1 FEBRUARY 1963, Page 11

The Dancing Girls


(TT anyone were to keep a frequency chart of news stories that regularly recur in the popular Sunday papers, the Scandal of the Stranded Showgirls would win quite a high place—perhaps just above the Man Who Absconded with the Life Savings of Hundreds, but a little below the Girl Who was Sent Home from School for Wearing Stilettos. (it's the principle,' said the father: 'It's the floors,' said the headmaster.) I recall reading in the Sunday Pictorial an item about an impresario, married tole. Lebanese, who had just left England with 'nine beautiful girls' to do a show at a hotel in Beirut—the story being that people claimed the impresario owed them money, and that Equity, the actors' trade union, was not satisfied with the girls' contracts, and the implication, that the whole thing was a little shady. Three months later the People picked up the tale. The girls, now mysteriously reduced to six, were in Cairo, stranded, living on. coffee and rolls. The British Consul was paying their fares home.

In fact fairly large numbers of British girls go out to dance in the Middle East every year (exact figures are impossible to obtain, because of the fluidity of the whole business. Nobody is harder to pin down than a variety agent who engages in this sort of traffic). Most of them do not get stranded, and so do not make the Sundays. They answer advertisements in the Stage that ask for girls to go on tours, generally of a year or so, `abroad.' When no countries are specified, it is a fairly safe bet that it is the Middle East. No previous professional dancing experience, the advertisements often state, is required. The girls have to be reasonably presentable—by no means glamorous, but with no blatant physical deform ities—and that is all. They are given highly coloured accounts of conditions, both living and working, and are persuaded to sign contracts which give them virtually no protection, and are often quite pernicious (they may lose 30 per cent. of their weekly salary each time they are late for work). They find when they get there that they have to act as 'hostesses' first, dancers a long way second. Most of them stick it out, some because they cannot afford to come home, some because they find they quite enjoy the work after a time, anyway. Many stay for years.

There is nothing to stop an agent, or a hotel or cabaret manager, from coming here, picking up as many girls as he wants and returning home with them. There are certain checks on the send- ing of women out of England, but they apply only to those sent by licensed theatrical or em- ployment agencies. They vary from county to county. In London they are fairly strict and the place where the girl is to work has to be in- vestigated and approved before permission is granted by the LCC. Equity has very little control over the situa- tion, because most of the girls are not members. Members of the union have to insist on the stan- dard Equity contract for engagements abroad, and if they do not then they are expelled. But as the standard contract forbids hostessing, not many managements will accept it.

Hostessing means sitting with the unescorted male customers after the show, entertaining them with chatter, inducing them to buy drinks (real ones for the men; fake ones, more expensive, for the girls). What happens after the cabaret-spot or hotel closes is up to the girls. Sometimes they go off to another place, often one which has an arrangement with the cabaret-spot, where they both have real drinks. Then, perhaps, they sleep together; but often the men are quite happy just to have had the girl's company for the evening. If the girl does sleep with her client it is a private arrangement, nothing to do with the cabaret management.

This kind of cabaret-spot flourishes in the Middle East because for unmarried men there is virtually no scope at all for freelance philander- ing, except on a commercial basis; and married men have generally had their wives chosen for them by their families, and there is often no affec- tion at all between the two. If they do not enjoy each other's company, there is little point in their going out together : the wife stays at home with the children while the husband takes his pleasures elsewhere.

As for the girls, in spite of their protestations to the press, it is hard to doubt that most of them do go with their eyes open. If they read the Sunday papers, they must know what to expect. And on the same page of the Stage as the original advertisement, there was almost certainly a warning from Equity that they should always insist on their standard contract.

The difficulty in finding things out about the girls is that it is very hard to believe any- thing they say. To an extent they are professional actresses, and they have a standard line of inti- mate personal background to shoot. They talk feelingly of some deep unhappiness in their past, of how they were left in the lurch by the man they loved, and felt they must make a break with it all. They say they like their work, and they Probably do. The job is a skilled one; if their tally of drinks falls below their average on other nights, they feel a proper professional dis- appointment. Asked why they like it, they will say that they 'meet interesting people.' Discounting the crossed-in-love angle, the real reasons for their going East seem straightforward enough. Some wanted to dance professionally and could not find work in England; this is the next best thing. Others were looking for adventure and glamour.

Adventure and glamour : the things that the Popular press, television, the women's magazines are constantly urging us, blatantly or by implica- tion,On, to seek. Some girls look for it on the back of a fast motor-bike, some in Soho cellars where they undress to music. Others, more imagina- tive, decide to look farther—in Beirut, Cairo, aghdad, Nicosia, Teheran, even Istanbul. 1_1- You think that guts, independence and

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spirit of adventure are admirable qualities, then hard, with consistency, to blame them. And they don't care very much if you do.