Pussycat Dolls founder branches out from modest start
July 1, 2009

Tue, Jun 30, 2009 (2:05 a.m.)

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You wouldn’t know it by the bedazzled costumes, the car painted with “I (heart) PCD!” in the Palms parking lot or the fans gathered at the Pearl on June 27, but the pop girl group the Pussycat Dolls started out very modestly – with a single dancer in Christina Applegate’s basement.

PCD choreographer and founder Robin Antin was living with Applegate in Los Angeles in 1995 when she began exploring the idea of a modern burlesque troupe. Inspired by dancers like Gene Kelly and musical theater director Bob Fosse, Antin, a professional dancer herself, began spending her nights in Applegate’s home studio, developing what would eventually become the first Pussycat Dolls number.

Unlike most evolving choreographers, however, Antin debuted her new concept in front of an audience that included one very important guest: actor and Viper Room nightclub co-owner Johnny Depp.

“He just flipped out,” Antin remembers of showing her choreography to Depp inside the hipper-than-hip L.A. club. “I remember where he was standing, smoking, looking all hot.”

Soon, Antin was the Viper Room’s newest act, and along with a troupe of dancers that would become the Pussycat Dolls, the L.A. native was bringing back burlesque one weekly gig at a time.

“It was a new time of burlesque, a new fresh take on it. I was at the forefront of bringing it back,” she says.

Performing at the famous venue had its benefits. A regular night at the club saw celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio in the crowd, along with record industry heavyweights, and before long, A-list names like Carmen Electra and Gwen Stefani were volunteering for guest performances in the popular striptease show.

Today, the Pussycat Dolls are better known for hit songs like “Don’t Cha” and “Buttons” than slowly teasing off layers of satin and lace, but at the time Antin had a vision for where her troupe would go that had nothing to do with MTV.

“My idea was to take it to Broadway,” explains Antin, who lights up to this day with the idea of it. “I didn’t have it in my mind to start a band.”

However, a meeting with Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records changed all that.

While neither Antin nor Iovine knew exactly how to take the burlesque troupe from the nightclub stage to household name, she recalls his reaction to the Pussycat Dolls: “This is massive,” he told her.

Iovine’s assessment has proved true: Today, the Pussycat Dolls phenomenon has moved heavily into the realm of music. The five-some lead by Nicole Scherzinger scored a No. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Don’t Cha” and saw “Buttons” peak at No. 3, and with its popularity has come opportunities for expansion – a PCD lingerie line called Shhh, a reality TV show and a branded lounge in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace.

In fact, the first time Antin heard the group’s “Don’t Cha” on the radio she was in Las Vegas on her way to Pure for a hardhat tour of the under-construction Dolls-affiliated lounge.

Antin talks about the moment with genuine excitement, a smile spreading across her well-tanned face.

“It hasn’t changed,” she adds, recalling a stop earlier in the evening before the Dolls’ recent Vegas show. “I was at MAC getting makeup and our song came on…” Antin does a little victory dance in her chair, the smile returning.

Today, Antin does most of her dancing behind the scenes. Once, the choreographer was the obvious leader of the group on stage and off, but as the Pussycat Dolls have expanded in so many directions, Antin has had to take herself off the stage and somewhat out of the spotlight.

“(I had to) be the businesswoman,” she explains. “That was hard for me, because I’m a true performer.”

But being the businesswoman has also opened up new avenues for Antin. She’s become a talent manager for British singer/songwriter Matt Goss, and come August she’ll begin rehearsing with Goss for his September debut at the Lounge at the Palms.

“He’s literally one of the best male vocalists I’ve ever heard,” Antin says of the 40-year-old Goss, comparing him to the likes of Sting and Bono.

“Matt’s so undeniable. He doesn’t warm up like regular singers; he just starts singing. I’m telling you,” she laughs, “he’ll have women in the audience just crying.”

Between the Pussycat Dolls Lounge and Goss’ upcoming residency, Las Vegas has become a regular stop for Antin, who owns a condo in town and calls the city her “second home.”

