Amanda Bernice was already an avid member of the KC swing dance community when she attended the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown in New Orleans in 2013. Swing was not the thing she left thinking about—it was a competition featuring vintage chorus girl troupes. “I didn’t think that was a thing that still existed outside of the Rockettes,” Bernice says.
Two years later, Bernice decided to start a modern chorus girl troupe of her own, the Kansas City Canaries (kccanaries.com). “I thought: ‘I don’t have to be a Rockette. We can have a team here,’” Bernice says.
What began as fun and casual performances with just three dancers for the local swing dance community gradually grew. In 2017, they began a monthly engagement at The Phoenix alongside A La Mode, which continued until the pandemic hit in March 2020.
In the past year, the Canaries have reemerged and are more active than ever, performing with Lost Wax at the Midland and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra at the Kauffman Center and for the member opening of the Nelson-Atkins’ “American Art Deco” exhibit. Now, the Canaries are forming a band to back them up, led by saxophonist Brett Jackson. “This year has been a big year for us,” Bernice says.
While jazz music in KC has been heavily documented and preserved, the same cannot be said of jazz dance, but one thing is for sure: Chorus girl troupes were prevalent in the rollicking heyday of Kansas City jazz and greatly contributed to the club culture of the time.
The Canaries don’t only want to keep this art form alive; they want to amplify and reclaim it. “We’re really trying to stay as true to the culture as possible,” Bernice says.
This reclamation of the chorus girl troupe, nearly a century later, now comes with greater freedom of expression. “The jazz and dance communities were friendly to the LGBTQ+ community back then, but people couldn’t be out at the time,” Bernice says. “It’s really great having a team that can do this and be a hundred percent ourselves.”