Night Crawler

And Now, the Devil-Ettes

And Now, the Devil-Ettes
A bevy of Devil-Ettes step onto an elevator in the Las Vegas airport. Bleary from four endless nights in Sin City, they adjust their matching red satin Devil-Ettes jackets and, with valiant flicks of their pigtails, set their cigarette smoke-dried eyes on the final stretch of carpet that will put them on a plane headed for home. After nearly nine months of preparation, the Las Vegas Grind - an annual go-go garage-rock gala that draws bands and fans from around the world to a tawdry Vegas hotel called the Gold Coast - is over. Exhaustion and relief are stippled with the hints of postpartum comedown, but the women joke and smile in their fatigued yet dauntless Devil-Ette way.

"Devil-Ettes! Devil-Ettes! Deviiiil-Eeeettes!"

The howl erupts from a group of well-sauced Brits on the escalator below who, in their 200th hour of boozing, have spied San Francisco's consummate synchronized dance troupe and taken it in their heads to touch them. A farcical chase ensues, up the escalator, through the waiting lounge, to the departure gate, where the blokes kneel at the dancers' feet begging for a photo.

It is the Devil-Ettes' Beatles' movie moment.

"There were a lot of Beatles' movie moments," says 28-year-old Saida Benguerel, more commonly known as The Cheerleader.

Twelve days earlier, The Cheerleader had dropped a 45-pound weight on her foot, severely breaking her toe. During the Grind, whenever the Devil-Ettes walked through the rowdy sold-out crowd, you could imagine The Cheerleader's internal mantra: "Please don't step on my foot. Please, please don't step on my foot." And still she danced -- day and night, all weekend, in the parking lot, in the casino, on the stage, and around the pool. Like the rest of the Devil-Ettes, she didn't do it for cash. (Most of the girls had to purchase their own tickets to the Grind, even though they were included as an attraction in the program.) She didn't do it for fame. (Britain's Channel Four filmed an interview, but there is no surety in its airing.) She didn't do it for love. (A monthlong visit with her beau in England actually left her feeling guilty about her absence from the troupe.) She did it for the Devil-Ettes.

The Devil-Ettes begin as a no-talent answer to a Christmas show held at the Radio Valencia. The 12-girl "synchronized dance troupe," mostly comprised of employees from Radio Valencia and its sister bar, Casanova, has a built-in fan base of indulgent customers and friends. The girls laughingly call themselves the Holiday Hoes. But something clicks. Before you can say "'60s cheesecake kitsch," the Devil-Ettes are playing underground parties. Fliers begin to appear in bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and hair salons; signs show up at yard sales and in apartment windows. Very quickly underground parties give way to legitimate club gigs, filled with Devil-Ette swag and custom costumes. There is a buzz on the street, and who better to keep it buzzing than a dozen sassy gals in the service industry.

Baby Doe, known as The Enforcer, emerges as co-choreographer and undisputed leader of the group, not for her dance experience, which is limited to a childhood admiration of the Solid Golddancers, but for her enthusiasm. With the Devil-Ettes, contagious enthusiasm is passé partout. In fact, no one is kicked out of the troupe for lack of talent or mien, only for lack of time and compatibility. They rehearse at least twice a week for two hours, more right before a show. During auditions, which swell the glittery devil-horned ranks to 18, a personal questionnaire holds as much weight as the routine.

"We should all want to drink a beer together after rehearsal, you know?" says The Cheerleader, whose title comes more from her willingness to do PR - she contacted Lord Martine and The Man Who Came to Dinner - than her personality or physical type.

"I have a bad knee, an old basketball injury. I'm a bit of a bigger girl," says The Cheerleader, "but size and shape doesn't matter in the Devil-Ettes."

The idea of playing Las Vegas sets off a flurry of theme benefits -- prom night, toga party, pool party, slumber party, and a grand finale dress rehearsal - that reduce the financial strain of airfare, room, board, and flashy costumes for 18. Each fete is lavishly decorated, with custom apparel and routines to match. There are collectible programs with details on the "Devil-Ette of the Month." (The Temptress wears size 9 shoes and enjoys playing with dogs, spending money needlessly, and tasting red wine; The Sleeper likes warm peach pie, barbiturates, sky-blue nail polish, and choreographing for the girls.) There are Devil-Ette recipes (Devil's Food Cake, Deviled Eggs, Fried Devil Dogs), cocktails (Rum Twist), dating tests (from a 1960 magazine for teens), official wines (Ritratti), and sponsors (the Satanic Mechanics, whose 2000 pinup calendar includes three Devil-Ettes). There are T-shirts, Polaroid snapshots courtesy of Satanic Mechanics' Colin Herrick, and customized big-head drawings. Amid the furor of the accelerating cottage industry emerge documentary filmmakers Bob Lucas and Joe Dilliberto.

Folks begin amassing Devil-Ettes paraphernalia and arguing at the bar over their first choice (The Young One with her wild hair and good butt, or The Barracuda with her bad-girl smirk and button nose). Women like the diversity of the offerings (short, tall, skinny, plump), and men like the similarity (18 ladies in matching plumage). "Don't pick one, collect them all," says a devotee with well-carved sideburns, embroidered dice on his shirt, and six snapshots peeking out of his pocket.

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