Ever been to a nightclub and watched the sexy go-go dancers do their thing above the crowd? Ever mustered up the courage to do the same yourself? Well please don’t. As liberating as it may seem, there is a definite skill that takes practice to perfect in order to become a successful go-go dancer.
Go-go dancing began in the mid 1960s in the Mod era of England and America, quickly spreading throughout the rest of the world. It is believed that the scandalous performing art began at the Peppermint Lounge in New York City when women started dancing the “twist” on top of the tables. The spectacle gathered such a crowd that the club began hiring these women to come dance on the tables nightly, as a way of both attracting and entertaining patrons.
Many also believe the start of the go-go craze happened on the west coast in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In San Francisco, a go-go dancer by the name of Carol Doda began dancing topless at the Condor Club in the North Beach district of town in 1964, a career she continued for the next 22 years. Carol even had her breasts enhanced from a 34B to a 44DD through 44 silicone injections, nicknaming her “the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco.” She began dancing in a topless swimsuit to draw in patrons, an act that spawned similar exhibitionism across San Francisco and the rest of the nation. Doda retired in the 1980s, but is still known today as the most famous go-go dancer of all time and one of the pioneers of the business.
Down in Los Angeles, another nightclub called the Whisky A Go Go opened in 1964 and helped popularize go-go dancing. Marketed as a discotheque, “the Whisky” as it became to be known, featured both live performances as well as DJ sets. In fact it was when the club opened with a live band led by Johnny Rivers and a scantily-clad DJ known as Rhonda Lane that the go-go variation of “cage dancing” was born. Rhonda was spinning records from a suspended cage between sets and during Rivers’ set she began to dance. The crowd believed this was all part of the show…and thus cage dancing was born. From then on the Whisky became the center of the go-go craze, featuring female dancers in several cages every night, at every performance.
The term “go-go” means a high energy person and is derived from the French à gogo, meaning “in abundance,” which is believed to stem from another French word la gogue, meaning “joy and happiness.” The name is very fitting, seeing as go-go dancers clearly show an abundance of skin, as well as possess an abundance of energy. The name also comes from the fashionable low-heeled knee-high go-go boots that became representative of the Mod movement. Along with the boots, most dancers wore short dresses, mini-skirts, and plenty of fringe.
In the early years go-go dancing quickly spread throughout the U.S. and other countries around the world. Following the Vietnam War, dancing in Vietnamese and Thai clubs became very popular, especially in clubs of Bangkok and Patong Beach. Go-go dancing also became very popular in gay clubs as well, with shirtless male dancers taking center stage. Finally go-go dancing even made its way into television, with the popular programs Hullabaloo and Shindig! featuring go-go dancers in a musical variety format.
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s the rise of the hippie movement, women’s liberation, and disco killed the popularity of go-go dancing, and dancers at clubs diminished. But thanks to MTV in the 1980s and many of Madonna’s music videos featuring go-go dancers, the art form experienced a revival in both gay and straight clubs, a resurgence that has lasted to the present day.
Today dancers are hired not only to perform at nightclubs and discos, but also concerts, festivals, raves, and private parties. And today’s go-go has shed much more clothing compared to the tame Mod dancer of the 1960s. Dancers today usually dress in scandalous, sexy, bright, and outrageous clothing, sometimes performing with additional props such as glow sticks, lasers sticks, light poi, or other luminous accessories. Most male go-go dancers perform completely without clothes except for briefs, shorts, or pants to cover the private area. Additionally, although cage dancing is still very popular in some arenas, many go-go dancers today perform on stages, raised platforms, or boxes.
Contrary to popular belief, go-go dancers don’t necessarily have to have large fake breasts. They simply need to be appealing to the eye, or “eye candy” as many club promoters like to call them. Firm and toned legs and butt are usually a requirement, as well as a slim mid-section, but not necessarily a six-pack. Guy go-gos on the other hand, are usually required to be muscular and defined, with an apparent six-pack.
Most go-go dancing jobs today require potential dancers to audition for positions. So obviously the number one requirement above all else is the ability to dance! Many people believe go-go dancing is a mindless career that anyone could do. After all you just stand up there and shake your butt for hours on end right? Wrong. Go-go dancing has developed into a true art form. The go-go dance is all about being sexy, yet also conveying a good time. It should be theatrical, including expressive movements with the arms, something many novice dancers forget to include into their routines. Furthermore, dancers need to be comfortable performing in risque clothes, ridiculously high heels or boots, and other crazy outfits. Go-go is designed to take the audience into another world, sometimes requiring dancers to incorporate full costumes and personas. Over-the-top appearances including dramatic hair and makeup are not out of the ordinary.
Most nightclub environments give dancers three 20-minute shifts or four 15-minute shifts, amounting to only 1 hour of total dancing in any given night, with the opportunity to make anywhere from $150 to $250 or more depending on the type of club and environment. Some clubs even allow dancers to receive tips from patrons. One rule that is usually strictly enforced however is sobriety. Although everyone else may be drinking and having a good time, as a dancer it’s important to be clear-headed and conscious of your body’s movements. Dancing under any sort of alcohol or drug influence can cause falls and other accidents, especially since many dancers are performing on high platforms in difficult shoes. Not to mention that drinking creates sloppy form and tasteless dancing.
Go-go dancing has come a long way since its early days, now having its own official appreciation day! This year the city of West Hollywood in association with several nightclubs threw the first ever annual Go-Go Dancer Appreciation Day on Oct 29th. The celebration consisted of a go-go festival and street party on Larrabee Street near Santa Monica Blvd., with specially choreographed performances, contests, and prizes awarded for both professionals and amateurs, with categories including Hottest Jock, Best Bootie, Twink, Best Package, Muscle Stud, and Amateur Go-Go Boy. Celebrity judges included Bruce Vilanch, Leslie Jordan, and mayor John J. Duran, who determined which dancer walked away with the grand prize of $1000. The festival was created to finally honor the hard working people of the go-go business, as well as try to attract more tourists to West Hollywood as the premier gay destination in the country. Mayor John J. Duran said himself, “From the Whisky to Micky’s, from Voyeur to Club Eleven – go-go dancers perform all year long for the delight of both locals and tourists in West Hollywood. We have more go-go dancers per square mile than any other city in America and it’s time we celebrated their efforts and hard work!”
Gay, straight, and everything in between, no matter the setting the go-go dancer is here to stay. Well…at least until disco comes back (*crosses fingers*). To book one of Zen Arts amazing crew of go-go performers call 855-ZEN-ARTS or email today!