“If I could only take one showgirl move to a desert island, it would be the shimmy shake,” says Kellita Maloof, demonstrating by way of tiny vibrations in her hips that build to create ferocious gyrations in her bottom.
Maloof is a former San Francisco Carnaval Queen and the founder of Hot Pink Feathers, a world fusion dance troupe rooted in Brazilian movements and characterized by burlesque and showgirl elements.
Hot Pink Feathers is as much about imparting joy as it is about choreography. The troupe is an all-inclusive community of women who span decades, dance experience levels, dress sizes and professions. Members include scientists, students, artists, CPAs and stay-at-home moms. Rehearsals and performances are a space for the women to connect, move, build confidence and accept their bodies.
Each Hot Pink Feathers rehearsal begins with a group shimmy shake.
“First it releases anything weighing your body and spirit down … and then as you continue the shimmy, you magnify what you’re calling in and the good you’re experiencing. It literally increases your pleasure,” she explains, still gyrating.
Real estate agent Cherish McClure loved to dance at nightclubs on weekends but had no formal training before joining the Hot Pink Feathers.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” she said. “In learning the routine I was asking my body to move differently than ever before. These movements were feminine, circular, articulated, sassy, delicate, poised, powerful, sexy and so much more.”
To further help women embrace “their true radiant essence,” Maloof launched a program called Showgirl Awakening to turn everyday women into insta-showgirls – but it’s not a training camp for the Las Vegas stage.
“I believe as each individual woman wakes up to how powerful and gorgeous she is, she’ll start taking care of herself exquisitely, her cup will be full and overflowing, and everyone around her will benefit,” says Maloof. “The expression, ‘when mama is happy, everyone’s happy’? I’m making mama happy! So I do see this as world changing. I’m changing the world here one shimmy at a time.”
During the course of a few weeks to months, the program (prices range from $200 to $1,200 depending on the performance plan) integrates newbies into Hot Pink Feathers through weekly dance rehearsals, online training videos and optional spiritual coaching sessions with Maloof.
The program culminates in a Hot Pink Feathers performance, where the final showgirl element is put into place: the costume. While it has a big impact, there isn’t much to it, only a few crystal-encrusted bits of fabric lie between the tips of the dancers’ faux eyelashes and the soles of their metallic Capezio heels.
Stephanie Dominguez Walton, an Oakland mother of two, says her first reaction to the bikini-like costume was, “Oh my God! I thought, ‘Kellita looks great in that costume, but I don’t know about me.’ ” After attending the first rehearsal, she not only opened up to the costume but also changed her order from a full bottom brief to a thong.
“It’s like a sisterhood feeling the second you walk through the door, which is really pretty rad because when else do you get that? In the workplace? Not often,” she says.
From the intimate circle the women gather in each week to share their personal rehearsal intentions to the supportive attitude of the dancers – it’s common to see a veteran assisting a new dancer with the choreography – everything about the first rehearsal energized and emboldened Dominguez Walton.
“I’m not 25 and in a bikini anymore. I’m at a different stage of life, and there’s something really liberating about knowing that I’m going to be wearing fishnets, high-heeled silver shoes and a thong that just gives me some power,” she says.
Showgirl Awakening participants earned their wings over Memorial Day, performing three dances in the San Francisco Brazilian Carnaval parade. They gathered at 6:30 a.m. the day of the performance to apply the outward showgirl accouterments such as Dorothy-red glitter lips and a flowing ponytail hairpiece; the result was an immediate shift from everyday identity to showgirl persona.
In the staging area Maloof circled up the adorned and costumed showgirls for a moment of recognition. First-timers, like Dominguez Walton, were put in the center while veterans like McClure ringed the outside. In a showgirl version of a football huddle, they began pittering their feet, a small movement that built up to turbo speed until the two dozen dancers became a single undulating mass of magenta, turquoise and flesh, peppered by glints of sewn-on crystals catching the morning sun.
This place and time had been carved out for them to step up, stand out and shine – and they did. Along the parade route, once-shy women brazenly twirled their feather boas at the crowd and shook their voluptuous bodies proudly to the music, flaws and all. A few days later, after the glitter dust from Carnaval had cleared, Maloof noted that the biggest takeaway from the experience has very little to do with makeup, costumes or even dance: It’s tangible, embodied self-love.
“It’s not just a new idea about who I am. It’s a physical experience of my presence and my value and my whole body knowing it. I take it to my workplace, my family life and my encounters with strangers,” Maloof says, adding, “Confidence is a puny word to put on all that.”