Parisian chic with British legs

Bluebell Girls' magic still going strong at the Lido... but behind the scenes is a lot of hard work

Bluebell Girls' magic still going strong at the Lido... but behind the scenes is a lot of hard work

DRAPED in jewels and feathers, and with the longest legs in town, Bluebell Girls have embodied Parisian sexy chic at the Lido cabaret since 1948.

But founder Margaret Kelly, nicknamed Miss Bluebell for her stunning hyacinth-coloured eyes, actually preferred English-speaking girls, saying French girls did not have the "right bustline".

Pierre Rambert, her former assistant and now the Lido's artistic director, said that, while Bluebell indeed preferred Anglophones, it wasn't necessarily about boobs: "In the 1970s, it was difficult to find French girls who were 1.75m; now there are plenty."

Miss Bluebell handpicked her dancers not only for their long legs, beauty and elegance, but for their strength of character, too.

"Bluebell was a very avant-garde woman and very feminist," said Mr Rambert. "There was an independence, force and dedication and she forwarded the image she wanted to give to her girls."

Apart from the 1.75m minimum height (still the case), the elegance, discipline and radiant smiles, there was no set formula.

Mr Rambert says this strong identity is why the Bluebells, along with The Rockettes at Radio City in New York, are the only two line-girl formations to have survived.

Currently about 60 girls appear on stage each night: 44 girls both topless and clothed (known as nudes and Bluebells) and 16 Kelly Boys. Roughly half are French; the rest hail particularly from the UK, Australia and Russia.

Some 10,000 showgirls have high-kicked night after night on the Champs-Elysées since Irish-born Miss Bluebell brought her troupe over from the Folies Bergères to the Lido in 1948.

For the spectators, it's a world of glamour and grace. But achieving that requires a good deal of grind.

Bluebells have to be resilient, doing two two-hour shows a night, six nights a week. The feather backpacks weigh 10kg, the headgear 6kg and, while the kits get lighter as materials improve, the heels have grown.

Former Bluebell Jane Adamik, now maîtresse de ballet, says making the physically demanding appear graceful is part of the job.

"Running up and down the stairs, continual costume changes ... all on nine-centimetre heels; the girls make it look glamorous, but it's physically very hard."

Clearly the magic still work: Ms Adamik says she gets about 50 CVs a day. So what makes girls keep on aspiring to be a Bluebell?

"It's just something I've always wanted to do," says Mariel Evans from Wales, who has worked her way up to fourth captain after joining two-and-a-half years ago. She started classical ballet at three, but turned to cabaret when she grew too tall to be a ballerina.

"I've wanted to do this since I was four. People say don't be silly you'll never work, and here I am, living the dream."

Lindsey Raven, a Bluebell from 1981 to 1983, who now lives in Rome, said it was more than work: "Miss Bluebell taught us discipline, stage presence and things you can use in life afterwards, like the confidence that you can do what you want to do.

"It was a title; I never had to audition for another job. As soon as you said you were a Bluebell, it was a passport into another show."

Former Bluebell Annette Hirsch from Australia says the new generation is a bit different. "We were a lot more reserved and we wore nicer dresses. Lots of us worked for Dior as well. Nowadays, it's more sunglasses and jeans".

She said the reality of being a Bluebell was rather different from the image: "[It's] not just a dancer who is barely dressed on stage and doesn't have anything in her brain, because lots of girls have gone on to have very interesting careers when they left the Lido.

"There's some intelligence there as well." Ms Hirsch herself went on to study psychotherapy.

Many former Bluebells gathered in Paris last year for a celebration on what would have been Miss Bluebell's 100th birthday.

Organised by Ms Raven, she brought together more than 200 former Bluebells (and Kelly Boys!) from around the world via her showbiz networking site www.showbizfriends.com.

Today's show at the Lido, called "Bonheur", is a sea of stunningly coloured feathers and sequins, but all the showgirls were white. Can you have black Bluebells?

Mr Rambert insists colour is not a barrier: "It's just that way at the moment. Two of our lead boys are black and [in the past] one of our lead girls was a stunning Afro-American. A beautiful girl dancer is a beautiful girl dancer no matter what colour she has."

© RFI

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