Ginelle Ophelia knew that when three of her go-go dancer employees wore an outfit fashioned from electrical tape to this year’s Wing Bowl, it would cause controversy.
And she was right. The makeshift swimsuit-type getups at the annual January morning of debauchery that takes place at the Wells Fargo Center (featuring men eating wings and others in the stands ogling women) was written about by national platforms, including Buzzfeed, which sarcastically called the electrical tape trend “very Pinterest.”
Ophelia, the 27-year-old owner of the Berks County-based Go Gurlz Entertainment, laughs about it today. She says those tape patterns — which strategically covered three of the nine dancers she took to Wing Bowl this year — were part of a national “Black Tape Project” — which for some has evolved into an artistic movement. (<– That link NSFW, unless your employer is super forgiving.) Ophelia says the project actually started out as a runway event that raised money for charity.
“I knew I would have to defend it,” Ophelia explained. “But I would much rather defend black tape as something artistic than wearing a thong.”
For the last six years, Ophelia has appeared at Wing Bowl, and for the last four, she’s brought along her employees as Wingettes. This means that she and her go-go dancers (don’t you dare call them strippers) are each assigned to a wing eater and are responsible for cheering them on throughout the process. They’re separated from the rowdy crowd in the stands that have oft been derided for being misogynistic — 20,000 of them show up yearly at 6 a.m., already plastered.
Wing Bowl has gone on for 23 years in Philadelphia, drawing massive crowds to watch competitive eaters stuff their faces while Philly’s top-rated sports talk radio station 610 WIP runs the show. While most Wingettes are strippers or dancers wearing outfits with the names of their employers, other women who attend are, according to accounts, sometimes heckled by men in the stands and are asked to flash the crowd or make out with each other.
But this Wingette has a message for those who decry Wing Bowl as an event that annually encourages the objectification of women: Don’t like it? Don’t go.
“I go every year, and I have a blast,” she said. “I don’t feel objectified. If it’s not your thing, don’t go. It’s not different than going to a strip club.”
Ophelia still admits that some of the thousands of men who crowd the stands are “idiots” and “pant like dogs,” but down on the floor where the Wingettes are staged, they’re literally behind glass. (Yes, the same glass that hockey players body-check each other into; in this case, it’s keeping the Natty Ice fanatics at a safe distance from the barely-dressed women working below.) Instead, the women are surrounded primarily by media members and wing eaters who are usually too busy stuffing their faces with hundreds of hot wings.
But just in case, Ophelia brings her own security.
Go Gurlz entertainers, who are go-go dancers and will never appear nude, usually perform everywhere from high-end corporate parties to music videos, but are most commonly freestyling it on a platform at a nightclub. In those instances, they’re backed up by a security guard who ensures no one in the club gets handsy.
So even though Wing Bowl officials employ their own security guards, Ophelia brought two of her own this year — including “one guy who is big enough to cover four of us” — because she says you can never be too careful.
“This is not a nightclub setting, so it’s a way different environment because it’s a lot more people,” she said. “I do agree with the fact that the security isn’t quite as tight as what it should be on the floor, however, on the floor, those people are not usually the jackasses.”
You can count on Ophelia and the women she employs at Go Gurlz to be back to Wing Bowl in January 2016 if the officials will have them, even though they’re not paid a dime to be there. For these 10 dancers there this year who were up for more than 36 hours straight to attend Wing Bowl, it was about the massive exposure that the yearly event brings.
After Ophelia appeared on a local radio station prior to Wing Bowl saying that her women would be there, she got another booking within the hour. For this six-year business owner, Wing Bowl isn’t about getting paid — it’s about the fact that clients want a Wingette at their party.
Even if — or maybe especially if — that Wingette is wearing electrical tape for charity.