Rarely would I spend the time to dedicate an entire post to an individual, but I just got the Saturday paper and found my friend Michelle plastered all over the Variety section. She deserves the A section, but I guess you can’t always have it all.

Michelle and I used to work together at a previous agency. She’d always be the entertainment at happy hour or a company party – picking up the microphone and seducing us with her sultry voice and antics. She could mesmorize even this gay man with even her casual performances.

About a year passed and Michelle decided to give up a promising career in advertising and follow her dreams. She’s now Nadine Dubois, the emcee at Lili’s Burlesque Revue, entertaining for the masses and enjoying every second of it.

Continue reading for the full story, copied from the strib because their pages eventually expire – and I want to remember this one for a while 😉

Photos copied from startribune.com, (C) Tom Wallace

Hot stuff: Burlesque is back in Minneapolis

By Kay Miller, Star Tribune Staff
July 16, 2005 LI

Most patrons have a drink or two in them by 10 p.m., when emcee “Nadine Dubois” steps onstage to wild applause at Lili’s Burlesque Revue. Scott “Frenchy” Fremont at the drums pounds out a sultry beat.

Dubois — aka Michelle Langner, 30 — is draped in a low-cut scarlet gown, the spotlight catching her glitter-dusted cleavage. Her voice is a husky come-hither.

“Clap if you’re virgins to burlesque,” she says, with a playfully lascivious look. Dubois came late to the role of bawdy temptress, having sung in a Christian rock band after studying theater and opera at Gustavus Adolphus College.

There are maybe 40 people in the audience, most in their 20s or 30s. But Dubois picks Nate, the blond onetime farmer from Fargo sitting in the front row, as the evening’s foil after he admits he’s a burlesque neophyte.

“I promise we’ll deflower you gently,” she coos.

Lili’s is one of Minneapolis’ subcultural gems. On this Friday night, it houses patrons from as far away as New York, North Carolina and Seattle. Audiences are treated to a mix of exotic dancers, bullwhip artists, singers, comics, jugglers, fire twirlers and Frenchy’s Big Bang Burlesque Band.

With a pool of 40 artists and a bent toward improvisation, the lineup is different every Friday and Saturday night.

Tonight’s show is laced with surprises. A dancer’s pasties — those strategically placed nipple cones — accidentally pop off. Fire spinner Kristin Doll caps one routine in a back-bend, spewing fire into the air. A ballerina in a black tutu dances on pointe, tossing blossoms until she’s topless but for two little flowers.

“Burlesque is not about being naked or hot or sexy,” says singer Karen “Chanteuse” Paurus, 39. “It’s about allowing somebody to watch you in this very playful, sensual and often really silly circumstance where you’re taking off your clothes. Even then, you still don’t get to see a naked body. There is always something left to the imagination.”

Dubois and Paurus are among the core group of six performers who furnished the room from their own pockets and run the club, auditioning singers, hiring servers, even meeting with the fire marshal. Yet their $15 to $60 a night earnings make day jobs an imperative.

Dubois is a server at the Local Irish Pub and Paurus is an online editor for startribune.com. But Lili’s larger cadre of performers includes an English teacher, an art gallery manager, a massage therapist, an actor, a toy company president and a doctoral student in religion (“This is my dirty little secret,” says Doll).

For performers, Lili’s is a labor of love. For patrons, it’s a step back 60 years to Vaudeville’s coy sexual tease. Lacy panties, stockings and corsets draped over a clothesline at the window and passion-red walls set the evening’s tone: naughty but never nasty. Here, women are in charge.

“Tonight I invite you to strip yourselves of your Minnesota skins,” Dubois says. “We want you to hoot, holler, clap, bang on the tables. Around here we call that encouragement. Because if you don’t do that, they may not take it off. And that will be a little embarrassing for all of us.”

And bless all you dears who buy Dubois a cocktail or drop a little monetary “love” in her tip purse.

Beautiful in their skin

An hour before the show, Liana “GiGi Larue” Jacquet, 23, stands before the crowded backstage mirrors in black panties, pressing hot pink pasties to her bare breasts. Finding the best adhesive is a story in itself. Larue opts for spirit gum, letting it dry to a tacky ring before applying pasties.

