History of Showgirls

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The history of showgirls is closely tied to the development of cabarets, revues, and entertainment productions in various cultural hubs around the world.

Here’s a brief overview of the history of showgirls:

19th Century Cabarets and Varieties:

Showgirls emerged in the late 19th century as part of the entertainment provided in cabarets and variety shows in cities like Paris and New York.

These venues featured singers, dancers, and comedians, and the shows often included elaborate costumes and choreography. The shows were characterized by a mix of musical performances, comedy acts, and dance routines.

Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergère in Paris:

The Moulin Rouge, which opened in 1889 in Paris, became famous for its can-can dancers, who were among the earliest showgirls.

The Folies Bergère, another iconic Parisian cabaret that opened in 1869, became renowned for its extravagant productions, featuring large casts of dancers and entertainers.

The shows at Folies Bergère contributed to the popularization of elaborate costumes and choreography associated with showgirls.

Ziegfeld Follies in the United States:

In the early 20th century, Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld introduced the Ziegfeld Follies, a series of revues that showcased a large ensemble of beautiful and talented women known as Ziegfeld girls.

Dancer Vanda Hoff of the Ziegfeld Follies in 1918

These Broadway shows featured elaborate sets, costumes, and a large cast of beautiful and talented women, often referred to as Ziegfeld girls.

These shows, which ran from 1907 to 1931 and then intermittently until 1957, had a significant influence on the concept of showgirls in the United States.

Las Vegas Showgirl Era:

The mid-20th century saw the rise of Las Vegas as an entertainment capital, and showgirls became synonymous with the glamorous image of the city.

Shows like “Folies Bergère” and “Jubilee!” at the Bally’s Hotel became iconic, featuring large casts of showgirls in elaborate costumes.

Showgirls in front of the historic Las Vegas sign

Shows like the Ratpack’s Golddiggers featured a group of dancers known as the Golddiggers who performed with members of the famous Rat Pack like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

Some Las Vegas shows did include topless or partially topless performances, particularly during the mid-20th century when the city was establishing itself as an entertainment destination.

Shows like “Lido de Paris” at the Stardust and “Folies Bergère” at the Tropicana were known for their elaborate and risqué performances, which sometimes included topless dancers. “Crazy Girls” at the Riviera Hotel, famous for its bronze statue, also featured topless showgirls.

In recent decades, there has been a shift in the type of entertainment offered in Las Vegas, with many shows moving towards a more family-friendly and diverse appeal.

Today, while there are still adult-oriented shows in Las Vegas, topless performances are not as prevalent as they were in the city’s earlier years.

Evolution and Modernization:

Over time, the concept of showgirls evolved, adapting to changing tastes and cultural norms. Today, showgirls can be found in various productions worldwide, from traditional cabarets to modern revues.

Showgirls have often been seen as symbols of glamour, sophistication, and entertainment. They have influenced popular culture through movies, such as the film “Showgirls” in the 1990s, which depicted the behind-the-scenes drama of the entertainment industry.

Crazy Girls bronze statue at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas

In contemporary Las Vegas, shows like “FANTASY” and “Absinthe” continue the tradition of featuring talented and charismatic showgirls in their performances.

While the role and perception of showgirls have evolved over the years, they continue to be an integral part of the entertainment landscape, adding flair and spectacle to various productions.

Heller, Karen. “The sad demise and curious afterlife of the Vegas showgirl.” Washington Post, 4 Dec. 2018, washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-sad-death-and-curious-afterlife-of-las-vegas-showgirls/2018/12/04/122049bc-ec1e-11e8-8679-934a2b33be52_story.html
Caputo, Heather. “The Showgirl: A Las Vegas Story.” Nevada Magazine, nevadamagazine.com/issue/winter-2022-2023/21308/
Chung, Su Kim. “Fishnets & Spotlights: The Legacy of Las Vegas Showgirls.” University of Nevada, unlv.edu/news/article/fishnets-spotlights-legacy-las-vegas-showgirls
“The Entertainers.” PBS, pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/lasvegas-entertainers/

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