Go-Go Is Back-Back : Fresh from the ‘60s and as hot as tonight, the craze is all things to all people. To a stage manager, it’s ‘another weapon to use in creating atmosphere.’ To a dancer, it’s ‘exercise and money.’
In the cramped dressing room of the Mayan nightclub is a worn, lumpy sofa, plus a table, mirror, mini-fridge and costumes stacked on shelves and racks. Minutes before they go on, five go-go dancers prepare for their sets. They apply makeup and pull on fishnets and G-strings, walking around near-naked. There is literally no room for modesty.
Coordinating their outfits, making sure they get to their podiums on time, getting them water and listening to their problems is Christian Satrustegui, the Mayan’s stage manager, costume and set designer, father confessor and big brother. Wearing a black shirt and pants with a scarf wrapped around his head, he’s deciding whether to dress a dancer in a silver bustier with toy guns affixed to the bra or a Vegas-style headpiece.
He goes over the dancers’ schedules as Gina Ciccarelli, plumes of marabou feathers atop her head and black combat boots on her feet, hurries downstairs. “I don’t know how I’m going to dance in this,” she says. “Oh well,” she says with a trouper’s sigh, “I’ll figure it out.”
In an age of MTV and elaborate live productions staged by mega-stars like Madonna, Janet Jackson and M. C. Hammer, nightclub-goers expect more than a good sound system when they dance. And savvy L.A. club owners are giving it to them.
Go-go dancers are back.
Like peace symbols, micro-miniskirts and other ‘60s flashbacks, go-go dancers are showing up in many of the city’s top night spots. The Shark Club, Arena, Bordello and others are augmenting their house, hip-hop and heavy metal music mixes and light shows with professional male and female dancers.
“Having dancers just lends something to the whole club atmosphere,” says Charles Snow, owner of the Shark Club in downtown Los Angeles, where girls dance in two “shark cages.”
“Dancing has never been more popular than it is now; part of it is because there are so many different music styles and so many different kinds of dances. People learn by watching other people dance. In some ways the dancers here are sort of blocked from peoples’ line of vision, with the bars. So the crowd is going to catch glimpses of those dancers, and that’s what makes it interesting.”
The booming bass of house music filters upstairs at the Mayan one Friday night about 9:30, an hour before the dancers start their first set. Gigi Leon and Kraig Anthony are two of five who will perform tonight, alternating 30-minute sets on three podiums set on a stage in a club that’s a dramatic rendition of a Mayan temple.
Anthony, 27 and the possessor of a physique most men would kill for (he shows a recent swimsuit fashion spread in a magazine), says, “We’re all very humble people. I have a lot of friends who say, ‘You dance for the attention.’ I say, ‘You know what? I don’t dance for the attention. I get attention anyway. I don’t crave that.’ ”
“You take the good with the bad,” says Leon, who is tall, curvaceous and wears an “I Dream of Jeannie” topknot and exaggerated eye liner. She’s been dancing here for a year and a half.
The bad: “I get pushed around on the floor sometimes when I’m walking to the podium by girls who are with their boyfriends. They think you’re trying to get to their boyfriend, but I’m really just trying to get across the floor.”
Go-go dancers are quick to say they are misunderstood. They don’t strip, they’re not there for the patrons to date and they won’t let anybody dance up there with them, no matter how much they beg. They are, for the most part, trained dancers who aren’t go-going to be discovered, but who are going to improve on their improvisational dance skills and get paid some quick cash to work out (usually $75 to $100 a night for four or five 20- to 30-minute sets).
“People think we’re, like, free sex,” says Leon. “They think that’s why we do it,” she continues. “They think it’s because we like drugs or sex. It’s not true. In between sets a lot of the dancers are up in the dressing room sewing costumes. We never go out with the clientele. We never drink.”
And the good? Dancing “makes your confidence really strong,” says Leon. “You know inside that you dance hard, you dance well, you have good outfits and your body’s in incredible shape compared to a lot of dancers that you see around.” It’s also afforded her some bit of fame; Leon says she occasionally gets recognized because of her dancing, modeling and music video appearances.
