April 29 is International Dance Day. This year, Culturas is highlighting the event a day in advance to bring two underreported coverages of dancers who are making waves. The first is Arturo Rico’s journey where he uses social media to feature Latinx and Caribbean vintage showgirls.
Arturo Rico is a 22-year-old who is the researcher behind @ficheraz, an Instagram account that spotlights Latinx and Caribbean vintage showgirls and overall, celebrates the contributions of showgirl culture. Rico studied journalism and is “a self-proclaimed historian of entertainment, fashion, and art with an affinity for pop culture, cinema history, and anthropology.” He sat down with us to talk a bit more about the inspiration behind @ficheraz, his work, and future plans.
How and why did Ficheraz start?
Ficheraz started while I was in college. We had to do a research project, and I wanted to do something related to cinema, entertainment, and sex symbols. My mind immediately went to the great stars of world cinema: María Félix, Sophia Loren, or Marilyn Monroe, but I thought there were already many projects about them. Showgirls have always been very close to me. I was born in Veracruz, Mexico; which is the most Caribbean-influenced state in the entire country. I went to the carnival every year, some of my family members worked in the cabaret circuits as musicians in the 1970s and 1980s, and rhythms like salsa, mambo, chachachá, and danzon were the soundtrack of my childhood. For me, that whole world was very common, but I realized that it was not the same for everyone, especially because I went to college in Monterrey, a city in the north of Mexico that is extremely Americanized. It was then that I decided to do my research on the history of cabaret and showgirls in Mexico, but it was something very academic, and gradually I started to share some aspects of the research in social networks and that’s how @ficheraz was born.
Are there any favorite research projects that stand out? Why?
When I started sharing my research on social media, circa 2018, I wanted to find a unique name for the project. Something really Latin, related to the scene but not as literal. ‘Bellas de Noche’ (beauties of the night) came to mind. It seemed to be the perfect name. It’s the title of a 1975 movie based around cabaret life, and is one of the most iconic films in the history of Mexican cinema… however, it was already taken. María José Cuevas, a Mexican film director already had a project under that title. It’s a documentary about the lives of five showgirls who worked in Mexico in the 1970s, it had a great reception and she has turned it into an archive project! I love her work. She spent 10 years working on that project. Also, Sol Miraglia, an Argentine filmmaker released ‘Foto Estudio Luisita’ (Luisita’s Photo Studio) in 2018. It’s a documentary on the life and work of Luisa Escarria, an afro Latina photographer who portrayed the showgirls of the Argentine theatrical scene at the end of the 20th century. I especially love this project, because we rarely hear about the artists who worked with the showgirls, like the photographers, the costume designers, the makeup artists, and the choreographers… So to hear the perspective of a female photographer from the 1970s gives us a different perspective of the cabaret scene of that time.
And in your words, why is it necessary to spotlight vintage, Latinx and Caribbean showgirls?
Everything has already been done. EVERYTHING. It is very difficult for anyone today to be an innovator. One of the few ways in which people can remain creative is by knowing their history, having references and influences from different eras, cultural movements, and parts of the world, to bring back aspects of history in new interpretations. If we stick to what the mass media gives us, to a Western idea of art, culture, and beauty the creative future will be greatly reduced. The history of Latin and Caribbean showgirls remains unknown to many. But the few who have discovered it, either through @ficheraz or other projects, are reconnecting with their roots, and taking these talented women as references to exploit their creativity.
How is modern and/or mainstream culture influenced by showgirls and their craft, if at all?
We recently did a reel for Instagram in which we showed how young artists, who are really influencing the Z and Alpha generations. How they’re taking aspects from showgirl culture into their aesthetic: Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Natti Natasha… Kali Uchis herself is a loyal follower of @ficheraz and told me that her music video for Telepatia is inspired by my archive. Some modern-day showgirls take offense and think of it as exploitation, but I disagree. The showgirl genre is inclusive by all means. Back in the day showgirls came from all different paths of life… singers, dancers, actresses, comedians. That’s basically what made the genre so diverse. And the same thing happened in the opposite way. Many showgirls left the cabaret and achieved careers as great actresses and singers, such is the case of Josephine Baker who established herself as one of the most complete artists of her time.
Many people don’t know that the star system we have today is based on showgirls. Back in the day, singers only sang. This idea that has been popularized by figures such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, JLo or Katy Perry, in which the concept of a pop artist is linked to extremely elaborate productions, exaggerated costumes, backup dancers, scenery, choirs, and great choreographies, has its origins in figures such as Tina Turner or Elvis Presley, who replicated the showgirls’ acts when they had Las Vegas residencies.
How does showgirl culture and showgirls–specifically BIPOC and POC showgirls, like you guys spotlight–intersect with feminism, if at all?
Where many people see exploitation, objectification, or misogyny, there is a wealth of stories of women who got ahead the only way they could. Many of the showgirls who rose to fame in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, were women of humble origins, uneducated, single mothers, who found a way to survive in cabaret. Feminism is about supporting women in all fields of work. It must not only include, but also work to amplify the voices of showgirls, exotic dancers, nightclub performers, strippers, and sex workers. Their work is as valid as that of any other woman; and so is their historical struggle to own their bodies, turn them into art and express their sexuality freely.
What do you wish more people knew or understood about showgirls and showgirl culture?
Showgirls shaped Latin culture. Much of the film, music, television, and art of our countries is partially based on showgirls. I would love to see a revival of this artistic genre, as is happening in the United States with burlesque.
What is next for Ficheraz?
We’re working with Google Arts & Culture and The Estanquillo Museum of Mexico City to launch a virtual exhibition on the evolution of dance through the history of showgirls. A nice parallelism is made, and never before seen images from our archive are exhibited.
Anything else to add?
Follow us @ficheraz! And support your local performers.