The Revelettes' go-go good times

November 24, 2008


Though it's often an unheralded part of the scene, if you ask any musician for the biggest compliment someone can give, they're likely to say it's that the music made people dance. So imagine being a band whose sounds inspires a whole troupe of dancers--white boot, false eyelash and miniskirt-wearing go-go dancers. Now that's a kick.

"We danced with [local power-pop band] Frisbie, and with Susie Gomez, and that was such a rush: It's just really fun being up there," says Kaara Kallen, one of the founders of the group that proudly bills itself as "Chicago's finest go-go troupe," the Revelettes. "The whole thing is just so much fun, and that's really the biggest part of why we're doing it. You have these ridiculous costumes, the boots and fringe things and big eyelashes, and go-go can really be danced to any poppy beat; we're not constrained at all by any musical genre or era."

The (perhaps apocryphal) story is that go-go originated in the early '60s at New York's Peppermint Lounge when girls began doing the twist. Soon it spread to discotheques across the U.S. and in Europe--the word derives from the French gogo, for "in abundance, galore"--and in time it became a staple of TV shows such as "Hullabaloo" and "Shindig" as well as Hollywood's beach party movies. Of course, there was soon a more adult version, too, though that's not the Revelettes' style, and rather than a devotion to retro fashion, they favor the early '60s look to make that clear.

"We look that part and we want to stick to that because go-go has so many meanings to people, some less savory than others," Kallen says. "We sort of style ourselves a traditional '60s-style go-go troupe, just so people get that we're not really a nightclub-type of dancing style. But we do dance to a lot of different kinds of music. We doing this '80s show coming up [on Saturday], and we've actually done some'50s stuff, as well as stuff to Blondie and the Ramones. You can really hear that the Ramones is just '60s music on speed."

Kallen, who dances under the name Kiki Pearl, is joined in the Revelettes by Deb Ogden (Whiskey A. Go-Go), Roxy Hernandez (Miss Lulu), Emily Skwish (Em Appeal), Terre Virgilio (Tutti Pony Love), Shawn Campbell (Roxie Luna) and Jacki Sinclair (Twister Storm). They're mostly in their 30s, which means they were way too young to experience go-go in its heyday. So how did they discover it?

Some of the dancers met at a go-go class at the Flamenco Arts Center, which most of them took as a lark. "All of us had some kind of interest and background in dance, though it wasn't necessarily professional or formal," Kallen says. "I was just this mad salsa dancer: I loved salsa dancing, but that fever was sort of working itself out of me at the time I heard about this go-go class, and I decided to check it out.

"That sort of morphed into doing some performances, and after a while, a few of us had some other ideas and wanted to take it in a different direction, so we started the Revelettes and had some auditions. Now, we've been doing shows all over, and sometimes they're either in between bands or before a band, and other times they're part of a variety show. We've been in a number of burlesque shows in the last couple of months, and that's where a lot of the variety show element comes from.

"We do a lot of creative stuff with our positioning and placement and how we interact with each other onstage, but people recognize the basic moves: It's the swim and the pony and the frug--all those '60s moves," Kallen adds. "I think it's kind of the last bastion of sexiness in a kind of flirty, cute way without being really sexual. That is harder and harder to find, and this is just a really fun way to express yourself in that way."

The troupe's members often find inspiration and classic moves in old videos. "I spend a good amount of time on YouTube," Kallen says. "There's are a lot of different of roots of go-go, and I'm always learning something. There's the "Beach Blanket Bingo" kind of California surfer thing; there's the London mod thing; there's R&B like Tina Turner, who's in a class of her own, and then there's the French y-y girl thing. There are actually a lot of angles to check out, so there's always something, not to mention modern stuff like the Pipettes, who have got a lot of go-go moves."

Now, Kallen teaches a go-go class of her own at the Galaxie (, in addition to leading the Revelettes, who are landing more gigs all the time. "I keep hoping that go-go will really catch on again in a big way," Kallen says. "There's more than enough room in Chicago for many go-go troupes, and it's just so much fun to do and watch."