Smoking Showgirls

(by anonymous, 15 March 1998)


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Capades

I'd been a trained figure skater for many years and had always wanted to
skate or work for the Ice Capades in some capacity. After all, for many of my
amateur years I'd been involved in both the performing and production aspects
of producing major amateur ice show.  And partially because of Richard, the
show's director, who was a former semi-principal performer for the show, I'd
always known that the Capades was the show I would eventually work for.

For many years there was a healthy competition between the two major ice
shows. Ice Follies and Ice Capades, as to which was the better production,
whether it was the production themes or the skating stars that were signed
that year. More often than not. and in most cases there was no contest; Ice
Capades was considered the better of the shows by far. earning the title
"Show of Champions"! It didn't hurt that the Capades was owned by Metromedia,
whose C.E.O. was John Kluge, the richest man in America (before Bill Gates),
and Chairman of the Board of the Shubert Organization. Besides his desire to
develop the country's 4th broadcast network was for the Capades to be the
preeminent theatrical presentation worldwide!

Anyway. throughout my years of training as a figure skater I'd always been
totally anti smoking, even though my parents were heavy smokers themselves.
Dad giving up the habit was a real surprise. but Mom wouldn't give up the
habit/addiction 'til years later.

But during my college years in the Boston area I was exposed to many smokers
that really seemed to enjoy their habit. and as a result my objections seemed
to wane.

During the summer, I was fortunate enough to spend time in New Haven, CT
while the show was rehearsing its' new edition to open in Atlantic City about
a month. But during those rehearsals I had ample opportunity to observe the
skaters smoking. Skaters smoking? That's right. skaters, athletes, smoking.
and enjoying it too!

But even though I was so "anti smoking" in the past. it was a new experience
to see so many "athletes" smoke, and enjoy it so much. I wanted so much to
work for the Capades and therefore I just learned to accept the smoking
aspect of its' performers. More honest was the fact that I found the
performers' smoking habit to be a real exciting aspect of my desire to work
with them on a regular basis!

Even though I'd spent many hours and days with the Capades in rehearsals in
both New Haven, CT as well as Atlantic City. nothing could prepare me for the
number of skaters that I discovered were smokers!

It was after the show opened in Springfield, MA that I got the call I'd been
waiting for. that there was an opening for a skater with my qualifications!
At last, my opportunity had come! My parents wanted to come watch my "big"
audition, but I knew it was something I just had to do on my own. So I drove
to Springfield, parked the car and found my way to the stage door entrance at
the Civic Center. After a few questions I was able to make my way past
security to the backstage area and meet up with a couple of the performers
I'd become friends with. It was very reassuring to hear their encouragement
upon learning I was in town for my audition. 

Well. to make a long story short. the audition was nothing more than a
formality, and I got the all-important call from the company manager a few
days later. So the next day I packed up my new car and headed to Toronto to
join my new cast mates for my introduction to the show as one of its' new
performers.

The first thing I was hit with was a rehearsal schedule from Cliff, the
Performance Director. He let me know right away that I was expected to learn
all the choreography real quick so he could fill my skating role a.s.a.p.!
Cliff's position was that the new skaters either learned the routine real
quick or not at all and he wasn't in his position to waste any time. So the
next morning I met him at the building, at 9:00am, for my first official
rehearsal. It helped a lot that I had spent so much time visiting friends
with the show that I already knew the basic layout of the show.

After a full day of learning the choreography for the opening production
number, I was certainly ready for some time on my own. At last I would have a
chance to relax a little bit and get to know my new friends. It was great
timing that during intermission a couple of my new cast mates suggested I
join them for a few drinks after the show. at that point I welcomed the
company, as well as a chance to share notes!

So after the show we all headed back to the hotel where we were all staying.
My first stop was to my private room, which I really couldn't afford, so I
could freshen up my makeup and change into something a bit more appropriate.
I'd already learned to follow their example. I was really nervous for the
night ahead, as I wasn't much of a drinker.  But I knew I had to at least
make an attempt at fitting in with the group, so I headed downstairs to the
bar to join what I hoped would be my new friends.

My first surprise was that, after we all sat down at an available table, all
the girls reached into their pocket books and pulled out cigarettes which
they immediately lit with lighters which seemed to appear from out of
nowhere. Although this wasn't a total shock, I did seem a bit perplexed by
their behavior considering I was the only one that didn't follow the example.
And it didn't take long for someone to notice. Lori immediately asked if I
had ever smoked, to which I replied no. I told her that although I had grown
up in a house full of smokers but that I had never even been curious about
trying it. At that point she started to tell me why all the other girls in
the show smoked. It was then that I was told that all the girls, upon joining
the show, were given a "set weight" which they had to maintain. And that
every Thursday night before the show weigh-ins were held. The reasoning was
that if your weight varied any more than three pounds, plus or minus, that
the costumes wouldn't fit properly. If you fell outside your "grace" you were
given a warning.  After three warnings you could be terminated!

It was the next day, during my private rehearsal with Cliff that he pulled me
aside. I was almost shaking, thinking that he was going to fire me on the
spot for not being able to learn the choreography as quickly as he wanted,
when he told me to step on the scale in the girls dressing room. My heart
almost dropped when the scale displayed 124 pounds! In my life I'd swear I'd
never been that heavy before. but it didn't matter. Especially when Cliff
told me that based on my height I should weigh only 112 pounds to fit in the
line. He only made matter worse when he told me I had two weeks to drop the
excess weight before he would drop me. 

