The first time I was invited to a Hootchy Kootchy Girls class, I was nervous, excited, and had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Ten years later, being a member of The Hootchy Kootchy Girls Vintage Cabaret has not only helped me evolve into the person I am today, but it has also helped me find the strength to be a better mom!
What Started as a Hobby, Turned into a Passion
Erin Basta Chandler was living in New Zealand in 2006 when she decided to start The Hootchy Kootchy Girls Vintage Cabaret. With her professional dance experience, Erin was able to take her affection for dance and turn it into a stage performance that featured burlesque-style performances.
She soon drew a following and found that women not only enjoyed coming to the shows, but they also wanted to learn the art of cabaret too! Erin began workshops that were open to women of all ages, sizes, and dance experience.
Bringing Burlesque to Reno
In early 2011, Erin Basta Chandler decided to bring burlesque back to her hometown, Reno. “It was time for me to come back home,” said Erin. “I wanted to bring my passion for dance and The Hootchy Kootchy Girls to Reno.”
What started in a small dance studio has now grown into an evolving, empowering, sisterhood that stretches all over Northern Nevada.
Bringing the Past into the Present
But what exactly is The Hootchy Kootchy Girls Vintage Cabaret?
Erin describes these workshops as an opportunity for participants to:
learn about the art of Vintage Cabaret and how it differs from modern burlesque
develop the basics of how to dance
discover vintage era costuming
perfect stage makeup
learn how to perform
become more comfortable in your body
and find out what being a Hootchy Kootchy Girl is all about.
At the end of the workshop, there is usually a show or some kind of performance to show off your new skills. “Performing is optional, but encouraged,” said Erin.
The emphasis of the workshops, however, is on dance, fun, and confidence-building. All ages, body types, and levels of dance are encouraged.
Erin reinforced, “We start all new students in the beginning classes, to immerse students in our unique culture of vintage style and dance. The classes are dance-based and confidence-building.”
The Sisterhood of the Missing Pants
One of the most unique things about The Hootchy Kootchy Girls is the ability to bring women from different backgrounds and walks-of-life together to form a unique sisterhood.
I have always had girlfriends but up until my participation in The Hootchy Kootchy Girls, I had never been a part of an empowering group of women who are there for you year after year.
Over the sessions, we fondly came up with the moniker of “the sisterhood of the missing pants” as we have become a unique sorority that also shimmies and shakes out of our clothes.
I found The Hootchy Kootchy Girls when I was still “Single-Sarah” and was looking to find myself, become more comfortable in my body, and gain confidence.
My journey through Vintage Cabaret follows me:
through crazy dating years, where my sisters gave me advice about men and relationships
into falling in love and marriage where my sisters danced with me at my wedding
through pregnancy, where they rallied around me when things didn’t go as planned
and now as I navigate motherhood, I’m thankful for the support of more mothers and grandmothers than I can count.
As we know, becoming a mom changes everything!
Our time is not our own anymore, and finding a community that you relate to can be difficult. Having the Hootchy Kootchy Girls in my life is now more important than ever.
Everyone Has a Reason for Joining
When you talk to each participant, everyone will tell you a different reason as to why they became a member of The Hootchy Kootchy Girls Vintage Cabaret.
I had the pleasure of speaking to two of my dancing divas (and Northern Nevada moms) April Kasper and Amy Thompson about their experience with The Hootchy Kootchy Girls.
April (mother of two elementary-age boys) stated she joined The Hootchy Kootchy Girls because “I wanted to get my sexy back” and has been doing so since 2013!
Amy (mother to a teenage boy) has been dancing with The Hootchy Kootchy Girls since 2017.
“I was a professional dancer for several years, yet hadn’t danced in a long time when I found out about The Hootchy Kootchy Girls. A co-worker had participated and performed before, and told me about the group. I missed dancing and was intrigued at the thought of getting to perform again and support other women. I called Erin (found/creator) the next day and the rest is history!”
Finding Your Inner Diva
One of the most daunting, yet fun, aspects of becoming a Hootchy Kootchy Girls is creating your alter-ego or Vintage Cabaret Persona. In the beginning sessions, Erin teaches about the past and introduces participants to the stars who used to grace the burlesque stage.
Erin has participants think about names and suggests each woman create lists of different words that can be combined into Vintage Cabaret Names. Erin’s advice:
Think of combining 2-3 words to create your name
Consider looking up words you favor in other languages to add a little mystery and flair
Create lists of various things you’re interested in like:
Once you have settled on your Vintage Cabaret name, participants will all agree that is when you are really able to start to develop your new, sassy, sexy, persona. We all have different reasons for choosing our names, and everyone has a good story:
Ginger Snap – Ahhhh, my sassy Ginger Snap. This is my Hootchy Kootchy persona, and has continued to suit me year after year. I chose this name because I am sweet with a little bit of spice. Ginger Snap is fierce and unafraid and makes the audiences whoop and holler.
