COLUMBIA — It's a chilly October night outside the seasonal Necropolis Haunted House in central Columbia.
Two black cages line the stage where a band called Beauty in a Casket is playing. Aura Slavit climbs into a black cage with cat-like precision. Grabbing the cage bars, she slithers her body to the rhythm of the music.
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Tonight, her character is zombie cat with white ears, fishnet stockings and black boots. Her face is painted with red and black make-up, complete with whiskers and a little black nose.
"Meow," she purrs.
Slavit and six others have been hired as go-go dancers for the Necropolis to bring energy and pop fright to the Halloween attraction. They belong to a dance team called the CoMeow Kittens, a name that references both Columbia and the Missouri Tigers.
"It's all acting," said Slavit, 22. "If I'm a sexy zombie, that's my character for the night."
What go-go dancers do
Go-go dancers such as the CoMeow Kittens are hired to dance on stage and hype up or entertain a crowd at clubs or raves. They engage the audience and add visuals to the music, Slavit said. She says they are performers, not eye candy.
"We're adding to the show, not just hot girls on stage," she said.
On the third Wednesday of each month, the group hosts an Electronic Dance Music Takeover at the Blue Fugue on Ninth Street. Its next performance is Oct. 16.
The kittens also dance every weekend in October at the Necropolis, which gives them a chance to showcase their fire props, LED light-up toys and crazy costumes. These outfits typically start with a basic black skin-tight suit, and the dancers add stockings, jewelry, wigs and make-up to achieve the desired effect.
A crucial part of the costume is platform stacks, the traditional go-go boots that are must-haves for a dancer, Slavit said. The heels must be 5 inches tall, she said, which is the industry standard.
"My confidence goes up when I'm wearing the stacks," CoMeow Kitten Jeannine Anderson said. "It's important to be confident on and off the stage."
Slavit said she likes to dress up and be playful on stage, to let the music move her. Go-go dancers need to maintain high energy and embrace the rhythm of the music for hours.
"They expect you to go all night," she said.
Go-go emerged as a dance fad in the 1960s just before the disco movement began ramping up. The dancing was freestyle with a lot of shaking and twisting to fast-paced music.
The first go-go dancers worked at the Whiskey, a go-go night club in west Hollywood. Discotheques introduced dance cages, often suspended from the ceiling. The craze eventually was incorporated into movies, parties, carnivals, dance marathons, television music shows and even shopping centers.
Slavit's interest in go-go dancing stemmed from her passion for science fiction and fantasy.
"I'm a superhero," she said. "I activate my superhero powers when I'm on stage."
Born and raised in Columbia, Slavit said she grew up with a father who is a huge fan of "Star Trek" and "Star Wars."
Mark Slavit has seen every "Star Trek" episode of the original series at least 100 times since he was 6, and he still watches them.
Her father used to drive her to science fiction conventions in St. Louis when she was younger.
At a techno-rave dance at an anime convention, Slavit saw girls go-go dancing on stage. She began dancing at conventions and going to shows on her own. Eventually she was asked to dance at the Blue Note, and she started CoMeow Kittens last year.
"She is doing what I would have liked to do, creating characters and living out her science fiction fantasy," her father said.
Slavit's love for science fiction drew her to a steampunk costuming group that began in 2009. The group created a fictional crew of characters called Airship Vindus in 2012, and they have filmed a web series called "Steamworks and Shadows" about the crew's adventures.
Steampunk is a genre that draws inspiration from science fiction and fantasy from the Victorian era, said Ben Watkins, director of the web series.
He plays a character in the series named Gunslinger Judge. Slavit's character is named Aura Korova, an entertainer and wandering soul who uses steam-powered wings to move herself quickly from place to place.
Slavit describes her character as everything she wishes she could be: "I'm always a character. Every character I do is like me."
As a side line, the CoMeow Kittens sell crafts at festivals and science fiction conventions throughout Missouri — mostly shirts, tie dye merchandise, flower crowns and wire wraps.
In the next year, the CoMeow Kittens want to dance at least once at a nationally recognized festival, such as Ultra Music Festival in Miami, an Electric Daisy Carnival or an Electric Forest Festival. These events bring bands together for multi-day electronic dance parties.