Mind Caviar

"There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them."

-- Vicki Baum (1964)

Mind Caviar, Vol. 3 Anniversary Issue, 2002

Meet The Devil-Ettes
by Chris Hall

San Francisco’s Roxie Theater has been one of the city’s great cultural landmarks for years, playing host to everything from the latest art films to their annual “anti-Oscar” party to high-class porn films. But on January 17th, the whole place went straight to Hell-- gently guided into that infernal pit by the hands of twelve young women known as the Devil-Ettes.

The Devil-Ettes came to the Roxie to celebrate their third anniversary as San Francisco’s premier and only synchronized go-go dance troupe. That they managed to celebrate this anniversary can be considered an achievement in itself, given that the group “started off as a fluke,” according to founding member Baby Doe.

Chris pictured amidst the tempting delights of 
various Devil-Ettes
In addition, none of the current or past members have any formal dance training. The requirements for a Devil-Ette are the desire to be one, a commitment to practice, and a love of the music and dance styles of 60s go-go and lounge culture.

The first Devil-Ettes performance was put together as a one-time thing; nothing more than an entry in a talent show at a local club. But that one night snowballed, and soon they found themselves performing at nightspots and parties around the city. Their schedule is now about one show a month within the Bay Area, and they’ve performed twice at the Las Vegas Grind, a three-day celebration of 60s retro culture, and the 2001 Tease-O-Rama convention in New Orleans. [Ed. note: I saw them in New Orleans and THEY ROCKED!] In their home town, they have enough of a following to fill the house for two performances when they throw themselves a birthday party.

Devil-Ettes And it’s easy to see why they elicit such devotion; sitting in the cramped, crowded environs of the Roxie for my first-ever exposure to the retro charms of the Devil-Ettes, I was immediately swept away by the enthusiasm and grace of the performers. While none of them have the professional training that might allow for individual, technical pyrotechnics, the coordination and presence of the troupe as a whole makes that irrelevant.  The Devil-Ettes, as Baby Doe emphasizes, are a collective effort: “We’re not in it as individuals. We’re in it as a group of women trying to do this cool, fun thing and have a good time doing it.” To maintain the group impression, and to make the synchronized effects work properly, the Devil-Ettes have to maintain a fairly high number of members; they’ve numbered as many as twenty members, but the dozen is an ideal, nicely balanced number for them.
 “We do perform with less than twelve, but only occasionally. When we perform with less than twelve, the effect is quite different. Instead of seeing the overall picture … people start focusing on the individual, and that’s not what the Devil-Ettes are all about.”

But although the Devil-Ettes may steer away from emphasizing the individual, that’s far from saying that they’re homogenous. On the contrary, one of the truly wonderful things about watching the Devil-Ettes is how diverse they are in appearance. Almost every bodily shape or size, from impish petiteness to sensuous plumpness is represented somewhere in the makeup of the Devil-Ettes. When they hit the stage at the Roxie, their identical, silver-fringed dresses and plastic devil horns didn’t conceal the women’s different charms, but somehow emphasized and unified them into a greater whole. The impression is not of one woman repeated over and over, but of a large, very human tapestry of form and personality.  And each woman, in fact, creates a unique stage persona; one of the first things that distinguishes a Devil-Ette is her stage name. Baby Doe is The Hellcat; her fellow Devil-Ettes include The Catholic School Girl, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Assassin, and The Saucy One.

Devil-Ettes For the anniversary show, the Devil-Ettes presented a mix of dance and cinema; the women kicked the whole thing off with several dance routines to 60s surf and garage music, climaxing with their “Fan Dance.” Looking at each individual dancer in turn, the Fan Dance seems deceptively simple: each woman holds red-and-black feather fans that she moves back and forth over her body, above her head, or past her neighbor while moving in time to the zoomin’ sounds of 60s rock. Looking at only one Devil-Ette at a time, you could easily be forgiven for thinking “I could do that.” 
But the whole thing is carefully orchestrated, like a Busby Berkeley routine, and the movement of twenty-four fans forms an elegant, shifting wall of color and texture. It’s got a witty and flirtatious feel to it, laced with a gentle, playful sexuality that’s rare in either mainstream or alternative cultures.

Copyright © 2002 Chris Hall. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post in whole or in part. 

Chris Hall is a self-described cynic who lives in San Francisco, the perfect city for anyone in love with sex. He writes and edits book reviews for Maximum RockNRoll, and has been published in the anthologies Male Lust and Young Blood. He works as a volunteer at the California AIDS Hotline, trying to promote sexual health. Hall is a skeptic and a godless atheist, but in the right circumstances he can display a sentimentality that would give Frank Capra diabetes. His girlfriend is a zaftig sex goddess with very large breasts who lives in New York, a fact which inspires his one frustration with San Francisco. 

Email Chris with bribes, death threats, offers of sexual favors, job offers, and nude photographs.

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