When I was a Las Vegas style dancer…

Often female friends or people I meet while traveling, will say that they don’t know how I travel all by myself to other countries – that they’d be too scared to do that on their own. I can’t say that when I travel on my own I’m not nervous, I am, but I refuse to be held back from discovering the world because of fearing of doing it alone. And I suspect a lot of that comes from an experience, in 2002…an experience that was extremely scary but one that made me strong and know that I can stand up for myself, on my own – even when it’s really hard to do so.

To cut a very long story a bit shorter, I decided to take a year off after undergrad before starting grad school and was hired to work at a resort in Mexico to be a part of the “Sports & Entertainment team” with a primary job of teaching fitness classes. 3 days after convocation, I flew to Puerta Vallarta was picked up by new boss, Chava, and driven to Manzanillo where the resort, Karmina Palace, was located. Chava gave me a tour of the resort…a 5 star golf and spa resort that is GORGEOUS. He showed me where all the activities took place (volleyball, mountain biking, aqua aerobics, kayaking, etc) and explained that I would be expected to rotate each day through all the activities and be leading the guests in them. Oh, and the fitness part that he had promised me? Shrugging his shoulders and pointing, he said, “Oh, yeah, well, you could try leading a class at noon down there…”. “Down there” was on the dance stage that was in full sunshine and it was July…in Mexico. Right, perfect conditions to be doing an aerobics class. Red flag #1.


Then I was introduced to the rest of the staff. 2 other Canadian girls, 1 Puerto Rican and the rest Mexican. It was a cool welcoming from the girls (especially the Mexican ones) but the boys were VERY friendly. One of the Canadian girls came up to me and aggresively said, “Do you speak French?”.  Her name was Marie-Michele and she was from Quebec city and was a hard core Quebec separatist (believes Quebec should separate from Canada!) – normally someone who I would stay the hell away from…but who, over the next few days and weeks, became my best friend out of survival needs.

By that afternoon, I understood that my job at the resort was not fitness and was not even really Sports…it was Entertainment. My days consisted of 4 hours of dance rehearsal with the team in the “studio” pictured below (that is Marie-Michele leaning against the mirror), 4 hours of playing sports with the guests, and then performing in the evening show and then dancing with the guests in the resort’s bar until at least midnight. 6 days a week. However, if they needed me to dance on my day off, I was required to do so. And I was paid $15 USD per day.  PER DAY.


And, because I’m sure you’re wondering, NO, I can’t dance. Never told them I could. What seemed like my first night there (but was probably a few nights in because I actually had to learn the dance) I found myself on a stage, wearing the MOST ridiculous costume ever (see below and yes, laugh as hard as you need to), dancing in front of a soccer coach’s conference with hundreds of Mexican men in attendance.


I was terrified – I had never done anything like this before. And then at the end of the show, the men rushed the stage. I thought I was going to get killed. But it turned out (I need to pause here because this still makes me laugh out loud), they wanted our autographs…especially the white female dancers. 

Because this story is so ridiclous, I’m not even really sure how best to tell it so I’m going to divide it into topics:

Dance Practice: we had a choreographer, Gil, who was the MOST flamboyant man I have ever met in my entire life. The first day I walked into the dance studio, he looked at me and said, “You’re fat. You need to lose 20lbs”. I snapped back, “Um, no, I’m Canadian, we need the extra weight to keep us warm”. Gil hated me at the start because I had never taken a dance class in my life, didn’t know any basic dance steps, and because I was “so big”, the boys (and I mean BOYS) struggled to lift me – and yet somehow he had to put me on stage at night. Here’s a pic of two of the guys (Carlos and Antonio) who had to try to lift the giant Canadian girl. Their arms would literally shake and their faces would turn purple! LOL!


Pipsqueaks, really. But every time Gil would lose it on me, he would rage at me in Spanish and when his rant was over I’d calmly say, “Gil, remember, I don’t speak a word of Spanish”.  In the end, Gil and I learned to really appreciate each other – I was the only one who would call him on his BS which he respected – he knew he was a Prima Donna in the dance studio.

Performances: There were performances 6 nights a week – the other night our team ran a casino for the guests (try running a black jack table when you don’t really know how to play the game AND you don’t speak the language of the guests!!). The dance costumes were unreal. They were one-size fits all (and we’ve already been over the fact that I did not look like the other girls who were all dancers) and VERY skimpy to begin with. The only costume that wasn’t skimpy was the zebra one that I had to wear on Lion King Night (which was every Saturday). And really, while it fit me the best, it was the one I loathed the most. It was about 95F at night and I KNOW they never washed the costumes. So disgusting.

Ok, get ready to laugh some more. I wish I had pics of all the costumes but this was 2002 – before smartphones and before digital cameras…

I’m second in from the right. Do you see how high up mine goes compared to the other girls? 


Again, I’m second in from the right and about 30 seconds after this picture, I would whip off the skirt and top and look like the girl on the far left…except…well, more would be showing on me.


And then the best one EVER. I hated my life. LOL! I literally had to prance across the stage.

 

After the performance, we were required to go to the hotel dance club and dance with the guests. The rule was, if one of the guests asked you to dance, you had to say yes. Do you know how disgusting and scary that is??
 
