While the days when vivacious showgirls entertained the masses with their dazzling costumes and evocative dances are no more, a new generation of vedettes are intent on carrying on tradition. Among them are Latina and Latin American dancers who are reclaiming the sensual art form of their famed predecessors (think Olga Breeskin, Lyn May and Iris Chacón). Performing burlesque, belly dance and other cabaret-style productions at smaller clubs and theaters, these modern-day vedettes are preserving a once-revered source of entertainment and introducing it to new audiences.
“Back in their heyday, showgirls had celebrity status and big salaries. Today, they’re more likely to be local entertainers who perform in small venues or on social media,” Rico, a researcher behind the multimedia project to preserve Latin American showgirl history, Ficheraz, tells Remezcla. “They’re not celebrities anymore, but in a way that makes it more interesting. They’ve built a subculture by merging the styles and dances of former popular entertainment.”
From Latin America and the United States to Europe and the Middle East, here are some of the Latinas who are carving out a space for themselves in the 21st century’s showgirl scene.
Ginger Valentine is an award-winning burlesque dancer. She got her start in 2007 when she joined a small cabaret troupe in Texas. In the years that followed, the Tejana dancer has performed on stages across the globe, picking up trophies at the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, performing as the late Kitty West’s protégé in New Orleans, and touring for three years in the biggest international burlesque show—Dita Von Teese’s Art of the Teese and The Copper Coupe. When Valentine’s not performing, she’s teaching others about the art and dance of burlesque through Strip School, a monthly online training program; Member Strip, a flirty fitness and self-love program; and free weekly classes on Instagram.
Kamila Reis is a Brazilian-born samba dancer, belly dancer, personal trainer and model based in Dubai. She got her start in entertainment by studying samba at the Unidos do Porto da Pedra, a famous dance school in São Gonçalo. For the last three years, she has reigned as queen of the school. In 2005, she left South America to perform in Taiwan for two years and later in Dubai.
“In the Middle East, she is one of very few dancers of Afro-Brazilian descent, and she’s leading in the scene,” Rico says. In addition to performing on international stages and regularly returning home for carnaval, Reis also owns a sportswear brand called Kamila Reis Collection.
Born in Sonora and based in Monterrey, Purrrlette is a Mexican showgirl interrupting modest conceptions of womanhood popularly held in Mexico’s third largest city. She challenges the sexism and homophobia of machismo by regularly incorporating queer art into her routines and performing burlesque at gay balls. Inspired by the ‘90s and ‘00s aesthetic, her costumes often include glitter, velvet, fur, plastic fabrics and stickers.
“She likes to do whatever she wants, and burlesque gives her that freedom,” Rico says. When Purrrlette is not performing, she is preserving the history and art of Mexican showgirls by teaching classes on the topic.
Cristina Davila is a Colombia-born and New York-raised belly dancer. She currently lives and performs in Abu Dhabi, entertaining at the biggest venues and swiftly becoming one of the most influential dancers in the scene. Her rapid rise to stardom is attributable to her talent as well as how she respectfully merges different cultural styles of dance.
“Instead of sexualizing it, which is what a lot of performers do, she adds interesting touches to be both respectful of the art forms and make them more entertaining,” Rico says. She famously adds props into her routines, including fire instruments and feathered fans.
Gatita Negra is an Oakland-based Afro-Puerto Rican burlesque performer. While she started performing just three years ago, Gatita Negra has already danced on international stages, including the annual Panama Burlesque Festival. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has used TikTok, Instagram and OnlyFans to produce her own styled, choreographed and recorded performances.
Growing up, Cuban-mexicana Frostine Shake was always influenced by the glitz and glamour of 1940s Havana and 1960s Las Vegas. At the time, though, both seemed so far from her reality. In her native South Texas, she first practiced ballet. However, as a curvy child, she was often told that she didn’t have the body for classical dance. Ditching ballet, she later joined the first roller derby in the Rio Grande Valley, the Texas Rolleristas, which introduced her to her first burlesque troupe. She founded her own troupe in 2006.
“Considering how conservative the area is, audiences appreciated what she was doing but it was still difficult for them to understand it,” Rico says. She ended up moving to the Dallas Fort Worth Area where she pursued a degree in fashion and changed her focus to vintage showgirl art, photography and aesthetic. Today, she performs burlesque and produces stunning self-portraits inspired by the golden era of vedette entertainment.
Marie Devilreux is a London-based Brazilian burlesque performer, model and designer. As a performer, Marie combines various different styles, including feather fan dance, aerial and fire tassel twirling. With a degree in fashion, she also owns a costume design business, Dressed to Kill You, and frequently makes her own latex performance ensembles. While Marie has performed on stages all over the world, she can regularly be spotted at London’s largest venues, including Proud Cabaret.
Known as the Queen of Hips and Heart, SpICE! is a South Central Los Angeles-raised and Seattle-based burlesque dancer of Panamanian and Belizean descent. She broke into the scene in 2014 and is currently a core member of the troupe The Atomic Bombshells. She has performed at venues and festivals throughout the country and has picked up awards along the way. In 2019, spICE! became the Diamond of The House of Knyle and was crowned the 2019-2020 Bronze Beauties of Burlesque Ambassador Queen. When she’s not performing, SpICE! teaches a Hips Don’t Lie dance course and lends her art to uplift community fundraising efforts.
Texas-based Chicana performer Honey Sabina has been a professional entertainer for more than 20 years. She started training in Polynesian dance in Mexico City, following in the footsteps of Mexican vedettes like Lyn May and Tongolele, in the year 2000. Soonafter, she participated in The Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai’i, the largest hula competition in the world. In 2012, she started performing burlesque, joining some of the biggest troupes in Texas. As a performer, she often merges Tahitian dance into her burlesque routines. She also adds a modern twist to her mid-20th century vedette aesthetic. “She’s heavily tattooed, which I think is interesting because we don’t tend to see that. It’s refreshing. You see her and say, ‘she’s a 21st century showgirl,’” Rico says. Currently, Honey Sabina is a member of The Bad Girls Club, a Dallas-based group of burlesque entertainers that raises money for local charitable causes. Additionally, she founded and runs Mazmorra Productions, a production house providing a platform for performers of color.