Showgirls Life ep 001 is the introduction to the host of Showgirl’s Life podcast, Athena Patacsil. Learn about her path to becoming a Las Vegas Showgirl in Donn Arden’s Jubilee!, why she began this podcast, and sneak peeks to future episodes.
From ballerina to Showgirl, Athena explains how body image in the dance world can make or break you. Listen for the fulls details of her life that went from grueling to glamorous from just one audition.
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Being a showgirl was a privilege and it’s a tough life. But there’s parts of it that are just so amazing.
In this special edition of the Showgirl Life podcast, I had the pleasure of putting Athena aka Gazella in the hot seat as an appropriate introduction to the creator and host of this program. It is my honor to welcome you to the Showgirl Life podcast.
I created this podcast because I believe that the Showgirl, even though in America, for example, she is nowhere to be found. I could be wrong. But I’m pretty sure that there are zero showgirl shows throughout the whole of the United States. There’s a few in Paris, and there are some people trying to keep the showgirl alive in Europe, and parts of Asia, which is awesome.
I started this podcast because I feel like there’s so much history out there about the shows about the producers, how many feathers like pounds of feathers. And while it’s tons of feathers, I guess. How many tons of feathers were used to build all the costumes for this show, all of that.
Even though show girls were a dime a dozen. We all have stories. We all have moments that touched us touched our lives changed us changed our lives. And I want those stories to be told. There’s no platform in the world for those stories to be told. And I want to create a place that those stories can be shared. And those women and men that came before me can be revered and keep that history alive. Keep the show girl alive through a completely different medium than she originally became famous.
I hope to interview some very important people that created some of the shows that the very famous showgirl shows in Paris and Vegas, whether they’re choreographers, costume designers, producers Fluff and Donn Arden are no longer with us. But we have a few dream guests for the podcast. They’re going to share, you know probably the information that’s available in the history books that are written about showgirls or the memoirs that showgirls have written.
I have a friend who is a tenured librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and she is curating the Special Collections and there’s a lot of showgirl ephemera from Fluff and Donn. Jerry Jackson has donated some things and he was the creator of the last version of the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana.
I’m hoping to just bring people forward. I met a bunch of friends, new friends, that were in shows in the 70s and 80s, some as early as 1958. And she still looks tall and gorgeous and beautiful. I hope to get her on the podcast, we will see she is not American. She’s I believe she’s from France, but we’ll try it.
And so I just I hope to also educate what a showgirl is and what showgirl is not. I want to dive into the history I want to learn more myself. I’m doing this as a project for myself to learn more about what it took to be a show girl and how different it was back in the heyday of being showgirl in Las Vegas. Mostly, but I will be interviewing women who have done both Paris and Las Vegas and any other shows all over the world.
I’m hoping to have some funny stories. I’m hoping to maybe get some mob stories because I know that that’s part of the history of the showgirl. The mob was very much into part of that history. So I’m very intrigued and I hope to learn a lot and entertain people with showgirl history.
It’s time to to bring those stories to light. I think mine is not the only story. They’re all similar, I’m sure. But for me, mine started with ballet, and I had no desire to ever be a Rockette or a showgirl or anything like that.
I had to you know give us a bit of information about her background before becoming a showgirl.
My parents owned a dance studio and it was just part of life. Dance was part of life—performing, competing, all of it. And one point I actually showed an interest like I really wanted to do, wanted to dance. And so my parents continued to pour more money into my training. Hiring the best teachers in town. Got to a point where that was being awarded scholarships in competitions and studying at summer ballet camps. And at one point, I chose ballet. I think it was 14 when I chose ballet. I was like, I want to be a prima ballerina. But I think every 14 year old wishes that and this was actually before I had hit puberty, so my body still looked like a 12 year old body. I had the perfect ballerina body at that time. And then I got a full scholarship to study at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. They have an academy there, whole dormitory and everything. And I went to study for a semester, and that was paid by the Ford Family Foundation here. I don’t know if there’s still around, but they were in Vail. That’s where it all started.
Interestingly enough, I hit puberty when I was there was about 16 or almost 16. And well, I no longer resembled a 12 year old Russian ballerina. There are times where I feel like my body betrayed me. Because it didn’t do what I needed it to do in order to become the prima ballerina. I want it to be, but I forgiven my body because that’s what you do when you’re on the self love journey.
No, actually, I did three seasons as a professional ballerina corps de ballet, Nevada Ballet Theater. I had done a whole audition tour. When I was 17 years old. I went to Miami, Tulsa, Chicago. We sent tapes to tapes, VHS tapes to Pacific Northwest ballet because that’s where the tall girls went. American Ballet Theater, San Francisco ballet, Houston ballet, all of the big ballet companies. And, you know, I went to Tulsa, I went to Miami, Sarasota, Indianapolis. And then Las Vegas. I didn’t even know there was a ballet company in Las Vegas. I just wanted to dance. So my mom was probably the one that was finding all these companies. And so I did live auditions for those last few. And I was offered a corps de ballet contract right away for Nevada Ballet Theatre under the new artistic director.