The Queen – As leader, teacher, and creator of The Hootchy Kootchy Girls, this name fits Erin like a glove. She knows how to crack the whip when the boas get wild and is able to share her knowledge in the most fun way. Erin is a friend, mentor, and true royalty.
Ivanna Peach – Peach was already a knick-name of April’s, “I liked the play on words with Ivanna and I wanna.” Ivanna Peach is known to wow audiences with her creative performance and usage of props. She brings an artistic flair and spirit with her wherever she goes.
Sure-Ly Temptress – “Choosing the name was so much fun, yet surprisingly difficult too,” stated Amy. She tried several plays on words related to her dance background and love for the vintage burlesque style, until finally deciding on Sure-Ly Temptress as her Hootchy Kootchy Girls name. She wows audiences with her spins and turns, and immaculate costuming.
Lights, Camera, Action!
While the focus is on learning the art of Vintage Cabaret and self-empowerment, over the years, The Hootchy Kootchy Girls have performed at various venues and events around The Biggest Little City.
As The Hootchy Kootchy Girls grew, so did the need for a larger venue. What started as small performances in tiny venues has evolved into full productions, most recently held at The Pioneer Theatre’s, Pioneer Underground & Reno Tahoe Comedy.
Those attending a Hootchy Kootchy Girls show have the pleasure of enjoying:
An amateur show with a professional production
An evening of Hollywood glamour and Vaudeville humor
Live singing and dancing
Music and Costuming from the 1930s-1960s
Laughs and Libations
Audience Participation and Prizes
And a step into the past….shows are like a combination of an old “Rat Pack Show” mixed with the glitz and glamour of the “Showgirl days”.
Performances are always in good taste, and while there is a little tease, you will no doubt see more skin at the beaches of Lake Tahoe.
Keep on Shimmying
The pure electricity and excitement of participating keep The Hootchy Kootchy Girls dancing. It’s the sisterhood that keeps them coming back.
The reason Amy keeps dancing? “Hands down, it is the women I have met and the friendships that have blossomed from this amazing group! I love to dance and perform, yet there is something even greater about supporting other women to see their dreams of performing come true.
Hootchy Kootchy Girls is truly a Sisterhood that holds such a special place in my heart.”
April agrees, “I like sexy humor, but the sisterhood and chance to perform are why I keep dancing with the Hootchy Kootchy Girls.”
Things Look A Little Different
As we know The Arts have taken a big hit during these “covid days” we are in. Practice and performances are looking a little different now-a-days. But these changes haven’t turned off The Hootchy Kootchy Girls spotlight.
“We are all learning what this means for dance, and what this will mean for The Hootchy Kootchy Girls,” stated Erin. “Thankfully the internet opens up the world!”
Workshops have been held virtually over the last few months, with Erin sending out dance routines to participants to learn on their own. Hootchy Kootchy Girls from all over have been able to dance in unison from the safety of their homes.
Erin looks forward to getting interactive Hootchy Kootchy Girls workshops up and running. Zoom/virtual classes as well as outside instruction will be starting in the near future.
And in the meantime, outdoor social distance get-togethers with “The Girls” have been a great way to keep the sisterhood alive and thriving until we can all dance on stage together again.
Overcoming Your Fears
It is never too late to join this amazing community of the most fabulous women you will ever meet. But let’s be real, doing something new can be really scary. Here is some sage advice from my girls:
“Try it for yourself,” said April. “You don’t have to perform and at the very least you’ll get some exercise. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain; friends, confidence, your sexy and some banging costumes and fun pics to share.”
“Give yourself and the spirit of the Hootchy Kootcy Girls a chance – you won’t regret it,” said Amy. “Don’t hold yourself back from what could prove to be an amazing chapter of friendship, self-confidence, and joy in your life.”
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to The Hootchy Kootchy Queen, Erin Basta Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-762-9870.
Sarah Bear Rively is a Reno resident for over 30 years and loves the uniqueness of Northern Nevada. Sarah and her husband are parents to a sassy, smart, considerate “three-anger". Sarah has spent the majority of her career helping Reno’s at-risk populations through non-profit and social service work. She now proudly works for the Northern Nevada Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Sarah considers herself a fun-loving person who enjoys laughing, getting creative, helping the community, and spending time with family. You can follow her in real life on Instagram and TikTok.