A showgirl is a woman who performs on stage in theatrical productions which typically focus on music and dancing, rather than acting. Showgirls are known for being extremely beautiful, as a general rule, and they typically wear extremely ornate costumes, classically with large headdresses which are heavily bedecked with feathers, beading, and spangles. While showgirls are probably most associated with Las Vegas, Nevada in the minds of many people, they can be found in many urban areas around the world.
In addition to being attractive, many showgirls are quite talented, as well. As a general rule, they have to be skilled dancers, as their performances typically involve dance routines, often coordinated routines with a row of girls. Many showgirls also sing, providing backup for musical productions and sometimes singing solos as well.
Being a showgirl is hard work. In addition to maintaining singing and dancing talents, a showgirl must also work hard to stay in good shape, since her costumes often don't leave much to the imagination. Many showgirls eat restrictive diets, work out a lot, and practice movement disciplines which are designed to keep their bodies toned. They must also contend with fierce competition for coveted spots on stage and in new productions.
The history of showgirls is probably quite ancient, as some form of dancing girl can be found in almost every culture imaginable. However, showgirls in their modern form really started to rise in the 1800s, when women performed in elaborate performances which were designed to showcase ludicrous costumes along with singing and dancing skills. Some of these performances were also quite risque for the time, with showgirls revealing a bit more leg than women in more polite society would have dared.
Several venues in Paris have become famous for their showgirls, perhaps most notably the Moulin Rouge. Las Vegas showgirls became a major attraction in the 1950s, when clubs started vying to outdo each other with elaborate performances featuring famous headliners. The rise of the monstrously large headdress also appears to have occurred in Vegas, as part of the overall trend towards making shows as lavish and memorable as possible.
In addition to performing on stage, a showgirl may also work as a glamour model, and most maintain a portfolio of glamour shots, promotional stills from their shows, and clippings from reviews. Several museums of labor history have recognized the important of showgirls within the larger context of the entertainment industry, especially in Las Vegas, and several of these organizations have extensive collections of showgirl memorabilia, from portfolios to costumes.