What Is Go-Go Dancing?

by John Cagney Nash
Low angles add high drama to the art of go-go dancing.

Low angles add high drama to the art of go-go dancing.

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Go-go dancing is paid, performance partying. Employed dancers in nightclubs, raised above the patrons on podia or on mechanisms suspended from the ceiling, are expected to convey a sense of abandonment and excitement to their audience through carefully-rehearsed lack of restraint.

History of Go-Go

The originators of the go-go dance are thought to have been the female patrons of New York City's Peppermint Lounge who, in the early 1960s, took to climbing on the club's tables to dance the twist. Given that the fashion of the time was mini- and micro-skirts worn above knee-high boots, the view was not unappealing. Promoters did not miss this fact; they started to hire women to dance on small raised podia around clubs.

Lord -- or Lady -- of the Dance

In 1964, Carol Doda, who was to become the world's preeminent exponent of the art form, climbed onto a table in the Condor Club in San Francisco, California, and took the table dance a step further: She danced topless, her silicone-enhanced chassis doing much for the club owner's bottom line. By the following year, go-go dancers were a permanent fixture in most West Coast nighteries, including the storied Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The Whisky invented the idea of suspending dancers in cages from the ceiling.

Go-Go in the Far East

This was also the era of the Vietnam War. The fashionable dance craze swiftly crossed the Pacific to Saigon, where go-go dancers in bars were also, almost invariably, prostitutes; American servicemen were fully entertained. The practice became a permanent part of the entertainment scene in the Far East, and by the 1980s -- when Vietnam and Thailand were reinvented themselves as the sex capitals of the world -- go-go clubs had became a tourist attraction of themselves.

Go-Go in the West

In the West, the fashion for go-go dancers dulled somewhat in the early 1970s, but came back with a vengeance when disco swept sanity aside. Promoters took to installing platforms randomly around their venues so attention-starved patrons, flushed with Dutch courage, could climb up and work for nothing. The ecstasy-enhanced raves of the late 1980s and '90s relied heavily on go-go dancers to lead dance floors: Girls wearing black-light bikinis, glow sticks -- and little else -- gyrated happily in cages and on trapezes slung above dance floors, waving toy ray guns and wreathed in light strings that pulsed with the beat. They remain a fixture in even the most sophisticated venues, albeit without the ray guns.

Go-Go Dancing Now

Go-go dancers must be 18 years of age to be legally allowed in licensed premises, and managers almost universally insist they be 21 to avoid any potential for problems. To further avoid wasted time and time wasters, most club promoters do not hire directly; instead, they use agencies to source and audition dancers on their behalf. Professional training is not as imperative to a go-go dancer's success as is being able to communicate that she is having a great time through the medium of dance. That said, wicked moves are not enough. Diva hair, make-up and regalia are de rigueur, and pasty is not encouraged: Dancers must be fierce. Naturally the women must also be beautiful, and look physically fabulous in less-is-more, eye-candy clothing.

Go-Go Dancing as a Profession

Fitness is also important, and not just for appearance -- the work is hard and demanding. Girls typically work three or four 15- or 20-minute sets an evening, starting around midnight. Promoters discourage dancers from drinking, because rhythmic drunken stumbling is not go-go dancing. Further, leaving a venue where you have been gyrating almost naked on a raised platform under a spotlight isn't the safest part of the job; doing so drunk at four in the morning is quite likely to truncate a dancing career.

Photo Credits

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