Palm Springs, On Easter Sunday, lounging in a swimming pool surrounded by thousands of bikini-clad queer women: I’m wondering if I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Every March, during Dinah Shore Week, we flock to this desert hideaway to find new girlfriends, gawk at celebrities, enjoy live comedy and music and dance the nights away.
This year, the major Dinah Shore producers are celebrating their 20th anniversary. The event has very little to do with the über-straight singer, who’d probably spin around in her grave if she knew of the goings-on in her name.
It all began in 1972 with the founding of the Colgate Dinah Shore women’s golf tournament, a boost for women in a sport rife with dykes.
Players started bringing their girlfriends, who held informal parties, some of which turned into organized affairs in the early 1980s.
Mariah Hanson of San Fran’s Club Skirts collaborated with Sandy Sachs and Robin Gans of LA’s Girl Bar and the parties grew, along with the rumours of topless dancing in public, poolside riots and orgies.
After the 2005 event, Girl Bar and Club Skirts had a lesbian-drama falling out, and the event split, with each side now claiming to be the real deal.
“Dinah Shore Week” (dinahshoreweekend.com) and “The Dinah” (thedinah.com) wage a continuous low-intensity battle with thinly veiled statements like this one from The Dinah’s website: “Anyone can come to Palm Springs and produce an imitation of what you know as the Dinah Shore Weekend, and cause further confusion by calling it The Dinah Shore Weekend.”
Even the mayoral proclamations have to be held separately, opening “Girl Bar Dinah Shore Week” and “Club Skirts Dinah Shore Week aka The Dinah” at 1pm and 2pm, respectively.
Two local guesthouse owners told me the breakup has actually made for better events.
Since it happened, the duelling producers have brought in celebrities like the Pussycat Dolls, Pat Benatar, Lady Gaga and Macy Gray.
At Club Skirts’ White Diamonds Party, we see Sarah Shahi (Carmen in The L Word) stroll down the red carpet in front of her adoring fans, a woman behind me gasping, “Oh my god, she’s so beautiful!”
At Girl Bar’s Circus-A-Go-Go, we’re surrounded by a sound-and-light show with dozens of go-go dancers, neon hula-hoop dancers and live music.
Club Skirts’ headliner, Rosie O’Donnell, has cancelled, but the Salt-n-Pepa reunion is well received. In the celebrity fashion show that follows, newly out actor Meredith Baxter strides to the end of the catwalk, bends over and wiggles her butt in front of the fans, who grab it and cheer.
With fewer than 50,000 full-time residents of its own, Palm Springs is inundated night and day with women strolling, filling the hotels, restaurants and bars and honking at each other in their sports cars. Many local spots hold Dinah Shore events of their own, which are often cheaper than those organized by the big producers.
An early estimate of the total attendance at all events this year, provided by Girl Bar, is between 10,000 and 15,000 people.
At the final pool parties, the sun and revelry are beginning to take their toll. A couple of friends help a queasy gal out of the water then hold a barf bag in front of her. Nearby, a woman empties a can of beer into the pool, prompting a string of expletives from the can’s owner.
I climb out of the swimming pool, dry off and head into the hotel. Minutes later, cheering erupts from the deck. An earthquake, from Baja Mexico, has just struck, the strongest to hit this region in 18 years. For these followers of Dinah, it just adds more excitement to the party.
Julia Steinecke’s visit was subsidized by the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, Bike Palm Springs, the Riviera Resort and Spa, the Holiday Inn Resort and Travelodge.