Ethnography Assignment: The Flamingo

flamingoI spent an hour an a half on Friday night (Feb. 5th, 2016, from 10:00 to 11:30pm) on the dance floor at the Flamingo Resort, a spot widely known by locals as what it used to be — the spot where celebrities like Jayne Mansfield frequented. The resort is hard to miss: it’s marked by a pink, neon tower on Santa Rosa’s 4th street, so out-of-style that it’s charming.

Before shaking my tail feathers at the Flamingo, I asked my co-workers what they knew about the place. I got several stories that pointed to the same idea: the Flamingo Resort represents the remnants of old-fashioned celebrity glam. But now “it’s behind a Safeway” — the glamour mostly lost.

But the Flamingo is legendary and known by all locals. So Friday, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and go old-school Santa Rosa, trying to see the city for what it once was.

The Santa Rosa Time Machine

Like a proper, old-fashioned resort, the Flamingo plays live music Friday nights by a band called SugarFoot, self-identified as a R&B, Rock, and Funk band. I was told going vintage was my best way to fit in there: my 70s disco dress would not be a costume at the Flamingo.

This was no joke. The six-piece band played what seemed to be all Blues Brothers, music dated to the time period of my dress. The snug space held over a hundred fifty people. The 2-person tables were all taken. The bar overflowed with patrons, and the dance floor was alive with couples roughly between ages 40 and 65. The Flamingo may have seen better days, but it certainly wasn’t dead; it just knew its demographic.

The dance style varied. Almost all of the dancers were couples, and the singles (of which, I only spotted two or three) were younger, supercharged, and electrically drunk, totally unaware of their surroundings as they gyrated wildly and alone. I was thankful to have brought my (mindfully silent and unobtrusive) boyfriend, also dressed in 70s attire, to help me blend in.

The older couples chose to dance swing, employing toe-tapper moves that involved a sort-of rooster walk and finger wave that I have never seen. When the band took breaks, thumping modern music would play with dramatic bass drops. Then, most of the dance floor cleared, save for a few daring elderly couples who hilariously continued to dance swing, but with jerky steps to match the beat.

I wasn’t able to pick up much conversation, but little conversation appeared to happen. The couples at the tables appeared silent and holding wine (a Sonoma County staple) and gazing off into the brass band, as if their $5 admission price was only for watching the performance. Only one table stood out in a far corner, men looking in their late 30s, wearing casual business attire, passionately communicating to each other with animated arm movements.

The youngest attendees, who appeared in their 30s, held beers and watched the dance from the sidelines, seeming to people-watch, likely looking exactly as I was — young and unsure. In only recent years, micro-breweries have popped up all over Sonoma County, likely contributing to the generational divide in beverage choices. Though we live in Wine Country, the elders drink the wine.

Despite my best efforts, I was noticed. A confident elderly man put an arm around my date’s shoulder and told him that I was beautiful. A woman in her early 40s, hanging all over her date, broke from his arms to tell us we looked amazing. Who knew 70s could be stylish?

Field Notes

t550x332Location: Flamingo Resort & Hotel. The room had a bar, lounge, stage, and dance floor (picture to the right). The different spaces of the room seemed to house different personalities, though I kept my attention mostly on the dancefloor and those around me observing the dancefloor. Classic, slightly upscale. Polished, yet retro, like a 60s smoke room. Reminds me of the design of our local Gration Casino, trying to appeal to a high-roller demographic, or, more likely, those who would like to see themselves as highrollers.

General mood: Confident, happy, bright, cheerful. The night was young. People made fools of themselves on the dance floor. The atmosphere was refreshing, as if to reflect a simpler time. Neighborly feel.

Age demographic: Majority of people seemed to age 40 to 65, though there was a few younger.

Hierarchy: I would say hierarchy was arranged by age. Those who looked younger than 40, 1) were not seated, and 2) did not dance, and 3) if they were dancing, they seemed self-aware – not with the unapologetic confidence the others had.

Number of participants: Upward of 150. Most of the seats taken. Bar overflowing. Dark lighting. I feel like I missed people in the shadows.

Class: Middleclass, but I had a sense of wide diversity. The Flamingo did not feel like it was trying to be luxurious or pretentious, but the atmosphere was bold and confident. Everyone felt their best here. While people looked like they dressed up for the event, they dressed for themselves – for a casual, fun night of dancing and relaxation.

Race: Dominantly white. The crowd reflected the immediate neighborhood it’s in, near the McDonald historical district, where we find middle to upper middle class. There was a decent number of Latinos, but not reaching accurate representation. According to the 2010 Census, Santa Rosa is composed of 59.7% whites, 2.4% African Americans,  5.2% Asians, and 28.6% Latinos. I spotted only one black man and no Asians (given, I wasn’t thinking at the time I was trying to spot them out), but understandably, they were far in the minority.

