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.

Theme parties or corporate events can cost thousands of dollars; price is typically calculated according to the number of costume changes. Cleve Mash of Club Radius in Boca says he usually pays Hot Jam $600 for three dancers who make three costume changes on a typical night. For the dancers, a typical night means arriving at a venue at midnight, an hour before the first performance at 1:00 a.m. They perform fifteen minutes every hour. "We just want to give a taste," Canellas says. "Besides, any longer and the makeup runs, the girls sweat."

Danny Danny, Hot Jam's costume designer, is a crazy-haired redhead with more fizz than a shaken soda can. On a humid day in mid-June, the designer, who does not have a last name, sits in the waiting room of Hot Jam's dance studio on Thirteenth Street between Washington and Collins. He's wearing royal-blue nylon pants, a fanny pack, and a tank top through which poke freckled skinny arms. Danny Danny is grinning because his mood meter is always tipped on the happy side.

The Pamela Canellas success story: Daughter of immigrants, single mom, talented dancer, hustling entrepreneur
Colby Katz
The Pamela Canellas success story: Daughter of immigrants, single mom, talented dancer, hustling entrepreneur
Hot Jam does Level
Colby Katz
Hot Jam does Level

Canellas is holding auditions this afternoon and he's come down to see the new crop. Above Danny Danny's head, on the bordello-red walls, hang pictures of dancers wearing his creations. "Bianka" is dressed in a red, white, and blue half-top and hot pants, flirtatiously waving the American flag. "Elsy" sports a pink, patent-leather cabby hat and rain slicker. And Canellas, curtsying like Shirley Temple, is decked out in a bust-enhancing leotard. Danny Danny has made thousands of costumes for Hot Jam; they fill Canellas's Coral Gables two-car garage from floor to ceiling.

The two met about ten years ago on South Beach; they're now roommates. "I knew Danny was a talent who hadn't yet been tapped," she says. "He used to get in trouble on the Beach -- you know, drugs. So I said, 'Here, come with me.' He was always at my house working on his designs, so I thought, 'Just move in.'"

At first Danny Danny talks softly, with a strong Spanish accent, then builds to a furious, giggling crescendo. I ask him what has been his most challenging design. "My favorite costume is when I design for the girls a beautiful skirt which becomes a giant serpent!" he exclaims, leaping up to mimic a skirt unfurling. "It was so beautiful! Like a big snake, er, that slither up the body. Very sexy. Very sleek." He runs his palm along his torso. "I want to enhance the girls' natural ... ah hum!"

When I laugh at Danny Danny's enthusiasm, he begins laughing too. A kid with Mark McGrath good looks whom Canellas eyed dancing at crobar is sitting in the corner. He asks us what exactly is meant by "training" on the Hot Jam information sheet that all auditioners must fill out. Mark, who has never seen a dance barre, is wearing white tube socks, black shoes, and wrinkled Dockers pants. I stick around and watch him. He demonstrates a male-dance-revue hip-grinding appropriate for any club's gay night.

Across the room stand two young women who are tucked, lifted, plucked, and stuffed into tiny midriff tops and hot pants that reveal a cleft in the rear. They chat busily about West Dade's Dolphin Mall, a club-wear gold mine.

But no matter how much flesh auditioners may flash, it doesn't matter if they can't dance. Later a woman shows up in cargo pants and T-shirt and mentions that she dances with the Miami women's basketball team's "Sol Patrol"; it's an old audition-intimidation strategy. Soon a vigorous debate has begun on whether the Sol dance squad is more talented than the Heat cheerleaders.

Just then Canellas bops out of her office and skips around, embracing everyone like a sorority president. She tugs on her Hot Jam T-shirt, which is tied just underneath her breasts, looks at the list of people to audition, and quickly chooses an unexpected Hall and Oates sample remix. "Okay, let's see what you guys got!" she laughs, drawing red velvet curtains between the studio and waiting room.

One by one, each dances freestyle for Canellas. The Sol dancer's moves are good and make a woman named Ana, whose business cards say she is a singer-songwriter, wonder aloud if she should change her footwear (go-go boots) or hairstyle (a curious Leaning Tower of Pisa up-do). If Tracey Ullman were to impersonate a Hot Jam hopeful, she might borrow Ana's outfit: a tiny black skirt, wide-hole fishnets, and a flowery shirt buttoned up several inches above her navel.

Employed as a singer at several Coral Gables nightspots, she describes her talent as "flamenco with pop qualities." Ana, a recent transplant from Los Angeles, says she worked off and on at various go-go joints on Sunset Strip. "I moved here because I'm Latin and I wanted to get closer to that," she says. "But this is so insane! It's like so crazy, you know, because L.A. has a street with a few clubs. But Miami has a street with twenty clubs! Who ever heard of such a thing? It's like a fantasy."

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