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Photos: A peek inside ‘Jubilee!’ auditions of G-strings, high kicks and ‘showgirl walks’

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Leila Navidi

Jubilee! hopefuls with numbers pinned to their outfits line up with current showgirls of the Jubilee! cast during the final part of auditions for the show Jubilee! at Bally’s Las Vegas on Monday, July 23, 2012.

‘Jubilee!’ Auditions

Women perform high kicks during auditions for the show Jubilee! at Bally's Las Vegas on Monday, July 23, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Jubilee! 30th Anniversary Exhibit by Denise Truscello

Jubilee! at Bally's photographed by Denise Truscello in May and June of 2011 for the show's 30th anniversary on The Strip. Launch slideshow »

Jubilee! 30th Anniversary Pink Carpet and Show

The 30th anniversary performance of Jubilee! at Bally's Las Vegas on July 30, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Beneath the stark house lights of Bally’s Jubilee Theater, 11 women stand chest out and chin up, beads of sweat rolling down their heavily-made-up faces. Some are in leotards and tiaras, others in G-strings and lace bras.

“Kick high! And smile!” shouts Jubilee company manager Diane Palm as each of the girls in front of her attempt the choreography routine learned just minutes before. A simple request, but for the more than 30 women who auditioned for the part of showgirl and dancer Monday afternoon, it means a job with the longest-running stage show in Las Vegas.

For more than six hours, Palm and a team of judges sat before dozens of performers as they auditioned for the handful of spots open in “Donn Arden’s Jubilee!,” which celebrates its 31st anniversary on Monday. In addition to showgirls and dancers, performers tried out for the parts of principal dancers, singers and chorus line performers. Similar auditions also were held in Los Angeles and New York City.

Known for its long, leggy performers, “Jubilee!” auditions begin with onstage measurements to ensure that everyone meets the strict height requirement of 5’8” for women and 6’ for men. Women auditioning to be one of the show’s revered showgirls also are required to have real breasts, something Palm personally inspects backstage. But, she notes, “It’s not just about being tall and pretty.”

“They’ve got to have technique down. And we need to see flare and personality -- what makes them unique. That’s why we try to have a variety of dance styles in the audition choreography, so that they can show off their strengths and different aspects of their personality and experience.”

That’s particularly clear when each girl is asked to demonstrate “Jubilee!’s” quintessential “showgirl walk,” a writhing, shimmying shuffle across the stage that, while subtle, is a lot trickier than it looks. Some of the girls give it a sultry edge with an extra twist to their hips; others are more poised, with painstaking, if not somewhat mechanical, precision; still others struggle with the coordination but manage to distract from their stumbles with million-dollar smiles and a twinkle in their eyes.

One such smile belongs to 22-year-old Sidney Kounkel, though her performance was decidedly stumble-free. With denim shorts and a tank top pulled over her leotard, the bubbly Iowa native looks more like the recent college graduate she is than the scarlet-lipped vamp who appeared onstage.

Kounkel, who moved to Las Vegas one month ago, describes “Jubilee!” as something she’s been “dreaming about” for the past four years while studying dance and theater in Oklahoma City.

“My parents went to Vegas and saw the show and said ‘You have to audition for this, it’s perfect for you,’” she says, explaining that she loves the show’s emphasis on classic choreography like jazz and tap, as well as its overall theatricality. This marks her second time auditioning for “Jubilee!”; she auditioned two years ago in New York City but was told her 5’9” frame was too short for what they were looking for at the time.

Today, however, Kounkel says she was more excited than nervous for the auditions.

“This is what I’m trained to do, this is what I’m prepared for. It’s just like any other career, whether you’re a dancer or an accountant or a meteorologist. You go into the interview, and you’re prepared. We don’t know the choreography, just like someone else doesn’t know the questions.”

Such preparation and commitment will be paramount to handle the grueling rehearsal schedule of “Jubilee!” With the theater occupied during the day, dancers rehearse after the second performance of “Jubilee!” at night, which means coming in at midnight and running through choreography for three hours.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also very rewarding. It requires a lot of dedication and a lot of professionalism. You have to love what you do,” Palm says. “But when you talk to people in the show, that experience is part of what they love about ‘Jubilee!’”

After two hours of running through an exhausting slate of routines, the girls line up on stage for callbacks. A few hold hands and exchange anxious glances; it’s difficult not to feel nervous for them. Palm goes down the line, asking each girl which part she’d prefer -- showgirl or dancer -- to help narrow down the decision-making. For some, it’s a dream just to be there at all.

“I would do either, it doesn’t matter,” blurts out one of the younger girls, unable to conceal her excitement. “Just so I can be on this stage!”

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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