HAVE CHIGNON—WILL TRAVEL

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Growing up as a working-class teenager in post–World War II England, the author read news reports about the glamorous Bluebell Girls, an all-female dance company founded by Irishwoman Margaret Kelly that performed around the world with “star billing in long-running cabaret shows like those at the Lido in Paris and the Stardust in Las Vegas.” A self-described underachiever from Birmingham, Phillips never imagined that she would become a Bluebell herself, but she soon found herself in the running thanks in part to her love of theater and her height (Bluebells were required to be taller than 5 feet, 8 inches). Despite minimal dance training, Phillips was awarded a nine-month contract to tour Italy with the Dapporto Spettacolo, a star-vehicle show featuring Italian actor Carlo Dapporto. Phillips chronicles the excitement, triumphs, mishaps, and hardships of being a touring dancer in a foreign country, complete with onstage and backstage drama. She describes the exacting, expensive standards that Bluebells were expected to uphold and her dramatic transformation from a “frizzy-haired shorthand typist” to a world-traveling sophisticate. Overseeing every aspect of the girls’ public image and personal lives was an overbearing dance captain, Vera, who frequently butted heads with Phillips’ fellow Bluebells, musicians, technicians, and eager Italian paramours. Throughout, the author recounts the beautiful sights and unfamiliar customs of the Italian countryside as well as the grueling aspects of her days as a dancer: “It wasn’t unusual for our daily quota of sleep to be split into two or three segments.” All the while, she narrates her story with an approachable tone of fond remembrance. She’s rarely judgmental and always seeking to contextualize the experience of being a young, female performer in Italy in the 1960s. Although Phillips’ memoir feels less like a structured narrative and more like a stream-of-consciousness yarn, her anecdotes are entertaining and will no doubt intrigue lovers of dance and theater.

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