Caged Swelter

Pamela Canellas's dancers jam into clubland

There are two dollar bills tucked into Pamela Canellas's cleavage.

A flurry of boa feathers sprouting from the base of her ponytail and floating down half the length of her five-foot, three-inch body, Canellas is working her French manicure into the sides of her red-sequined Charo getup. Here, in the privacy of the concierge's storage closet at Hollywood's swank Diplomat Hotel, she seizes the money, throws it on a rack next to tubs of economy-size Dove dishwashing soap, and peels off a long satiny glove.

"Ah, can you believe this? Some guy out there gave me money... two bucks," she says, rolling her eyes, the lids of which are dusted with gold glitter. "I mean, I never do this. I don't take money ever. I tell my dancers not to, but this guy was with his wife, and he was old... like, you know... he was just out trying to have a good time. He was smiling, and I didn't want to make him feel bad by rejecting it."

Colby Katz
Clockwise from top left: Canellas preps for a show; Canellas dons headgear; Hot Jam's Eva is caged; and Canellas assumes the pole position at ZuBar in Fort Lauderdale
Colby Katz
Clockwise from top left: Canellas preps for a show; Canellas dons headgear; Hot Jam's Eva is caged; and Canellas assumes the pole position at ZuBar in Fort Lauderdale

Canellas crinkles her forehead and moves the Velcroed fabric around like a jigsaw puzzle over her torso. "We call this the Britney," she says, arranging the outfit to resemble the green belly-dancing bikini Ms. Spears wore during an awards show.

"Two dollars, though?" she adds. "If you're gonna try to give us money, I mean, c'mon."

It's hard to argue with her. Canellas deserved more than meter fare. Earlier, at about 11 p.m., she and a dancer named Maria had emerged from this concierge closet in Ay Mommy outfits, throwing attitude around the ostensibly civilized Diplomat and clicking their Lucite heels across the marble floor. You could just feel the guests' cardigans droop as Canellas and Maria sashayed past, their backsides ballooning out of two teeny red leotards.

Staring at 30-foot, scalloped ceilings inside the mouth of Satine, the hotel's swank new lounge, they paused. The bellhops were chuckling, and a lone whistle complimented them. In an "It's showtime!" way, they shimmied into the club, mounted two glass-covered ottomans, and, to a disco beat, made the best of their three square feet. They wiggled and posed like showgirls trapped in phone booths: cutesy turns, winks, hip thrusts, and Vanna White arms.

Suddenly, the place went from looking like a rich couple's wedding reception to a real party. The houselights faded, and waiters stepped up their pace. Women dressed in sensible black tops and pencil skirts leaned over the bar, waving tens and twenties, ordering Manhattans. Sucking on thin straws, they scoped suits who might buy their next round of poison. The guys -- all soft-in-the-belly, corporate climbers -- floated around, standing behind the club's high-back chairs, talking absent-mindedly while their eyeballs locked on the dancing girls. The DJ spliced some Donna Summer, which struck a familiar chord with the patrons, who were now wagging their hips on the dance floor.

"When I go out there, I have to shine," Canellas explains later. "No one cares if you're having a bad day or you're on your period. This is about 100 percent presence. I see people here, like, who probably never let go. We're here to say, 'It's OK.'"

Canellas isn't the patron saint of good times; she has made a $267,000-per-year business out of helping people get down. Her company, Hot Jam Entertainment, books about 100 dancers and performers at elite clubs from South Beach to West Palm. With a massive wardrobe, Hot Jam promises to fulfill any fantasy a club owner can conjure. If Miami Beach's Krave wants rump shakers fit for a Ja Rule video, if Pearl needs model babes, or if Club Space calls for Raggedy Ann and Andy or Han and Princess Leia, it rings Hot Jam. This is the second year Canellas has held accounts with Broward County clubs, trying to infuse some cool into its pedestrian bar scene. Named after the prostitute in Moulin Rouge, Satine is trying to hook a clientele tired of Saturday night in the suburbs.

Alain Ricci, marketing director for Penrod Enterprises, which owns Satine, is optimistic. "A lot of people say, 'Why are you opening that kind of club here, in the middle of Hollywood? Why not [South] Beach, where it's less of a risk?' But there is a market here," he insists.

Cleve Mash, owner of Boca Raton's Club Radius, has brought in Hot Jam consistently since opening two years ago. "I'm not going to hire dancers and have the same ones every week," he reasons. "If you don't have variety, patrons go elsewhere. Pamela can send dancers for a pajama party tonight and a fetish party tomorrow."


There is no definition for club dancing in Oxford Dictionary of Dance, nor can the term be found in any other tome. The closest listing is à gogo, late '50s-era American Bandstand babes doing the jerk on a pedestal. Although history is murky, VH1 -- the most reliable archival source for such digging -- maintains that à gogo went the way of blue eyeshadow as baby boomers preferred to party with mother nature rather than remain cooped up in a club.

In the early '80s, thanks to Studio 54's trapeze performers and queens on stilts, go-go dancing experienced a brief renaissance. But it was largely upstaged during much of the decade by New York City's Club Kids, androgynous rats with tubs of Manic Panic and loads of drugs that invited a law enforcement crackdown that then led to a more antiseptic club culture. In the '90s, kids reacted to that by creating a nation of ravers; this group fragmented several years ago. Some went along with a corporate drive to sponsor lame, mass dance fests and brand-name, once-anonymous DJs. But many others, joined by hip-hoppers with gads of disposable income for VIP tables and Cristal, returned to the velvet rope.

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