Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, April 21, 2013

And Now...Here Are Some Can-Can Dancers

Woo boy. This week. Right? If you can forgive the liberal use of expletives, doesn't this pretty much sum up what we are all feeling? (Thank you fellow Northwest Girlchoir alum Lindy West)

But work-wise it was a pretty good week for me. I had several appointments with people wanting to donate artifacts and tell me their stories, and every one of them was a delight. Two who came in were there about John Doyle Bishop, so I got to hear tales of him dressing society weddings and sweeping around the Washington Athletic Club in a cape and gloves. But it was hard to top Tuesday, which was when I had two women who had just turned 70 come in and tell me about their careers as "Barclay Girls."

The Barclay Dance Studio had been around in Seattle for a while, but the "Barclay Girls" troupe became famous in the early 1950s when they started putting on shows for troops returning from the Korean War. Every time a ship docked in Seattle, the Barclay Girls were there. Rain or shine, doing a kick-line on the pier in fishnets and heels.

After the conflict ended they were mainly known for their performances at Seafair. Each year had a different theme and they would dazzle the crowd with various musical numbers and quick costume changes. And they weren't just shimmying and lifting their skirts: they were talented, versatile performers trained in multiple styles of dance.

The girls were quite young-- usually in high school or early college. Sometimes they would have to get dressed up and greet a ship early in the morning before school, and the two I met talked about getting a special ok from their teachers to sew sequins on their costumes during class. Wherever they performed they always had a chaperone with them (usually one of the girls' mothers), so while they may have gotten lots of hoots and hollers, watchful eyes kept anything more questionable from happening.

Ok, so there are some icky gender roles going on here with the men fighting a war and the women putting on a saucy show, but I'm going to lay that aside for a moment. Regardless of your gender or theirs, wouldn't you enjoy seeing a bunch of talented people in sparkly costumes put on a dance extravaganza? Isn't a cheerful kick-line just what we need during a week that has been as confusing and upsetting as this one? It doesn't fix anything, but it is a reminder that as dark as this world can be, it can also be full of feathers and ruffles and fun.

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