And so I packed everything up and moved to Las Vegas when I was 18 years old. Not really the place that dads probably want to send their daughters their oldest daughter. But I went and after two and a half grueling seasons, and I say grueling because my body was not what they wanted it to be. Every week I got a weight notice. It seemed like every week maybe it wasn’t that often maybe? No, I think it was every week. Every week. “Oh, you need to lose five pounds.” So I was miserable. And it was not a good time. I was not happy. It was not what I thought it would be. I wanted to perform. I didn’t want to rehearse 40 hours a week to perform five shows.
And so an opportunity came up January 2000. He was a former principal dancer of the ballet company. He came to company class one day and he said you need to go audition. And I said why would I want to be a showgirl. He had left the ballet company to audition for Jubilee, the largest showgirl spectacular that was running at the time. And I I said no, I don’t want to do it. And he said you have to go they will love you. And then he named off a couple of former Nevada Ballet Theatre ballerinas that had gone. And he told me about how much they make. And it was three times more than I was making as a ballerina rehearsing 40 hours a week. So I was 20 years old, and I was like you know what? Fuck it.
I’m just gonna. I’m gonna go try this. I have dance training. I have jazz training. I have no idea what style of jazz this show is about. I hear it’s a classy show. I had never seen the show or anything, I just I knew that it was a showgirl show, that’s all I knew. And a number of the ballerinas had left to go there. So I went and I auditioned.
The next day, I had to borrow a high cut leotard because I didn’t have one. I had to borrow fishnet tights and I had to borrow a pair of heels, because they required high heels for the the audition. I hadn’t danced in high heels since I was 16, in Russian character class. So it was needless to say, like watching Bambi on ice audition. I wonder if they have a tape. That’d be funny to watch.
So I show up the next day in my high cut leotard and tights. And the woman who taught the audition was this tall, gorgeous blonde woman, who I found out later, was the lead principal dancer, Linda green. She had been in the show since it opened 1981. She looked amazing. She was close, close to 50 years old, and she just had the most incredible body. And she could still do it, she could still move. And so she taught, what I found out later was white disco. One of the hardest numbers in the entire show, cardio-wise, and just everything about it timing, the costume, everything was a difficult, it was difficult. And so it was actually perfect that that number was the number that I learned to audition to be in the show because it ended up becoming my very favorite number to perform, by the time I left the show.
That was an interesting experience. All we did was learn that learn the combination. And then we did our walks across the floor, and basically your best showgirl walk. I didn’t know how to do that. So I just did a jazz strut which is very, very similar to a showgirl walk. I can be sexy, even though I was a prudish, conservative ballerina at the time. And then they had us all line up in order tallest in the center to shortest on both ends.
I don’t remember there were a lot of girls that audition that day. I don’t even know how many but I do remember that they called me down to the table in the theater. They were sitting at tables in the audience and they called me down. And the first question they asked me was, would I go topless? And I was no, I am here for a covered position. And they said okay, this is Donna London, our wardrobe manager, please go with her and go get measured. In the history of the time I was there. I had never heard of that happening to anybody else.
Everyone else had to wait two to three weeks. Everyone got the “Okay girls won’t call you in two weeks,” from Fluff. So it was it was actually quite special. I found out later that they you know, they wanted me to be a principal dancer. They were grooming me from the very moment I stepped foot on that stage. And that’s that’s how I became a Las Vegas showgirl. I did it for five years. 12 shows a week. I miss it a lot. It is. It was quite an interesting life that we lived and now it’s it’s it’s gone. So sad.
Body type and weight seems to be a recurring issue in your story.
Everyone wants to be a showgirl. But there are very specific requirements to be a showgirl. And it’s almost like ballet. My body was ended up being perfect for being a showgirl. And not so much a ballerina, which is so funny. They were strict requirements to be a showgirl in Donn Arden’s Productions.
I then asked Athena about performing after she left on Arden’s Jubilee, and how she kept the show girl insider alive.
Seven years ago, I took a burlesque class workshop, actually, to learn how to be a burlesque performer and create an act and get my butt up on stage again, after I had retired from dance nine years earlier. Actually, it was almost by like four months. So yeah, it’s about 10 years. And Gosh, I saw that video and it’s hilarious to me. I watch it because I can see how nervous I was. I was the last time I was on stage, and the curtain came down. I was the center principal onstage with 85 other people, wearing $10,000 Bob Mackie costumes.
