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The term go-go bar originally referred to a nightclub, bar, or similar establishment that featured go-go dancers; while some go-go bars in that original sense still exist, the link between its present uses and that original meaning is often more tenuous and regional. Speaking broadly, the term has been used by venues that cover a wide range of businesses, from nightclubs or discotheques, where dancers are essentially there to set the mood, to what are in essence burlesque theaters or strip clubs, where dancers are part of a show and the primary focus.
The term go-go bar is often used for certain sorts of strip clubs. In regions where the term is used, go-go bars are considered lower in class when compared to gentlemen's clubs, which offer a more coordinated and show-centric experience. In these bars:
- There is no champagne court.
- Dress codes are more lax for both patrons and performers.
- There are no staging, choreography, or special effects considerations.
- A House Mother monitors activity and assists performers in the dressing area.
- Feature performers usually do not perform at go-go bars.
In Southeast Asia, and particularly in Thailand and parts of the Philippines, Go Go bars can include a wide variety of indoor bars with dancers and/or hostesses; these typically do not offer striptease. These are most often venues for prostitution, and the dancers are usually available to be bar fined by customers. These are often, but not exclusively, found in red light districts catering to foreigners.
The origin of the term go-go dancing goes back to a 1949 British film Whisky Galore!. This film tells the story of the sinking of a ship loaded with whiskey. The French title of this film was Whisky à gogo !, "à gogo" being Parisian slang for "galore". During the period that this film was showing in France, discotheques were just introduced as a new form of entertainment. Due to the success of the film and the snob appeal of drinking whiskey in France, a number of discotheques were given the name "Whiskey à Go-Go".
The first Whisky à Gogo nightclub opened in Paris in 1947, drawing the "Whisky" part of its name from the whisky labels that lined its walls. In 1953 it became the first discotheque. The club was franchised, first in Chicago in 1958 and then in Los Angeles in 1964. In May 1964 the Los Angeles club was featured in Life magazine and by 1965 clubs called Whisky à Go-Go (or Whiskey à Go-Go) had appeared in Milwaukee, Washington, San Francisco and Atlanta. In the Los Angeles club a new style of dance was taking place, as go-go dancers in short, fringed skirts and high boots danced in a glass booth above the patrons. The first recorded occurrence of topless go-go dancing was in the Condor nightclub in San Francisco in 1964, and topless go-go dancing quickly became a part of the adult entertainment industry.
It was also the time when dances became popular, where partners were dancing apart from each other. Not long after the success of the discotheques in France, they were opened in French style in New York City, with the same name as their French example: “Whiskey A Go-Go”. American discos introduced soon a form of entertainment of young girls dancing in the new, loose style, without a partner. The go-go dancer was born.
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