“Vegas just felt like the perfect fit,” she says of her decision to open the Pussycat Dolls Lounge at Pure in 2005. Then, like a tourist visiting for the first time, she gushes for a brief second. “It’s so glamorous to me.”

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June 4 Las Vegas Sun article on the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend
June 4, 2009

TAKE FIVE: BURLESQUE HALL OF FAME WEEKEND:

Rich heritage of exotic dance

By Kristen Peterson (contact)

Thu, Jun 4, 2009 (2 a.m.)

ImagePUBLICITY HANDOUT PHOTOS

Burlesque legend Dee Milo, “the Venus of Dance,” who is now in her 70s, will perform Friday in the Striptease Reunion Showcase.

If You Go

  • What: Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend
  • When: Today through Sunday
  • Where: The Orleans
  • Admission: Prices for events vary, and some events are free. Weekend passes are available.
  • More information: burlesquehall.com or the Orleans box office, 365-7070

That the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend takes place in Las Vegas seems logical — what with the boas, the costumes and the Strip’s all-around “sex for sale” mentality.

But if this weekend’s events teach you anything, it will be that equating today’s pole dancers with yesterday’s burlesque performers is a big faux pas, especially among the women who carved out careers combining the artistry of theater, costuming, character and even comedy with the ol’ bump and grind.

“Burlesque is so big right now. It’s become this catchall phrase for adult entertainment,” says Laura Herbert, Burlesque Hall of Fame representative. “But not everybody who takes off their clothes is a burlesque performer.”

The Vegas-based Burlesque Hall of Fame celebrates burlesque’s storied heritage, its legends and today’s stars. It traces its roots to former dancer Jennie Lee, who formed an exotic dancers league in the 1950s as a way to advocate for strippers, and started collecting memorabilia.

The nonprofit organization moved to Las Vegas from Helendale, Calif., in 2006, bringing with it the costumes, photographs, programs, signage and accouterments from the heyday. The plan is to eventually have a permanent home for the collection.

The annual Hall of Fame Weekend is its biggest fundraiser.

Here’s a look:

1. Entertainment

Two main events are the “Titans of Tease Reunion Showcase” on Friday and the “Best of Burlesque” 2009 Pageant on Saturday. Tonight’s bowling party will include music by DJ Goo Goo Muck. All-night after-parties will be held each night. The Burlesque Bazaar held each day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. features an assortment of industry goodies.

2. Art

“Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School” is a live model drawing class hosted by Cha-Cha Velour from Vegas’ own Babes in Sin. Photographers of all levels can pay $20 to hop aboard a double-decker bus for an around-town photo shoot of burlesque performers at various Las Vegas sites.

3. Ladies (and gentlemen)

Performers from all over the world, including men, participate in this multigenerational hugfest in which retired dancers mingle with contemporary stars. Past events brought in Tempest Storm and Tura Satana. Dixie Evans, the former “Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque,” Hall of Fame curator, pageant founder and all-around burlesque historian, is always in the limelight. Many legends now living in Las Vegas, including Marinka, Gina Bon-Bon, Dusty Summers (the nude magician) and Big Fannie Annie, are featured. World Famous *BOB* and El Vez are among the hosts in this weekend’s lineup.

4. History

“Jazz and burlesque are America’s only true folk arts,” Herbert, the Hall of Fame representative, says. “Burlesque has its own language; it wasn’t taught in schools and most people just sort of found their way into it. It includes of a lot of history in terms of First Amendment rights, feminism, dance, pop culture, gender politics and music.”

5. Education

“Stars of Classic Burlesque Q&A,” moderated by Dr. Lukki and Tigger on Sunday, examines the legends of burlesque, many of whom will be at this weekend’s events. Props, costumes and other memorabilia on loan from the museum will be on display at the Burlesque Bazaar. The Burlesque Hall of Fame Finishing School on Saturday will offer courses on costume secrets and plumage and the art of undressing.