11:52 pm / The Dressing Room
Through a maze of corridors and hallways leading to Level nightclub’s backstage dressing room area, and turning the corner at the top of the stairs, we approach a stark, concrete-walled dressing room that could easily be mistaken for just another storage area. But at eight minutes until midnight on a steamy South Beach Saturday night, this room is now alive with sound and motion from sleek showgirls and fresh-pumped muscle-boy dancers making their final preparations for the evening’s performance.
Just outside the door, a muscular bouncer dressed in black and wearing a radio ear-piece, is watching two female dancers attempting to teach themselves how to blow fireballs in the air by blowing 151 rum onto a lit match. On the fifth try, after accomplishing nothing more than blowing the match out five times, the blond dancer finally lets out a loud, “awh, shit” and takes a large swallow from the rum bottle, laughing and grimacing as the 151 burns its way down the hatch.
Inside the room, a boom-box pounds out a trance tune by which three dancers contort in unison, rehearsing their moves for the upcoming performance. Toward the back a full-chested, early-twenties brunette converses with her chorus-boy counterpart, and skips not a word of the conversation as she removes her clothes and slips into a royal blue sequined costume.
Into this mass of activity enters 5’3″ Pamela Canellas, walking intently through the room, briskly clapping her hands to gain everyone’s attention. “OK people, let’s go, LET’S GO!” With only minutes to go before show time, the jokes and laughter are rapidly fading into a tense contemplation of the coming performance. And tension runs especially high for Pamela, as she is not only one of the dancers, but it is her company—Hot Jam Entertainment—that is responsible for tonight’s performance at Level.
“I’m not going to
be treated like this”
Even though her company also provides dancers for clubs like Space, Touch and N, this is the big one for Pamela because she’s the one person responsible for picking the music, the costumes, and the moves for Level’s Saturday night shows. Officially, she’s the club’s Entertainment Director and Choreographer.
Tonight’s soon to be performed show has been in the planning stage since the previous Monday, and in rehearsal since 5:00 in the afternoon. And Pamela’s luck has held up pretty well so far today. The music fit the routine perfectly, with no changes required; the dancers picked up the moves immediately; even the lasers are working correctly. It appears that Pamela Canellas is perfectly positioned for tonight’s performance.
But Pamela’s arrival at this enviable position at Level—arguably the best nightclub in America—was a long time coming. A very long time.
Born in Santiago, Chile, where her father was Vice President of Chile’s huge national telephone company, Pamela’s family immigrated to the US nearly twenty years ago to flee Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet’s brutally repressive fascist regime. Even thought Pamela’s memories of Chile are faint, she remembers being interested in dance from her earliest years. “I started ballet in Chile when I was five years old, and even after we left, I always had an interest in it,” says Pamela.
But, when her family arrived in the US, the maids, the private schools, and the ballet lessons all stopped. “My father couldn’t speak English, so he had a hard time finding a job like the one he had in Chile,” says Pamela. And that meant there was no money for lessons of any kind, ballet or otherwise. So how did Pamela Canellas continue her dance training? “By watching American television—that’s how I trained myself. I use to watch movies—’Flash Dance’ that was one of my favorite movies, I use to rewind it and play it over and over.”
Being a straight “A” student and captain of the cheerleaders in high school didn’t really prepare Pamela for the next big surprise that came her way. But, even though she became a mother at the tender age of sixteen, and had to work as a legal secretary during the day to support her beautiful daughter Nikki, Pamela never let go of her dreams of dance. Never.
Soon she was dancing her way through the South Beach club scene, laying down her silky, sensual moves at places like Club Nu and Club USA. Finally signing on at the legendary Chaos, she ultimately became the club’s head dancer. “I have the spirit of a dancer,” says Pamela, “when the lights and the music come on, it just takes me away.”
“When I first started, it was very, very hard”
Pamela’s reasons for forming her own production company came from some of her early not-so-pleasant experiences dancing in South Beach nightclubs. Referring to a certain genre of nightclub promoter that once populated the South Beach club scene, Pamela says, “They use to put us out in the back alleys to change costumes,” and, “we use to wait around till five or six in the morning to get paid, and then we’d find that the promoters had skipped town, that’s why I formed Hot Jam—I would tell the girls, I’m not going to be treated like this.”
So how does she feel about it now? Speaking of her current boss, Level’s Gerry Kelly, a near-tearful Pamela Canellas says, “I’m just so very thankful to Gerry for believing in me, because when I first started, it was very, very hard.”
12:17 am / The Main Room
When guests first walked through the front door at Level on this Saturday night, the massive Main Room was closed off and the crowd congregated in the club’s three other main sections, the Boiler Room—a mini-nightclub in itself, with a bar, dance floor and DJ of its own, the ground level Red Room, and the upstairs Mezzanine bar area. Now, shortly after midnight, four sets of doors on both floors open up allowing the capacity crowd to enter a stunningly beautiful art deco Main Room. As the crowd surges ever-forward in the huge, dimly lit hall, they begin to see faint outlines of dancers pre-positioned on pedestals, motionless like mannequins all around the mammoth room. As the great hall reaches capacity, thousands of multi-colored lights illuminate, the music comes up, and a hauntingly beautiful opening performance begins. The crowd stands speechless watching the show, mesmerized by its beauty. Tonight’s performance is flawless.
Now it’s playtime …
With the stressful opening routine completed, Pamela and her dancers have only three 20 minute sets of go-go dancing left to do, and this is the part she looks forward to the most. Why?
Because this is when Level really starts to rip…
1:05 am / Backstage …
While on the other side of the curtain the crowd is being pounded with a thousand watts of blazing dance music, Pamela Canellas is standing backstage at the top of the stairway leading to the dance floor dressed completely in black. Her left hand rests sensually on her hip and holds open one half of her full length, black leather trench coat revealing that she is wearing nothing underneath except black bra, panties, garter-belt and nylons. And with silver Star Trek-style wrap-around glasses in place, and a nickel-plated, pearl-handled .45 automatic held high in the air, Pamela looks like a futuristic female assassin stepping straight out of a Hollywood techno-thriller.
But her enthusiastic, little-girl personality blows her cover as she flashes a big smile our way and heads off to the dance floor. “Bye Baby,” with a sparkling glow, comes from the girl who, in a matter of seconds will leave her life as a business woman temporarily behind and spend the next 20 minutes on a twelve foot podium dancing her ass off amidst a sea of pumping bodies in a raging South Beach nightclub.
Cue music …
Cue lasers …
Cue the dancers …
Such is the life of Level’s Pamela Canellas.