Unseen Showgirl Icons: Vanessa Show

When talking about LGBTQI+ entertainers in Latin America, it is impossible not to mention Vanessa Show, a legendary character who paved the way for Argentinean trans women in mainstream media.

Vanessa was born in 1950, and she lived a lavish childhood in a wealthy upper-class family —her father was a successful Egyptian farmer and her mother a Moroccan heiress and from a very early age, Vanessa was held to high moral standards by her parents. 

At 13, after finishing elementary school, Vanessa escapes from her home in Santiago del Estero, looking to find herself. She settles in Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, where, despite the fact that she was destitute and homeless she pursues a career as a performer. In the city, Vanessa works as a dishwasher and potato peeler, and invests every penny earned in dance classes. At 15, she begins working as a backup dancer in some of the most prestigious venues of the city, the Maipo and the National theatres. There, she performed elaborated tricks and choreographies alongside some of the most recognized showgirls of the time.

It wasn’t until the early-1970s, with the dawn of sexual liberation, that she began to explore her gender identity through clothing. Alongside a group of male dancers with whom she worked, Vanessa got in full drag and took to the streets to celebrate along with her friends. That was the moment when she realized that she felt the most comfortable presenting herself as a woman.

She quit her job as a backup dancer to pursue a career as a showgirl. She began working in minor venues and cabarets in the city of Buenos Aires until she earned the main role in a production at the legendary Teatro Corrientes. At the time, drag and “female impersonation” were illegal, and she was severely censured by the authorities. In this regard, she recalls in a 2019 interview:

It was a burlesque theatre. I was the star and I was backstage, about to go out and close the show. All of the sudden, two police officers burst into the dressing rooms shouting “Where’s the man dressed as a woman, we’re going to arrest him”, to which I answered by pointing my crimson nail: “He ran over there!”, and they didn’t suspect. I was unclockable.” 

Her career took off in the mid-1970s, as she was hired to work around the world. She had important seasons in Italy and Spain, while in France she is considered one of the most memorable showgirls of the legendary Carrousel de Paris. She was also one of the very first trans entertainers to succeed in Morocco, country in which she lived for almost a year. She worked successfully abroad for almost 20 years.

She returned to Argentina in the early 1990s, and her success around the world earned her multiple commendations. Today, she is recognized as an authority in the theatrical world, and she is partially in charge of the wardrobe department for plays and musical revues at some of the most important venues of the country.


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