People profiles:

  • A middle aged, blonde couple stands out as freshly in love. Both attractive people. Upon arriving, the lady runs up to me and says “I love your dress” and “where did you come from?” more than once, not able to comprehend much of anything. She then runs back to her date and throws her arms around him. I’m thinking online date. Or perhaps this is just a second date and they live far away from each other.
  • Old man, white, in his 60s was wagging his finger to the “Apple Bottom Jeans” by Flo Rida during the band’s break. Very strange to see such contemporary music animated by (what looks to me) cute, grandpa-like movements from another time. A younger blonde woman was dancing with him, laughing to herself, perhaps unable to take him seriously. Perhaps he is being the ‘cute grandpa’ to her. I sense a generational compassion from both sides; mixing with the old and the new.
  • Middle aged woman was dancing by herself. She is the opposite of the old man with grandpa moves. She is instead the woman dancing to the classic blues songs with gyrating, sexual, highly-contemporary motions, better fitting for a rave. She looks out of place. A half circle had formed just to watch her dance. A black man has initiated dances with her a couple times. They shimmy at each other and part soon afterward, him taking sweeping, performative strides across the dance floor as if scouting for dance partners.
  • Bachelorette party at the bar. All white, late 20s. Bride-to-be wears a tiara and sash. I didn’t pay much attention to them and don’t have any defining details; just remember them in hindsight.
  • Latino man in his mid-to-late 50s stands alone staring at the band. Sips his drink and stares. Fresh haircut. New sweater. Certainly a story here, but one can only guess.


1) Strengths and Weaknesses of Observation

This type of observation is like watching fish from above water: I can see them, but only guess at their shape. In this environment, I could not pick up on real conversation, but the Flamingo is not about words. I felt a 1960s to 1970s Santa Rosa. I saw another time — a divide between generations. But my observations are subjective and filtered entirely through my experience. Every detail I pick and judge, whether consciously or not, despite my best intentions.

2) My own Strengths and Weaknesses to Conduct Research

I have kept a daily journal for most of my life, so accurate observation is a sharpened habit. Several times I have sat at coffee shops and have recorded what others have said, but going to the Flamingo was a challenge since I was left to interpret body language and write my field notes later.

3) What Ethical Problems Are There?

Everything. Every word is an assumption. A dance is just a dance until I am forced to describe exactly how it was. I have to interpret how a crowd behaves and put it to my own best words. To me, as soon as I put words to paper, it is then fiction.

4) How I compare the Quality of the Data to the Past

I once observed a businessman converse with a freelance videographer at a coffee shop. The businessman was displeased with the work he was seeing, and the freelancer was frantically trying to defend himself. Since I was sitting directly next to them at a shared table, I was able to inconspicuously write everything from how they looked to what they said to the kind of laptop they were working from. The quality of data, I could argue, was much better. But ethically, it felt far more intrusive.

5) How I would improve my approach

Going into a room, I would want to scope the room more thoroughly. I should make more accurate observations about the number of people in the room and where they are grouped and migrating. Though I observed age, I didn’t observe race. In an observational assignment where I am not taking notes, I should have a check-list in my mind of how to objectively and distantly characterize those that I see.

3 thoughts on “Ethnography Assignment: The Flamingo

  1. Hi Miranda … this is a well written piece! I enjoyed your prose and appreciate the use of colorful adjectives 😉 I think it’s interesting to note how your research focused on age groups and which age categorize people fall into based on their general appearance and perhaps behavior. I feel as if I am less able to do that, simply because many people I know look younger or older than their actual age. I know many people who I would have judged to be in their 30’s who are actually in their 20’s, and so on, so it is for me an interesting that you noticed rather than on race or other characteristics. Like you said, everything is an assumption anyway. I feel the same way when I write about my observations: that it becomes a fiction, rather than a fact, because my own perspective is colored by what I focus on. Great job here … I want to check out the place just for the fun of it!

    1. Tanya! 🙂
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m flattered someone else took the time.

      I think I gravitated toward age because that was what made me a fish-out-of-water in this scenario. I’m 24, and of course my own insecurity said I’m the youngest person in the room. It may have been selfish to focus there.

      Also, I think I didn’t notice race as much as I would have liked to when I was writing my field notes. I think because I grew up in this neighborhood and have become blind to it. If I had seen an out-of-the-ordinary mix of races, my mind would have definitely noted it.

      I saw that you took notes during your ethnographic assignment. That *must* have made it a different experience. I didn’t write my notes until the next day. I was dead tired!

  2. Hi Miranda! I didn’t see this reply until now, haha. I actually didn’t take notes during my ethnographic observation because I was on the treadmill. I did jot down a few things on my way out so that I wouldn’t forget, but really wrote it from memory later on in the day.

    About your age focus, I don’t think it’s selfish. It’s just something we do, I think. I tend to focus on what people wear (as you could probably see from my descriptions, ha ha). It’s interesting to note what catches our attention.

    Love the pix you’ve been posting. Thanks for sharing the royalty-free sites with us! Sure helps a lot .. I find myself pouring over these sites 😉

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