Ever wanted to jive the night away in an amazing dress with the coolest girl gang? You should start your own 1960s-style dance troupe! That's what The Actionettes did - Jen Barton finds out the story behind the group
The 1960s were an era of big hair, tiny skirts and mega girl power, especially when it came to music. And while the decade of free love may be behind us, the music - happily - is still influencing modern musicians and groups, like infectiously fun dance troupe, The Actionettes.
Perfectly synchronised moves, fab retro outfits and a fierce feminist outlook are just a few of the requirements for an Actionette, so we had a chat with Miss Silhouette (aka Janine Kaufman) to get the deets on what it takes to start your own 1960s-style girl group. False eyelashes at the ready...
What inspired you to start the troupe? How many Actionettes are there?
The Actionettes were created in 2000 by Sue and Sarah Todd, two sisters who saw dance troupe The Devilettes in Las Vegas. They came back to London and gathered together some friends who loved dancing and dressing up to start the first incarnation.They have since left, but a couple of the original members continue, along with other ladies of various lengths of service. There are currently twelve members, but with maternity leave and sabbaticals for work and other commitments, we are always in a state of flux.
Who are your favourite musicians and dancers (past and present)? Who inspires you?
The Actionette rule is we only dance to girl groups and female vocalists (although that rule is broken occasionally) so we love all the 1960s divas like Nancy Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, The Supremes, LaVern Baker, Sugar Pie Desanto, The Shirelles, The Ikettes, Francoise Hardy... all gutsy women who look and sound amazing.We also love Tom Jones, Lee Hazelwood, Elvis, Ray Charles, The Kinks, The Doors and we're inspired by great iconic women of the decade like Emma Peel, Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Natalie Wood, Edie Sedgewick, Jane Birkin and Jean Shrimpton.
What are the defining features of a 1960s girl group?
BIG hair, thick black liquid eyeliner, false eyelashes, go-go boots and lots of attitude.
What role do fashion and beauty play?
Fashion and beauty play a big part, but we are more concerned with unconventional beauty. The Actionettes' ethos is we are women of all shapes and sizes. We are a feminist collective and we choose members for our troupe based on their love of the music and dancing and how they fit in with us, rather than what they look like. That is not to say we don't spend hours making costumes, doing hair and make-up and talking about the latest false eyelashes. Sixties women were all about style, independence and attitude.
We make lots of our costumes (like the silver dresses in the photo below). We usually buy the fabric and then each lady makes her own dress to suit her so they're not all exactly the same but we match. Other dresses (the rainbow dress picture below) are vintage dresses mainly, which we buy in charity shops, on eBay, at vintage markets and occasionally, on the high street. I love What The Butler Wore and Radio Days in Lower Marsh, Waterloo.
What's your group signature?
Probably 'Think' by Aretha Franklin and 'These Boots Are Made For Walking' by Nancy Sinatra because everyone loves those songs.
What inspires your choreography?
Hours of watching clips of go-go dancers on YouTube from programmes like Top of the Pops and Shindig. Also The Ikettes and other girl groups' routines and sometimes dance moves borrowed from other dance styles such as the Jive and the Charleston.
Tell us a bit about 1960s dances – which dance moves defined the era?
The pony, the twist, the mashed potato, the shimmy, the jerk, the monkey - and loads of moves whose official names we don't know but just give them Actionette description names like "go-go arms."
How did you come up with your names?
Each lady chooses her own name which must end in 'Ette. It cannot be a name which has been used by a previous member and can either be something she likes the sound of, or something which is pertinent to her (e.g. Miss Castanette is Spanish). We also currently have Miss Starlette, Ringlette, Balconette, Musette, Velvelette, Corvette, Luncheonette, Kitschenette, Silhouette, Cassette and Twinsette.
See The Actionettes at the Electric in Brixton this December or catch their NYE gig at Shoreditch Town Hall. The group are also performing at Amy Lamé's club night Duckie at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in early 2014.
Actionettes' Miss Castanette, Miss Musette and Miss Starlette also contributed to this interview.