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Back to the hootchy-kootchy tent
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The words startled me as soon as I saw them:

“Virtuoso of the hootchy-kootchy.”

That’s how the staid old New York Times described Elvis Presley back in the late 1950s, when he first began gyrating his hips and turning his lip up in that famous sneer. 

Elvis died 36 years ago this week, and I chuckled about a story on him that used those words:


The very term screams of county fairs in the mid-20th century, and southern males from Alabama to South Carolina will grin sheepishly when they hear the term. For it was in the fabled, tented hootchy-kootchy shows that many a 15-year-old boy got his first real-life look at a naked woman.

Now I know this is going to draw different reactions from many of you. If you’re a grandmother -- if your hair is gray and you’re in the autumn of your life, as the songwriters like to say -- you’re probably saying to yourself, “Not my boy. He never would have done that. When he went to the county fair, he rode the ferris wheel and played that game where you try to win a stuffed animal by shooting a basketball. I know he didn’t go to the hootchy-kootchy show. Why, he just wouldn’t have done that.”

The sons of those kindly women are now church deacons and perhaps elected officials -- pillars of their communities, wherever they might live. They would probably take on a wry look when asked about the matter.

“Well,” they might say, not knowing yet whether to admit to their mothers that they actually paid 50 cents and made their way into the hootchy-kootchy tent, “I’m not saying I did and I’m not saying I didn’t.” Then they would probably grin.

It all seems so outdated now. Not only are there no hootchy-kootchy shows, there aren’t even county fairs. Back 40 or 50 years ago, the county fair was cause for celebration.

School let out early and people flocked to see the tattooed man and the bearded lady and the Wild Man Of Borneo, who sat in his tent in a pair of shorts and grunted uncontrollably while small children’s eyes went wide. Was he really from Borneo?

Today, you can turn on the television and see all matters of sex, including things that would make sailors blush. If you’re 15 years old here in the second decade of the 21st century, the concept of yesteryear’s coming-of-age must seem incredibly innocent: paying to go inside a moldy tent with a dirt floor and watch a shopworn woman bump and grind awkwardly while she tosses her clothes aside and you see, for the very first time, with your very own live-and-in-person eyes … well, you know.

The hootchy-kootchy women didn’t look like movie stars. Most were middle aged, and they sagged in all the places they shouldn’t have. My guess is they were not of high moral character. You think? And the ever-present rumors just made things all the more naughty and intriguing for a 15-year-old: “I heard that after the show…”

Oh well, enough of this. My 95-year-old mother will probably read this column, and perhaps, for the first time, she might begin to doubt all my lifelong protestations that I never attended a hootchy-kootchy show.

She might recall that spring night long ago when she allowed me to go to the county fair despite my SAT exams the next day, and the fact that I came in much later than she had told me to. She might even begin to think that I, an innocent young boy from Chesterfield County, might have ogled real, live, naked women.

Yes, she might really think that.

And in reply, I have only one thing to say:

Whatever would give you such an idea, Mom?