Dancing for Dollars

You've seen them at the clubs. Flamboyantly costumed, gyrating up there on a platform. Chances are good they're working for Pamela Canellas.

A couple of dollar bills are tucked into Pamela Canellas's cleavage. With 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 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 in 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."

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."

Colby Katz

It's hard to argue with her. Canellas deserved more than meter fare. Earlier, at about 11:00 p.m., she and a dancer named Maria had emerged from this concierge closet in these ay mami outfits, throwing attitude around the ostensibly civilized Diplomat, and clicking their Lucite heels across the marble floor. You could just feel the guests' cardigans shrivel as Canellas and compatriot 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 chuckled, and a lone whistle complimented them. In an "It's showtime!" way, they shimmied into the club, mounted two pedestals, 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 house lights 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 the 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-backed chairs, talking absentmindedly while their eyeballs locked on the dancing girls. The DJ spliced some Donna Summer, striking 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 okay.'"

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 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 couples dressed like Raggedy Ann and Andy or Han Solo and Princess Leia, a call goes out to 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 dancers 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 the Oxford Dictionary of Dance, nor can the term be found in any other tome. The closest listing is à gogo, late Fifties-era American Bandstand chicks 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.

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