of the hardest numbers in the show.
It became my absolute favorite number to perform by the time the role was given to me when I became one of four principal females in the show. I sure do miss it.
Fun facts about the show that you may not know:
- Jubilee! opened at the original MGM built by Kirk Kerkorian
- The world’s worst hotel fire caused the opening night a delay of 6 months
- Jubilee! was always a topless show featuring Bluebells (covered dancers) and topless showgirls
- Opened in 1981 at a cost of $10M
- Created by Donn Arden from Paris Lido and Las Vegas Lido
- Opened with 130 dancers, 48 crew, 26 wardrobe and 2 company/asst. company managers
- Show consisted of 4 “acts” plus 3 specialty acts
- Stage is 1/2 length of a football field, rivaled in size only by Reno (double it’s size) and the Met in NY
- Jewelry made in the same house in Paris as all the other historic French shows
- Worldwide shortage of rhinestones in 1980 as they were all used for Jubilee
- Feathers used from non-threatened eaten birds: vulture, ostrich, rooster, turkey and pheasant
- Heaviest hat and backpack each weighed 35 lbs. Not from the same costume
- Over 1000 costumes made for the show cost $4.5M in 1981
- Costumes designed by Pete Menefee and Bob Mackie
- Closed after 35 years on Feb 11, 2016
- Only shows left in the world are in Paris (Moulin Rouge, Lido and Crazy Horse)