The History of Las Vegas Showgirls
In Paris during the late 1800s and early 1900s, night club entertainers performed the can-can dance. They are considered the original showgirls. Several Paris venues have become famous for their showgirls, including the Moulin Rouge, Lido, and the original Folies Bergere Theater. Folies Bergere opened in 1869 and first featured a nude showgirl in 1918. The showgirl was first seen in the United States in 1907, created by Florenz Ziegfeld. His Ziegfeld Follies revue was a series of acts. These acts were gorgeous production numbers with beautiful women in amazing costumes and elaborate sets. An inspired Busby Berkeley added showgirls into his Hollywood films in the 1930s.
Margaret Kelly Leibovici (Miss Bluebell) created the Bluebell Girls in 1932. They began performing at Folies Bergere, where Miss Bluebell performed since 1930. She began a collaboration with Donn Arden on shows at the Paris Lido in 1947, making the Bluebells the sole stars of the show. By the 1950s, the Bluebells were a worldwide organization. Miss Bluebell had permanent troupes in Paris and Las Vegas, as well as touring troupes throughout Europe, Africa, and the Far East.
In the 1950s, the casinos in Las Vegas began attempting to top each other by making their shows as lavish and memorable as possible. This is where the enormous headdresses and exquisite costuming ideas came from. During this time, the showgirl became the unofficial icon of Las Vegas. Several of the French Revues came to Las Vegas in the 1960s, including Folies Bergere and Lido de Paris. The Lido was wildly successful and ran for 31 years. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were showgirls in every hotel and casino on the strip.
Showgirls originally danced around the headliners as background. It wasn't until later that the showgirls became the attraction and stars of the show. This began to take shape in the late 1950s with Donn Arden's Lido de Paris at the Stardust, Jack Entratter's Copa Girls at the Sands, and Harold Minsky's Follies at the Desert Inn. Jack Entratter had the largest entertainment budget. His shows set the bar for the competitors on the strip.
The Copa Girls were the premier attraction until Minsky introduced the first topless showgirls in Vegas at the Dunes, in 1957. Minsky's inspiration was modeled on Parisian nightclub shows. The productions and salaries grew with each show. The entertainment budget was justified because free entertainment that lasted all night encouraged the guests to do the same. These successes continued through the 1960s and then began to fall.
The growth stalled in the 1970s and worsened in the 1980s with an economic downturn. Efforts to make Las Vegas more family friendly decreased the prospects for showgirl revues. The rise in popularity of the Cirque acrobatic shows have now dominated over the topless revues. To help with ticket sales, Jubilee added a version of their show that is all ages appropriate.
In recent years, only two major revues featuring showgirls were still in operation on the strip; The Folies Bergere at the Tropicana and Jubilee at Bally's. On March 28th 2009, the Folies Bergere closed its doors after a final performance. The Tropicana could not produce the show any longer. It ended just before its 50th anniversary. Those involved in its 49 years in Vegas can still enjoy the fact that it was the longest running show in history.
Showgirls go with Vegas like bread goes with butter. Therefore, it is extremely ironic that there are only a few showgirls performing in Vegas today. Numerous articles have been written about the near extinction of these American Icons. You can still take in several shows that include showgirls in portions of the revue. Most notably, Bette Midler's "The showgirl must go on".
In 2010, Jubilee is the last major production featuring showgirls to survive. It has been running for more than 25 years. If you travel on a cruise ship, many of the larger companies such as Carnival and Princess still offer dance revues with showgirls. In late 2010, a new show with showgirls was added called Vegas! The Show. This show celebrates all of the performance history of Las Vegas, including impersonators and showgirls with costumes and choreography meant to replicate specific revues of the past. Showgirls have not left without making a huge contribution to popular culture. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is an excellent example of this.
The word "showgirl" has been adopted by far less glamorous establishments. Many exotic dance clubs use it as part of their business name, and some exotic dancers call themselves showgirls now. This creates confusion about the difference between the classic showgirls and today's showgirls. Classic showgirls are talented, and are extremely skilled dancers. Many of them were ballerinas before moving to Vegas.
Good ballet technique is a necessity for those who want to be Vegas showgirls. Choreographed dance routines and sometimes singing are a major part of the job. They are able to wear high heels and up to 70 lbs of costume, while parading around the stage. Several former showgirls are now working to preserve the costumes and artifacts of what they have cherished so dearly. Annual meetings and art shows are held to bring all showgirls together because the memories are so very important to them. Long after showgirls are gone, the legacy of these cultural icons will live on.