“They’re like little Shriner’s hats with tassels on them,” says “CoCo Dupree,” a k a Sarah Levorson, 36. The longer the tassel, the better the twirl, says Dupree, who makes pasties while watching daytime TV. She sells them to show patrons for $20 a pair.

“There’s nothing better than knowing you helped a 70-year-old woman find a whole new appreciation for her boobs,” Dupree says.

Medical adhesive is the most reliable fixant, Dupree says. Still, wardrobe malfunctions are a hazard of the trade and the women delight in describing how they covered themselves with the flick of a fan, feather boa or hat.

Around them, female performers in all shapes and sizes arrive in the crowded backstage dressing room pooped from their day jobs, reviving as they slip into their alter egos.

“We basically make enough here to support our expensive habits — the feathers, the beads, the costumes, the shoes and stockings that get ripped,” Dubois said.

So why do they do this?

“I have power when I’m onstage,” said Lady Luck. “Yeah, it’s sexual power, but I’m in control. I look at the audience and see people with their mouths open. It’s wonderful to be desired.”

The work is fun. The talented cast is close. And Dubois has found she’s a master at engaging the audience. Her zaftig body is far from perfect. Yet feeling beautiful in her own skin has been surprisingly liberating.

“I wasn’t even a girl who would wear a swimsuit in public. Now I feel confident the way I am, not that I have to change into some skinny little thing.”

Dubois recalled one woman who came to the show with her emotionally abusive boyfriend. For years he had berated her as ugly and undesirable. In the middle of the show she turned to him and said, “I am so dumping you. None of the women up there is perfect but they’re stunning. And I’m that person.”

All the right moves

Clothes come off slowly as dancers warm up the Minnesota crowd. Sinewy CoCo Dupree, the embodiment of what the Harlem Renaissance must have been, is a pro at the steamy side glance and excruciatingly slow move.

Soon she’ll strip to pasties and stockings. But for now she toys with the audience, taking a five-minute song to slip out of her dress, stripping no further than a corset.

“That was the G-rated piece,” Dubois teases Nate. “I have a lot of experience and I might just have to take you backstage.”

A blush spreads from his collar to his hairline. But Nate is a good sport. After several drinks, he catches a boa thrown from the stage, smiles goofily when Dubois perches on his lap, buys her a tequila and lopes up onstage to drape the boa around her. Finally he slips a tip into her purse.

“Thank you, Nate. I’m glad you got it that I’m not going to bend over for it,” Dubois says.

Nate is the first to shout out naughty words to Dubois’s fill-in-the-blank burlesque song.

“I could end the song there but I think you guys deserve more,” she says. Nate’s eyes bug out as Dubois finally opens her black peignoir, revealing black garters and stockings. She drops the gown. With shoulders moving she gets the sequined pasties spinning in opposite directions.

Suddenly she motions for Frenchy to still his drum.

“Let’s talk,” she says solemnly. “Let’s talk about a few months ago when my parents called and said, ‘Honey, we’re coming up to see your musical show.’ ”

The audience gasps.

“No, no, you don’t understand. My conservative, Republican parents from South Dakota came. And I forgot to tell them I was stripping.” Her parents sat in the front row as Dubois maintained her professional, er, demeanor.

Afterward her mother asked, “Oh, my God, where did you learn to twirl those things like that?” Her father tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Oh, honey, I’ve changed her diapers. I’ve seen a lot worse than that.”

Kay Miller is at kmiller@startribune.com

7 thoughts on “Ode to Michelle

  1. That’s awsome. I always love to hear stories of people who follow their dreams on to become successful. It’s very inspiring.

  2. I agree with “Rich”. Sometimes we just need to leap beyond our comfort zones to make dreams a reality. It’s hard work–takes time–but look at the reward: living a life once held as a ‘dream.’ Great story, Dan.

  3. Hi Sparkles- after reading your blog I thought you might be the best person to ask. I was wondering if you could suggest any art galleries or museums, or tell me about the music scene in Minneapolis. I would love to hear back from you. Sincerely, Kristin Kim

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