And then one day, Chava came and told us that the hotel wanted to do some promotions in Guadalajara and that 6 dancers (3 female, 3 male) would be chosen to go represent the hotel and perform at various locations in the city. I just tuned him out because why would I, the crappiest dancer of all, be chosen…but then suddenly I heard my name being called along with Marie-Michele and Christina…right, the 3 white girls. I’m not kidding, I think I heard the other girls hiss at us. And I don’t blame them.
 
This trip was the most hilarious thing I have ever been on. We were treated like rock stars everywhere we went. And then, after performing at the Hard Rock Cafe (in a costume gone terribly wrongseen below)
 
we were asked to perform on National Mexican Television…yes, I danced to Ricki Martin’s “She Bangs” in front of an entire country. Can you say that?? LOL!  This was us after one of our shows…Gil is the one STILL wearing his performance make-up which he LOVED.
 
 
 
Sports with the guests: this was just comedic. So I was there in the summer and 90% of the guests were Mexican or Spanish and I spoke not a word of Spanish and few of them spoke English. And yet I was REQUIRED to approach guests and ask them to play volleyball with me, go mountain biking with me, go on a kayak tour…you can imagine the titillating conversation that occurred during these activities…yeah, a lot of nodding, pointing and smiling.
 
The truth about it: It was terrifying. 
 
The culture is male dominated. Women are to be submissive. When I wouldn’t accept the “advances” made by the males on my team, I was instantly ostracized (what woman says no to a man?). Carlos, the ring leader, and a few others, were heavily into cocaine and their mood swings were unreal. And I had to live in a villa with his room right across the hall from mine – no locks on our doors. I shared a room with Marie-Michele and we protected each other. Carlos had the guards at the hotel under his control (because of the drugs) so they would lie for him all the time and say that I wasn’t reporting for duty at certain times of the day or that I was places in the hotel I shouldn’t be – all lies, but it would get me into trouble with management. If I was playing volleyball with the guests, Carlos or Antonio would whip the ball at my head – once, one of the Spanish guests came up to me and said, “You need to leave this place. It’s not safe for you”. 
 
And I didn’t make it easier on myself. When I was being disrespected I fought back, I spoke my mind, I met with Chava and explained the crap that was really going down with his staff, I spoke with HR (who, by the way, had taken my passport from me on my first day). But it all fell on deaf ears. 
 
Then I turned to the Mexican girls on my team and I said, “Why do you put up with this? The way we’re being treated is not right and you don’t need to stand for this!”. What they said, really hit me hard: “Jane, this is probably the best job we will ever have. It pays well (!!), we have room and board paid for and it’s safer than most places in this country. So we keep our mouths shut and just work”. Wow. Point taken. So I started to just fight my own battles. 
 
But it was hard. I literally had to watch my back at all times. And eventually, even though I was on an 8-month contract, and I never quit things I start, I had to admit defeat after 7 weeks. For my own safety I needed to get out of there and go home. But let me tell you, quitting there was not pretty and involved visiting government buildings guarded by armed men and staff who spoke no English to get my exit visa and dealing with pissed off management – including Chava. Marie-Michele left 2 weeks after I did. 
 
The one shocking thing that happened on the day I left was when Carlos shook my hand and said, “I know we don’t like each other. But I have to say, I have respect for you. You stand up for yourself.” That meant a lot to hear that.
 
There are so many other crazy stories I could tell, but this is already almost a novel. You got the basics. I also did meet some really amazing locals who really tried to help me – but their hands were tied.
 
When I was back, safe, in Canada, I at first spent a lot of time sitting in public places by myself. I literally was craving the sound of English and being able to be somewhere very public and have no one stare at me or whistle or make catcalls.
 
I eventually learned to laugh at the experience and really, tell me that’s not a great story to tell!? But probably what it did for me most was let me know how much I was capable of doing. I was there on my own, at age 24, going through hopefully the most terrifying thing I’ll ever have to face. So traveling on my own now in Canada, the US and stable European countries? Piece of cake. I will however, NEVER return to that country. The corruption and how it is forced to operate is not something I ever want to be potentially caught up in again. It’s just too scary.
 
Have you ever worked at one of these resorts?
 
Have you been to one of these resorts and enjoyed the dance shows!? 🙂
 
What’s one of the scariest travel stories you have?
 
Happy Tuesday!!
 
**ran 7 miles this morning in VERY humid weather…AM SO THIRSTY!!! 🙂
 

5 thoughts on “When I was a Las Vegas style dancer…

  1. Pingback: My stick wielding skills, my dancing partner, and the end of an incredible season! | 50statecanuck

  2. Pingback: The surprise proposal, breakfast of champions and I will be running with Cheetahs!!! | 50statecanuck

  3. runn247

    This is such a crazy story. There is so much to it. And, like you said, there is much more. Yes, start writing your book before you forget any of it. You just couldn’t make this kind of stuff up. I’m very glad you were safe. Though, you do need to post more pictures of that costume!! 🙂 I look forward in hearing more about it some time down the road.

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    1. 50statecanuck Post author

      Marie-Michele and I were talking this weekend about how it was just pre-smartphone days. So there are very few pics and no videos…we agreed that that might not be a bad thing!! lol

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