What is a Showgirl?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A showgirl is a woman who performs on stage in theatrical productions which typically focus on music and dancing, rather than acting. Showgirls are known for being extremely beautiful, as a general rule, and they typically wear extremely ornate costumes, classically with large headdresses which are heavily bedecked with feathers, beading, and spangles. While showgirls are probably most associated with Las Vegas, Nevada in the minds of many people, they can be found in many urban areas around the world.

Showgirls are most commonly associated with Las Vegas.
Showgirls are most commonly associated with Las Vegas.

In addition to being attractive, many showgirls are quite talented, as well. As a general rule, they have to be skilled dancers, as their performances typically involve dance routines, often coordinated routines with a row of girls. Many showgirls also sing, providing backup for musical productions and sometimes singing solos as well.

Being a showgirl is hard work. In addition to maintaining singing and dancing talents, a showgirl must also work hard to stay in good shape, since her costumes often don't leave much to the imagination. Many showgirls eat restrictive diets, work out a lot, and practice movement disciplines which are designed to keep their bodies toned. They must also contend with fierce competition for coveted spots on stage and in new productions.

The history of showgirls is probably quite ancient, as some form of dancing girl can be found in almost every culture imaginable. However, showgirls in their modern form really started to rise in the 1800s, when women performed in elaborate performances which were designed to showcase ludicrous costumes along with singing and dancing skills. Some of these performances were also quite risque for the time, with showgirls revealing a bit more leg than women in more polite society would have dared.

Several venues in Paris have become famous for their showgirls, perhaps most notably the Moulin Rouge. Las Vegas showgirls became a major attraction in the 1950s, when clubs started vying to outdo each other with elaborate performances featuring famous headliners. The rise of the monstrously large headdress also appears to have occurred in Vegas, as part of the overall trend towards making shows as lavish and memorable as possible.

In addition to performing on stage, a showgirl may also work as a glamour model, and most maintain a portfolio of glamour shots, promotional stills from their shows, and clippings from reviews. Several museums of labor history have recognized the important of showgirls within the larger context of the entertainment industry, especially in Las Vegas, and several of these organizations have extensive collections of showgirl memorabilia, from portfolios to costumes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It's very interesting to know that the history of showgirls dates back to such a long time ago. I guess it's not as recent as I thought. On top of that, the fact that they can be found in many cultures is very interesting. It's a perfect example of how many of the things we take for granted are actually known worldwide.


@Chmander - I definitely agree with you, although that doesn't just apply to showgirls, but to many women who are models as well. Due to the large amount of publicity, and the fact that they're always in the spotlight, they always have to keep a steady diet, as there are people who look up to them, even as role models.

Can you imagine how difficult that would be? For example, I know someone who works as a showgirl figure. They told me that they have to eat every two hours or they could lose their job. It's just a little example of how tough the industry really is.


Despite the rather ancient history of showgirls, does anyone else feel that they're usually under too much pressure? As the third paragraph of the article even states, being a showgirl isn't easy, especially when it comes to staying in shape.

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