December 11, 2013
The Watusi. The Chicken. The Mashed Potato. If these terms mean nothing to you, you’re probably not familiar with the world of Go-go dancing.
Not to be confused with Burlesque or exotic dancing, Go-go is a throwback to the 1960s, and it’s experiencing a resurgence in Perth.
Dancing troupes like Les Sataniques and Beehives Gogo are bringing the art of Go-go back to Perth, and ladies are swingin’ and shakin’ along with gusto.
Teagan-Marie Atkinson works as a hairdresser and stylist during the day, but at night she dons a beehive, fake eyelashes and Go-go boots and shakes and shimmies on the stage at Deville’s Pad as the head dancer of Les Sataniques. Now in her fifth year of Go-go dancing, she says she enjoys the liberation of go-go and the mixed bag of styles that Go-go offers.
“It’s got some cabaret moves, some Burlesque moves, and of course the classic go-go dancing moves,” Atkinson says.
“To me, Go-go is like the sexy exchange student of dance – a little bit of everything.”
Go-go dancing kicked off in 1964, when dancer Carol Doda started dancing at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles.
The dance craze soon spread across the USA, Asia, and even hit Australia; Denise Drysdale was one of the first big names in Go-go dancing.
“For performers at go-go dancing clubs, it meant that they could get paid in their own right and for their own work,” Atkinson says.
Atkinson attributes the popularity of Go-go to the legions of dancers performing on chart shows, such as the UK’s Top of the Pops.
“A lot of weeks the bands weren’t available to perform, so they had a dance troupe who would take that track and do a routine which would turn into dance crazes, like the Twist,” she says.
“Even people who had never bought a record could tune in and get to know the music and learn the dances.
“Go-go girls made the music accessible for everyone.”
While Doda was famous for dancing bare-chested, go-go dancing is not necessarily about garnering male attention, says Les Sataniques dancer Trish Downes.
“Go-go is for everyone,” she says.
“It’s not about impressing some dude in a corner.
“Go-go is about having fun and being cute and being sexy, but it’s not about being sexual.”
Downes previously worked with Sugar Blue Burlesque under the pseudonym Cherry La Pop, but says she joined Les Sataniques because she wanted to try something “more fun”.
“Burlesque is so crafted and about the image that you create, and it’s gotten to the point now where it’s not about the element of tease,” Downes says.
“It’s like: ‘Look at me, I’m about to get naked’.
“With Go-go, taking off your clothes isn’t even a part of it.”
Dancer Zoe Gypsy, of Perth Go-go troupe The Beehives, says go-go is an energetic dance that’s “not for the faint hearted”.
“I think Go-go is really great because it’s really non-self conscious, a lot of fun and very active,” Gypsy says.
“I also find it really versatile.
“While originally a ‘club dance’, we’ve run children’s workshops, we’ve performed at street festivals, with bands, to DJs, on boats, and in pretty much every other bizarre format you can imagine.”
Gypsy says she got into go-go at an early age, having a mother who was “a bit of a mod herself”.
“I grew up with her dancing around the house with me, although I had no idea that our ponying around was an actual dance move,” she says.
After choreographing routines in high school, Gypsy formed the Beehives GoGo troupe with Robyn Bailey and Taysia Crawford (known by their stage names Hazy Daisy and Wild Honey).
“The Beehives all have a really diverse dance backgrounds,” Gypsy says.
“I have a background in ballet, jazz, contemporary, lindy hop, salsa, samba and Burlesque.
“A lot of the other girls perform or teach in these styles, and then we have ladies with other talents like acrobatic and fire dancing.”
Atkinson stresses that while technique is not unimportant for potential Go-go dancers, it’s more about capturing the spirit and having that certain je ne sais quoi.
“With people who apply to be dancers, it’s not necessarily about technical skill,” she says.
“Go-go girls are meant to be the life of the party.
“Go-go is cool and sexy and fun.
“It’s more about a feeling and a vibe.”
Perth photographer Lisa Kyle, who joined Les Sataniques about two years ago, says the passion for Go-go is something that can’t be taught.
“Our job is to make people want to get up and dance,” Kyle says.
“You’re not going to do that if you just see someone swaying there, but if you’re shaking it and having fun and smiling, then people will be able to see that and respond to that.”
Kyle also says that an interest in the 1960s is important for potential Go-go dancers.
“More than the technique, what we’re putting out there is the attitude and the general atmosphere of that era so you do need to understand it, and what the dances were about,” she says.