It was a Mayberry meets Mardi Gras moment.
Island parade watchers Monday got more than the usual eyeful as the Hot Pink Feathers, a professional Carnaval Burlesque dance troupe, traversed the 3.5-mile route displaying what some said was an attitude a bit more "cheeky" than they expected.
Over post-parade barbecues and in Facebook posts, texts and tweets the Hot Pink Feathers were the talk of the town. Their appearance in the parade elicited a range of responses — from wide smiles of absolute delight to surprised gasps.
“I thought they were phenomenal,"said one Harbor Bay 50-something mother of a teenage son. “There was absolutely nothing offensive about them. They had dance hosiery on and behaved completely appropriately. I found them a refreshing change of pace and enjoyed watching them.”
The group, composed of five professional corps members as well as student dancers, are in their 20s to 40s and come from all walks of life and a range of professions, from banking to medicine.
One of the dancers just moved to Alameda this weekend, and two of their band members, Kevin Brunetti (born and raised on the Island) and Brian Montone, live here.
The troupe’s director, who goes by her professional name Kellita, says the group is all about tolerance and love. “We’re committed to our core message to spread joy and delight and express that through the celebration of the female form with exuberant movement," she said.
Kellita says she often sees a palpable transformation in the troupe's audiences. “If someone has deep and painful issues with their own body, I think there is potential for them to heal when they see how we move our bodies,” says Kellita.
Indeed, the dancers in the group are not the airbrushed, stick-thin figures so often seen in the media. Some female parade watchers expressed awe over the chutzpah they displayed in showing off bodies that looked like real women.
“We’re not Barbie dolls,” explains Kellita. “We have all body types represented.”
Unfortunately, Kellita says, for the first time in 10 years of the troupe performing, within hours of the Alameda parade concluding, she received a couple hate-filled emails criticizing the group's costumes and appearance.
She says parade planners saw a video online of the dancers before the parade and notes one of the organizers even commented that some people might be taken aback a bit by their thong costumes, but seemed excited, nonetheless, they would be marching.
"They didn't tell us to wear something different. We have skirts we could have worn and would have happily done so had we been asked,” she says. “We would have figured something out.”
"I think there must have been a misunderstanding," says Barbara Price, chair of the parade committee, when asked to give a response as to why she did not specifically request they wear skirts instead of thongs.
"I did call the troupe director in advance and explained to her that I had seen a video of them performing on the Internet and that we were a family-friendly parade and inquired what they were going to wear — since I did see that they had costumes of different types, including ones with skirts," said Price. "They chose to wear what they did on their own having been told it was a family parade."
"It is a public event," explains Price. "We cannot not pick entrants or censor them as long as they are not doing something illegal."
Price says she did receive a few calls from people upset about the troupe's attire but redirected them to the troupe itself and suggested the callers politely voice their displeasure and gently recommend that they consider wearing something less revealing next year if that is how they felt.
"There are no tryouts for the parade," says Price. "we never know from year to year exactly how it will look."
Kellita takes the troupe’s work very seriously. She herself was the 2008 San Francisco Carnaval Queen and sits on the Bay Area National Dance Week Steering Committee. Her dance school, located South of Market in San Francisco and called the Hot Pink Feathers Show Girl Academy, trains performers who dance in hundreds of venues for young and old, indoors and outdoors.
She equates the troupe with Busby Berkeley and old movie musicals. “We dance to music like Rhapsody in Blue,” she explains. “We are not brazen floozies.”
Response from parade-goers on the sidelines was positive, as far as Kellita could discern. “All I heard were cheers,” she says, “no boos." She says some in the crowd watched in silence and she has no way of knowing what they were thinking.
Would she bring the troupe back to Alameda’s parade next year for a second performance? “Yes, I would,” she says, “but next time I wish it would slow down. The parade moved very fast — at vehicle speed —and it was hard for the dancers to march that long distance that rapidly on foot. I also would request that we dance ahead, rather than behind, the horses next time.” (A sentiment undoubtably shared by many other marching contingents bringing up the rear of the parade.)
In addition to performing all over the Bay Area at special events and in parades, the troupe has a regular gig nearby. If you missed them in the parade, or want to see them perform again, you can catch them the second Saturday of every month at Café Van Kleef in Oakland. Music begins at 9:30 p.m. and they perform three sets between then and midnight.