So it was quite funny how Gazella came out. I think Gazella was the persona that I embodied when I became a showgirl and slowly cultivated her because I have pictures and videos of me early in my showgirl career. And you can just see the ballet slowly kind of dissipate out of my body and me really coming into my body, and owning what it was like to physically be a showgirl. And that workshop in that time in the burlesque scene, I guess I just needed permission, I needed to give myself permission. That’s the funniest thing. I had to give myself permission to buy a feather boa; to buy a ridiculous amount of Swarovski crystals. I had to give myself permission to make costumes just for fun, and I haven’t made costumes for fun in a long time.
I believe. Every day I embody the show girl, not 100% every day, but it’s it’s a dial. And I would say about 10% of my inner showgirl comes out every day. I always try to wear small false eyelashes. I don’t want to be out with my ginormous Gazella lashes unless I have a giant hat to go with it. But I am keeping the showgirl alive within me and every costume and hat I create. I’m of course inspired by costumes I’ve worn and inspired by colors that I love. So I will keep making costumes and things just because they’re beautiful. fun to play with; fun to try on; fun to allow again; give permission to that inner child. There’s something about the confidence of a showgirl. You just can’t teach it. You can try but it has to be it’s just
Tell us a bit about the journey to becoming a showgirl history preservationist.
About five years ago, I had been performing in the burlesque scene as a burlesque artist. I did not call myself a show girl and that was mainly because I was doing striptease and well show girls don’t strip. That’s the basic defining factor is that show girls don’t strip. They come out naked already. There’s no tease about it. And that’s, for me was difficult. That’s why a lot of my acts were more silly and cutesy than vampy. But as a show girl, I am more comfortable being vampish and aggressive and aggressive is. White principle disco is one of those numbers that is very aggressive.
So I decided that I wasn’t happy doing the striptease, and I was going to start trying to bring the showgirl back. And I remember having a conversation with a producer asking for permission to just dance naked, not naked. I say naked. What would be considered topless with pastries? That’s what I decided and he was confused. But he said well, you’re gonna be you know, just wearing pasty so that’s fine. Just it’s I’m sure it’s fine. And so I created a showgirl act.
My very first showgirl act with a pair of white feather fans and the crown that my love and I made that we call “Bo” that was, that is inspired by the bob Mackie “Bo” from Jubilee. And I made that and over the years have been adding to that costume. I made a body chain to match it.
I would say I became obsessed just from owning that crown. It has over 1400 Swarovski crystals on it. And I’m not talking like the 16 s or the 20 s that people use. I’m talking like 32 or, or 40 ss they’re like 10 millimeter rhinestones. They’re huge. So 1400 is a lot and it’s heavy. there’s just lots of metal. So after making that crown, I was I was like, Oh my god, I want to make more.
So I had my white feather fans and I had a crown that I started but pieces and then I challenged myself to make what I would call air quotes a real showgirl hat and started trying to figure out how that would work how that would happen. So I challenged myself to make a traditional showgirl hat, which is basically like a helmet with a bunch of feathers on it. And with the help of my love, we figured out ways to create a metal sculpture.
I went to Las Vegas and had a conversation with the head of the feather department at Jubilee. It was years after the show closed, but he started to teach me how to make the hats because he was the one that took Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee’s sketches, and turn them into costumes. He could take anything from a sketch and turn it into a garment. And I thought that was pretty freakin cool.
So he taught me how to work with feathers. He taught me ways to hack some of the techniques that were used to make the hats in Jubilee. The hats that were made for Jubilee are all welded, and I don’t have that skill. And I don’t actually have the funds to pay someone to weld these crazy shapes for my hats. But maybe one day, maybe I will have a friend can well for me or whatever. So he helped me figure out a way to make these hats as close as we possibly could to some of the sculptures that were created for the hats in Jubilee.
And so now I have probably 20 hats, design in my head ready to go. Just need feathers, and maybe a little bit of time. And I’m, I’m just gonna keep making these hats. I have no show planned. I have no reason to be making showgirl hats, or costumes, rather, but they’re fun to make, and they’re a lot of fun to put on once they’re done, and play dress up in.
So I’ll just keep making these costumes my made and remade about 12 costumes full top to bottom that girls can actually wear showgirl costumes, and now I’ve taken some apart and using some of those pieces to make bigger hats for individual use. Originally, I had wanted to create a showgirl show and I was intent on building each costume by myself for a cast of five to seven girls. Not sure that I’ll ever happen, but it’s always fun to dream.
The views expressed in this recording are not necessarily shared by show girls life podcast or because Gazealous productions recorded produced and published in 2020. All rights to broadcast in whole or in part are the property of Gazealous productions Special thanks to Professor Phelyx of P h e l y x.com. Also, thanks to music makers, bizbazz studio and silent partners. More information about showgirls life can be found at showgirls dot life. Sh o w g i r l s dot l i f e