I pretty much kept to myself during the performance that night. I just didn't
know what to think. It seemed impossible to me, that after all the years of
waiting to get to this point, that Cliff would tell me I had to either lose a
few pounds or lose the job I'd always dreamed of.  So after this rehearsal
session with Cliff, all I wanted to do was get back to my hotel room and have
a good "cry" which I did. After a bit, I decided the best thing for me to do
was to take a nap in order to recharge myself before the evening performance.
After waking up, and refreshing my makeup I changed clothes before heading to
the civic center for the show. It made me smile with the welcome reception I
got from the other girls, along with their invites to join them after the
performance. I really needed the reinforcement at that point because I was
still a wreck after what I considered a disastrous rehearsal session.

I spent the whole performance out in front of the house with Cliff and
Debbie, our Ballet Captain, watching the show and taking a lot of mental
notes. Neither one said a word about my needing to lose a few pounds but I
was a wreck anticipating what they might say. It felt like the shows'
performance that night couldn't end soon enough! 

At last the show was over and we all headed back to the hotel where we were
staying. It seemed like only minutes later that the whole company piled into
the hotel's bar to unwind and let loose. I quickly grabbed a seat with the
girls I'd been with the night before, partially because I felt certain
camaraderie with them. Just as before, as soon as we all sat down all the
girls lit up cigarettes. I have to admit that one of the things that struck
me immediately, although probable unconscious at the time was how beautiful
they all looked. The only brands any of them smoked were Benson & Hedges or
Virginia Slims. it seemed it was an unwritten rule that showgirls only smoked
all-white 100's because of the way they looked.

After placing some quick drink orders, the conversation quickly turned to me
and asked how things went at the earlier day's rehearsal. I guess I was at a
point where I just couldn't contain myself any longer. So at that point I
proceeded to tell them all about my conversation with Cliff about dropping my
weight, or else! Without hesitation Lori, Karen and Kathy chimed in with
stories about similar conversations with Cliff when they joined the show. At
about the same time they all revealed that it was the same reason they all
started smoking. it seemed that it was almost a "right of passage" for a
showgirl to survive long term as a performer.

At that point, after listening to the three of them share their stories, and
feeling so insecure about my future with the Ice Capades, it didn't seem like
such a stretch to accept the cigarette that was so quickly offered to me.
I'll skip all the initial reactions I had at first. but just let's just say
that my mind was very receptive to anything that would save my job. I don't
remember how many drinks I had that night but all I know was that after each
sip the smoking got easier and easier. To my surprise, not only was I a quick
study when it came to the Capades choreography, but my new smoking habit
seemed even easier with the eager coaches on hand for my initiation. It
didn't take long, maybe a few hours, when I felt the urge to own my own pack
of cigarettes, so I excused myself and went up to the bartender for change
for the machine which was only a few feet away. I felt such a rush at the
time. Here I was getting change so I could buy my first ever pack of
cigarettes. all mine! I chose the regular Virginia Slims that most of
my new friends smoked, especially as I found the menthol's to seem
too much like candy.

When I returned to the table a few of the girls had assumed I had made a trip
to the ladies room. but weren't surprised when I revealed my own new pack of
cigarettes! It would be an understatement to say they all were very
encouraging that I continue smoking. So much so that I had more than one
offer to sleep over with them for the night so I'd have the proper
encouragement to continue. At that point I'd had more than enough to drink,
still being a novice, so that it was hard to refuse their offers of
friendship. 

I still don't know how much I drank or smoked that night, but all I know is
that the next morning I awoke with this unusual craving, which I soon came to
understand, especially when Lori & Karen got up and immediately lit up. It
was like a dream revealed in that I immediately understood my new craving.
and without hesitation or question I reached for a cigarette of my own. Both
Lori & Karen smiled to themselves when they saw me scramble for a cigarette
of my own. Even though I still felt like a novice, I managed to light my
first morning cigarette without shaking too much. After that first inhale I
felt like I'd gone to heaven! And the applause I heard was all the
encouragement I needed.

Most mornings I'd have raced to the restaurant downstairs but this morning I
just didn't feel like eating. When I mentioned this to my new friends Lori &
Karen they were very quick to tell me that it was only one of the positive
side effects they found when they started smoking.  It seemed simple enough.
if I smoke more; I'll eat less!

After a few days of rehearsals with Cliff, during which he said nothing more
about my weight, I started to feel a whole lot more confident about my
chances of making it past my probation period as a performer. It wasn't until
Thursday night before the show that Cliff informed me that he expected me to
weigh in with the rest of the girls. A sudden sense of panic struck me. not
knowing what to expect. 

I still had a half-hour before weigh-ins, which were held just before our
"corrections" meeting. Our corrections meeting was held before every
performance to go over anything that the performers needed to correct in the
following show. I instinctively reached for my pocketbook and grabbed my
cigarettes, and raced to the backstage area where smoking was allowed and
immediately lit up my first "public" cigarette. I got more than a few
admiring glances from the stagehands in the area! Of course, just as I was
lighting up, Cliff walked by, but didn't say anything more than "make sure
you're not late for the weigh-ins". With that I took a few more really deep
drags. actually I think I ended up smoking the rest of my cigarette in record
time, and then rushed back to the dressing room so I wouldn't be late.

I got back to the dressing room just as all the girls were lining up in front
of Cliff and the obligatory scale. Lori and Karen told me not to worry but I
was a wreck nevertheless. When it was my turn, Cliff just looked at me with
his usual blank expression. So I stepped on the scale, awaiting his verdict.
was I ever surprised when he told me that I weighed in at only 114 pounds!
When Cliff saw the result all even he could do was smile and say "welcome
aboard"!

The next night before the show Cliff came up to me to announce that I was in
the show for that night. I then ran to the dressing room to get ready. When I
walked in all I heard from the other girls was a collective. "Anyone want a
cigarette to celebrate?"

At that point I knew that I was really among friends. smoking friends at
best! 


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