Señorita Phoenix

They call them "Chica Sexy" competitions, and that's exactly what they are -- sexy girl contests, held at Mexican nightclubs. For the best show in town, head to Paraiso, a cavernous club on the west side.

Usually, at these contests, anything goes. Bras and panties barely stay on (flashing is common), and provocative dancing increases the odds of walking away with hundreds in cash prizes. The general rule seems to be that the more you bare, the greater your odds of winning.

Better take a pre-show nap, because the show at Paraiso starts late. Very late. The doors open at 7 p.m. and admission is $10. Expect to wait until after midnight for the sexy chicas.

The crowd includes not just slobbering single guys, but couples, coeds and even a few grandmas.

"Adelante compa!" shouts the MC, as he runs down a strip of floor created by the strategic placement of plastic tables that form a long runway perfect for the competition. He's like a WWE wrestler with a mike, expertly working the crowd. To get the night going, he pulls out a nervous female patron and plops her on a lone chair in the middle of the floor. Out of nowhere, two out-of-place blond male strippers make her a temporary bachelorette.

After a break, the music starts again and everyone looks like they're dancing on hot coals, to the blaring music of the 18-member band.

Finally, at 1:30 a.m., the contestants are paraded before an enthusiastic crowd. Dollar bills, lots of them, fly from the crowd as the first dancer starts to strip to her thong (think floss) and tiny bra. More bills fly as two security guys collect them as she struts along the makeshift runway.

She's followed by several more entrants, and the first model remains the natural favorite until the last contestant, who looks like a Victoria's Secret model, steals the show and the $200 prize from Girl No. 1, who looks shaken as she puts her clothes back on.

But Girl No. 1 is not sad for long. She's hugged by a gaggle of girls and is back on the floor shaking it to the brass beats of Banda Santa Fe, who, at 2 a.m., are playing their first song.

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Dan Cortez