Public Art
5:29 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

InterContinental Replaces Its Dancing Lady, The Modern-Day Coppertone Girl

Listen to the broadcast version of the story.

A year ago, the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Miami unveiled a 19-story-tall LED display of a shapely, female silhouette, dancing suggestively, often called "the dancing lady." The hotel recently held auditions to find new dancers. Hopefuls had one minute to dance to Pitbull’s “Hotel Room Service” to prove they had the right moves for a 200-foot LED display.

Three were chosen: Local teachers Jay Marcos and Jessica Mederos, as well as New World School of the Arts graduate Jasmine Howell, have now replaced the original dancing lady on the side of the hotel.

 Miamians had mixed feelings about the InterContinental's previous display -- much like they did about a 1950s Coppertone billboard of a toddler getting her bathing suit pulled on by a dog.

South Beach resident and new mom Idalia Deshon fell firmly in anti-dancing lady camp. She can see the hotel from almost every room in her second-story apartment.

“When I’m breastfeeding my son at night I can see her there,” Deshon says. “It’s like an 8-bit ... dancing stripper.”

Deshon says people forget Miami is full of families, and she feels the dancing lady promoted a stereotype of her city that doesn’t represent its growing arts and culture scene. From the moves seen in InterContinental auditions it's unclear how different from the old figure the new dancers will look.

A Little History

The dancing lady wasn’t the first female at the west end of the McArthur Causeway to ruffle feathers.

In the 1950s, there was the Coppertone girl, officially called Little Miss Coppertone. The image of a sun-tanned toddler with a black cocker spaniel pulling down the back of her bathing suit is now ubiquitous, but her first appearance in mainstream advertising is believed to have taken place in downtown Miami. 

The Coppertone girl was first seen as an almost 30-foot sign on Biscayne Boulevard, and, like the dancing lady, it was pretty high-tech for its day. The sign moved as the dog pulled the girl’s suit up and down, exposing her tan line and pale bum. Miami historian Paul George says at the time there were a lot of churches in downtown Miami, and the Coppertone Girl didn’t sit well with several clergy and parishioners.

“I think a lot of people thought it was just an unbecoming entrance to Miami,” George says. “Because, when you came off the MacArthur Causeway and you’re heading South, which a lot of people did coming from the beach, it was right in your face.”

But he says attitudes shifted in the '60s as Miami -- and the country -- changed.

No Such Thing As Bad Press

The InterContinental’s general manager, Robert Hill, says the hotel has gotten a few complaints about its dancing lady. However, he also notes last year was one of the hotel’s best in terms of occupancy.

“It’s been far more successful than we ever thought, the exposure we've gotten from it,” Hill says. “People are talking about it, and when people are talking about your hotel it’s a good thing.”

As the original dancing lady also fades into Miami’s history, at least one person will be sad to see her go.

Last February Tamara Oyarzabal’s then husband — they’ve since divorced — suffered a massive stroke. He was treated at Mount Sinai hospital on Miami Beach.  His hospital room had a view of the Miami skyline.

“She was my company because he of course was not able to speak or even conscious for a long time,” Oyarzabal explains. “I do hold the dancing lady in a special place in my heart because she provided uplifting moments, or at least a way to get away from all the beeping machines.”