June 21, 2010
Tonight I popped an old Pleasure Island Explosion dancer VHS tape — the only video I have of P.I., sadly — into a raggedy old VCR. And I giggled at my younger self. I thought I was so bad back then. We all did. The P.I. dancers were hot stuff, boy. You couldn’t touch us if you tried. And we were not ashamed to wear it proudly.
It was the best job I’ve ever had. Most of us used it as a stepping stone, and then went on to dance with celebrities or become one Cris Judd, for example or marry one or whatnot.
The rehearsal process took six weeks to learn the 13+ numbers in our repertoire. Learning how to do helicopters or death drops at 12:30 a.m. might be something I do not miss. But once we were approved for show, our schedule was the deal. Call time was 6:45 p.m.(ish) and on the weekends our last number was at 1:15 a.m.; 12:45 a.m. on weeknights. That opened up our entire day to do any extra gigs we were offered. And, the bad azzes we were, we had the extra gigs. If we didn’t have gigs, well, we slept in as late as we wanted.
All I know is it was the only place I’ve ever worked where people couldn’t wait for the work day to start, where people argued/pleaded/bargained/fought to do each other’s work, and we had groupies and wannabes fighting equally as hard just to get in. As much as we vied for each other’s spots, we bonded like a family. Tried and true. To this day, even the most furious of foes shares a deep appreciation and respect for the other.
We wore next to nothing for costumes, but unlike the health-crazed phenomenon of today’s active people, we weren’t too concerned about eating cheeseburgers and French fries in between numbers if we had a break. Most of us could get away with it. Although, it wasn’t uncommon to hear one of the guys who had to throw us over his head holler: “Soups and salads, ladies!” Ah, Lew. God love ya. Wait — that cadence was never directed at me, right?
I had the privilege of training the dancers into the shows for several years. Occasionally I taught the auditions. I was present to hear casting directors say, “You need to lose some weight if you want to dance at Pleasure Island. Those girls’ bodies are snatched.” That was a polite one. A different casting director grabbed the waist of a female dancer at an audition and said: “You’re a little loosey goosey. You need to lose about 15 pounds, then come back and see me.”
I sat through the talks. I sat through the tears. I sat through the smiles when a potential contract actually was offered. And through it all, I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the extraordinary level of talent to which I was exposed.
Pleasure Island doesn’t even exist anymore. What a shame. I can remember when that place was packed shoulder to shoulder — outside the clubs — because the clubs were over capacity. Especially on Thursday nights. But no one cared because there was enough entertainment outside to keep everyone happy.
And now I sit behind a desk all day and try to manufacture some sense of corporate world etiquette. I try to keep my feet off the desk. I try to keep my music low. I try not to get distracted by the memories of the days when Da Funk didn’t mean the smell coming out of my trash can.
(Da Funk, choreographed by Michael Loring James)
If you worked at Pleasure Island with me and you’re reading this, please feel free to leave a comment or a memory here. I didn’t even touch on the specifics. Oh, and if you’re reading this and you didn’t work at Pleasure Island, you’re welcome to leave a comment, too. I don’t discriminate. And I won’t tell you to lose weight because your body’s not “snatched.”