“The dancers create a great energy,” says Satrustegui as he uses drops of hot glue from a glue gun to affix a wad of white marabou feathers to a dancer’s costume minutes before her set starts. “And you feel it. They’re happy, and they go out and they bring the energy. That’s the whole point to have a go-go dancer in a club. But I don’t even like the term go-go dancer ; you need a new definition. It’s a visual thing. I do all the lights and the sets and I dress them and bring out the best in them. I have the best team, you know? The feedback we have from each other--you see the results. People get addicted.”
“I’m here for people’s enjoyment,” says David Brown, 25, another muscled Mayan dancer who’s a production assistant by day and claims no formal dance training but a lifelong love of dance.
“But I’m nervous every night. Once you jump up there, it’s your job, you get paid to do this, so you listen to the music and get into it.”
Up the street at the Shark Club, a new dance club at the site of Myron’s Ballroom, dancers appear in two cages set against the back wall above the dance floor. Tamilee, 21, is one of the Shark’s regular dancers. The Upstate New York native has go-go danced in Japan and the Bahamas and performed in Las Vegas shows. She has had years of dance training and auditioned for her spot here when the club opened almost two months ago.
By day she works part time as a hostess at a Beverly Hills restaurants and auditions for dance and acting roles. She plans to go-go dance “until I don’t need to do it anymore. I enjoy it, it’s my form of exercise. . . . But I’ve reached the professional level, and as a lot of dancers will tell you, I’m overworked and underpaid. I’ll always dance, but now I’m looking into getting into commercial work and increasing my acting skills.”
At the Mayan the dancers are clearly on display on their podiums, sometimes appearing like moving statues with eerie lights beaming up from below and an occasional blast of smoke coming from above.
Satrustegui believes that dancers break the ice. “If you go to a club and see a guy and a girl dancing, that takes away the inhibition for you to be the first one to dance. And from a visual point of view, you can do a lot of things with dancers. It helps a lot to have a person in costume; it’s another weapon to use in creating atmosphere.”
Of each 25 people who audition to be go-go dancers, he may hire one. “I look for a person who doesn’t look tacky or sleazy, they have to have presence--enough presence without costuming to turn your head. There has to be energy and a good, positive mood, and they have to be willing to work and be creative.”
Donna, 28, started as a go-go dancer at the Mayan when a friend in a women’s support group recommended her. “She told me it was on a podium, and I didn’t even know what a podium was.”
She has since moved to Bordello, a heavy metal club on Thursday nights at Peanuts, a West Hollywood nightclub. During the day she teaches dance to children at private schools, but these incongruous jobs don’t seem to to be at odds.
“I love teaching,” she says over breakfast one morning at a Laurel Canyon restaurant with Dani Lee, a dancer at Bordello and the Mayan. “It’s a whole different side of me that’s a very real side. It’d be a lie to say that when I dance and when my sexuality comes out, that that’s not a part of me, too. Everyone has different sides to them.”
Go-go dancing is “exercise and money;” her aspirations are to make it as an actress, but she doesn’t harbor hopes of being discovered in a club.
“I’m always trying to get people to take me seriously as an actress,” she says, “and if anyone saw me go-go dancing and came up and said, ‘I have a part in a movie for you,’ I’d be scared to think what it was. I can only imagine.”
Lee also supplements her dancing income. The 24-year-old has been able to stave off a “real job” by doing commercials, and she just landed a part in the new Michael Jackson video. She says she wants to dance “as long as I can, and then I want to open a boutique, someplace other than L.A.”
Lee was asked to dance at the Mayan after she appeared in a fashion show there; “I’ve always wanted to go-go dance,” she says, “but I never got enough courage to approach it and do it.
They talk with a wry sense of humor about suffering the occasional jealousies and behavior of some club patrons. “We’re there to be looked at, so I’m sure it starts a lot of fights (among couples),” says Donna. “I would love to hear how many girls call me fat or skinny or ugly. I’m sure the girls say terrible things about us.”
“Or a guy will come up to the box,” Lee chimes in, “and asks if he can dance up there with me. I say, ‘No, I’m working, you’re not allowed.’ And then they’ll come back and say, ‘You can’t dance.”
“That used to affect me a lot,” says Donna. “Now it doesn’t faze me anymore.”
Mayan dancer Kraig Anthony sums up his philosophy of go-go dancing this way: “As bad as your day goes, when you come here, you can be anybody you want to be.”