Women of the night

It started as an innocent, if not daunting proposition: Profile women in an industry that has generally been run and represented by men. From promoters such as John D. Guzman and club owners like Steve Rubell, to superstar DJs and artists with names like Moby and BT, the club/dance music culture seems to have been a man’s operation, where the woman’s involvement has been traditionally restricted to dressing up, getting drunk and providing eye candy/sex fulfillment/arm decoration for the men.

Some involved behind the scenes in the Las Vegas nightclub scene are frustrated that the mainstream and alternative media has made little mention of its successful women. After beginning to mentally dissect the topic, a second, more compelling train of thought began to develop. Why is it that more women aren’t getting the attention of their male counterparts? Or, more importantly, why aren’t there more women in the club scene doing things to garner such attention? Pandora’s Box was opened, and the questions it let into the air demanded to be answered. Focusing on a few movers-and-shakers, it becomes evident that gender isn’t always a factor in attaining status in the scene.

The media queen

One of the few people who can probably claim responsibility for putting the Las Vegas scene onto the metaphorical underground map is Jennifer Wilhelm. As one of the driving forces behind local graphic design and consulting powerhouse Moving Sun Studios, Wilhelm merged her love for rave culture with her talents in the print medium when she took on the task of expanding Southern California-based Where@ Magazine into the Las Vegas market.

Studied in ancient Chinese medicine, gifted with a boundless determination and engaging eloquence, Wilhelm’s work is a labor of love. Now co-publisher of Where@, Wilhelm is responsible for promoting a local club scene she describes as “built on numbers” — one in sharp contrast to community-based scenes in San Francisco and San Diego. “I always say Las Vegas is a different animal,” says Wilhelm.

Though she perceives the people behind the scenes in Las Vegas nightclubs to be “90 percent men,” Wilhelm has faced very little sexism or discrimination in her dealings with the powers-that-be. She believes that there is a mutual respect between herself and the people that she deals with – something that Wilhelm constantly strives for.

Always presenting herself in a clear-headed, professional manner, Wilhelm is careful to avoid being labeled as a “party girl,” ensuring she is always taken seriously. Even though she sees female patrons and employees in the clubs getting “special treatment,” which there is little escape from in a male-dominated industry.

Although this publisher-cum-promoter doesn’t like to get “caught up in analyzing the way things are,” she is disappointed that there aren’t more women stepping up to be “pioneers” in the club scene. Still, Wilhelm hopes that the efforts of motivated women, like herself, can inspire a little more ambition from girls unaware they can also be part of the bigger picture.

The DJ

Sandra Collins was practically made for the spotlight. Born into a famous Las Vegas showbiz family, Sandra has been DJing for more than 11 years, working hard to become one of the top trance DJs in the world. Coming up as a female DJ in an arena generally dominated by men, one might wonder if Sandra felt any pressures or difficulties in the beginning. Surprisingly, she says no.

When Sandra started out, club and DJ culture in America was just in its infancy. “It was not planned as a career,” says Collins, before her recent “Giant” set. From the small, tight-knit scene in Phoenix, where she started DJing, Sandra’s credibility — and career — grew gradually as she built a solid fan base and adopted a definitive sound. This kept her from being singled out as a female — save for the occasional novelty of a “kick-ass girl DJ.”

According to Collins, there’s been a lot of hype about “female DJs taking over.” She feels that there is “change in the new millennium,” which will see more woman DJs “coming out of the woodwork.” If that’s the case, then the future may be brighter for young women interested in the dance music industry. Sandra confirms there has been no pressure from Kinetic, her current record company, to exploit her womanhood — a testament to the status and respect that she has earned in the world of electronic music.

The oxygen diva

The concept of an oxygen bar — serving up pure O2 through neon-colored nasal canellas — is a pretty hard sell to the uninitiated. Applying that concept to a drunken, smoke-filled nightclub setting would seem next-to-impossible — until Tia Taymar came along.

A psychology major at UNLV (minoring in environmental science) and full-time stylist at DIVA Studio, Tia Taymar turned Breathe’s upstart nightclub venture into an unexpectedly successful institution when she took over as club bar manager and trainer this spring. Oxygen sales tripled almost overnight. The number of clubs with bars also have nearly tripled since then.

It all came courtesy of Taymar’s sassy, in-your-face, no-bull approach to running the bars — techniques which she hand-trains to each new O2 girl.  With bars in Baby’s, Utopia, the Drink, House of Blues and Ra — among others – Taymar has created an attraction as satisfying and in-demand for patrons as it is for club managers and promoters. All this has thrust the tall, infectiously boisterous young woman into the upper echelon of a scene she really never had an interest in. But she’s wholeheartedly applied her neo-feminist ways into making the most of it.

“There’s nothing wrong with being sexy or being a sex object,” Taymar says, “as long as people treat you like a human with a brain.” She stands firmly in defense of strong women. “Just because a girl works in a club, or is involved in a club, doesn’t mean that she’s a ‘kitten,'” she says. Both Taymar and Wilhelm agree that girls will always like “dressing up and feeling pretty.”

Various women, especially those profiled here, say that their appearance in nightclubs is more to fit in — to look the same as other girls, not necessarily because of what men expect. The vinyl-clad cocktail servers, the cage dancers — though their positions and attire may seem like male fantasies — they own their sexuality, and do so quite comfortably.

Though the nightclub scene in Las Vegas may be run like a “good ol’ boys network” (as Wilhelm puts it), that “men’s club” mentality may not last much longer. “[Women in the scene] deserve to get the same attention as Guzman and Mike Fuller…but our time will come,” Taymar says.

Especially if individuals such as Taymar, Wilhelm and Collins have anything to say about it.

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