What is a Chorus Girl?

It is hard to define the origin of the historic “chorus girl” dancer. Some trace the them back to The Ballets Russes, or to the Can-can dancers of the 1800s music halls. Others have even suggested the origins go back as far as the Baroque era to ladies who acted as backup actors/dancers on stage during the great opera performances of the time.

For the purposes of vintage vernacular jazz dance, when we hear the term “chorus girl”, we often associate it with such imagery of the Ziegfeld Follies, Busby Berkeley, and the Goldwyn Girls. Many a famous female icon began their careers as chorus dancers, either in film or on stage in vaudeville. Names on this roster include legends such as Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers, Josephine Baker, Joan Crawford, and many more.

The Dance

Chorus girl routines often focus on synchronization of movement and footwork, highlighting this by positioning the dancers in long lines or complicated formations. Props were often added to create fun visual effects during dancing.

In Film

Classic clips also often featured elaborate sets and costumes. The Ziegfeld Follies were famous for these types of routines. Overhead film shots where the dancers create dynamic shapes and formations from a birds’ eye view became popular, such as those by choreographer Busby Berkeley.

In modern times, when asked what a "chorus girl" is, most of society likely thinks of The Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall, which to this day perform routines made famous in the 1920s and 1930s.

Some of our favorite vintage vernacular jazz steps include

  • Trickeration (made famous by the Queen of Swing, Norma Miller)
  • Fall-Off-The-Log
  • The Bees Knees
  • Truckin’
  • The Suzie Q

Bringing the Art of the Chorus Girl to Modern Day

Historically

Chorus Girls actually lived a hard life – many died young from alcoholism or drug addiction. They were constantly judged on their body measurements, pushed to dance long hours until their feet bled and with little pay, and faced many instances of sexual harassment and abuse in their daily work.

On top of all this, Hollywood historically (and in some cases still today) has had a long problem of whitewashing and pushing forward only white narratives on film.

Modern Times

As a modern chorus girl troupe, our goal is to be a more inclusive and empowered feminine dance team than history has seen.

We welcome and celebrate all body types and ages (21+) on Sister Kate. We welcome all genders and non-binary individuals who have a passion for high-femme performance and donning classic chorus girl looks in our classes and to audition for our team. We are actively seeking ways to diversify our company everyday!

We are also working to spread the education and historical awareness of this incredible dance form, which was created by BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color) individuals in the early 20th century.

Unlike our predecessors who were often forced into skippy costumes to please male patrons, our dancers get a say in how they present on stage. While we enjoy the tradition of (and help each other with) the classic heels, hair, red lips, makeup, and lashes, we respect and work within each other’s comfort levels in regard to body-presentation, while aiming to create cohesive and uniform looks. After all, we do these things not to conform to conventional/modern beauty standards but to honor and celebrate ourselves as artists.

We are proud to be taking back this art form and carrying it forward for the next generation.

 

 

Want to learn more?

Check out our blog and don’t miss our article celebrating Black History Month and all of the incredible women who helped shape this dance!

You can also see how Sister Kate performs these types of routines by watching some of our videos!