Like the coyote and the fisher cat, the Boston go-go dancer is a nocturnal species that has returned in full force after a long period of declining numbers. And it's fair to say that Barbie Gilman is leading the charge. She's the in-house "creative connoisseur" at Royale, and has been hiring, clothing, and den-momming go-go dancers for over 15 years — going back to the days when Avalon and Axis ruled Lansdowne Street. While her own dancing days are long behind her, she has become the wizard behind the curtain — the one pulling the strings, fluffing the feathers, and making sure all the magic stays magical. We asked Gilman to drop some go-go knowledge on us. What you need to know is this:
A go-go dancer (ahem, performer) is not a stripper. "The biggest misconception is that they take their clothes off, " Gilman says. "That they take money, they're not smart, they're promiscuous, which is not true. My performers have actually gone on tour with really famous artists, are actresses and singers, and are really well known. It's pretty amazing seeing them grow."
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It's not about looks. Well, not all about looks. "What I look for in a girl [I book] is energy. Energy is number one," she says. "Someone who's going to give off that energy that everyone is going to feed off of. They're going to create that vibe and allure that people want and want to see and admire, that beauty from within."
If you're thinking about trying to cop a quick feel . . . "Don't. Do. It," she warns. "There's a very big security force."
And it's not likely you're going to score a post-performance date with one of the dancers, either. "They're walked to their vehicles," Gilman says. "Plus, they arrive in loungewear, and then when they perform they're dressed to the nines in, you know, hair pieces and eyelashes and lots of stage makeup. Then they leave in yoga-wear with no makeup, so you won't even really recognize them. It's like a different life."
Which is why the life Gilman and her girls create, for those brief hours in the club, is all about fantasy. "I have aerialists and sometimes drag queens onstage," she says. "Sometimes I have a bear running around onstage taking photos. It's not just some girl in a bikini and shorts standing onstage and calling herself a dancer. It's like live art; that's what I think it's all about. It's definitely changed from the '90s to now. It's more modern."
Try not to be that weird guy, because there's always one. "There was a patron who used to go to all the clubs and say that he was my brother and used that to get into all the clubs complimentary," she says. "And that wasn't the case. People would say, 'Oh, I met your brother, Barbie,' and I said, 'Excuse me?' "
Go-go girls dig them some Psy. "You know that song everyone's obsessed with right now?" Gilman asks. "The one with the Asian guy who raps?" Ah, yes, "Gangnam Style." "Yeah! The girls do a little choreographed number before the show . . . and they really like that song right now."