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The naked truth

They're leered at, marginalized and shunned. But mostly those who work in the exotic dance industry are misunderstood

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'There’s nothing to tease'

And then there was Gisela.

There is a trailer park in Beausejour that is home to three cats — Donut, Mickey and Jimmy — and a boxer named Annie, who slobbers over anyone who comes through the door.

Inside, Gisela Wuench, who turns 80 this year, is pouring tea and tempting a pair of visitors with cheesecake dainties and rich German cookies.

One minute, the soon-to-be-octogenarian is talking about how she named her cat Jimmy after the Doors singer Jim Morrison. The next she’s showing Polaroids of herself in her youth while in various states of undress.

Awkward? Yeah, a little. But Wuench is warm and welcoming and the great-grandmother of eight.

This scene is all being played out in a mobile home that — without exaggeration — is wall-to-wall Elvis. Photos of the King line the walls. There are Blue Suede Shoes salt-and-pepper shakers. There is one life-sized Elvis cutout in the living room, and another in the bedroom.

Wuench was just 23 years old when she emigrated from Hamburg to Winnipeg in 1963 with her husband and two toddlers. She is old enough to remember German soldiers in the Second World War pressuring her parents to have her join the Hitler Youth brigade.

She began working at the Dakota in the mid-1960s and when one of the Go-Go dancers didn’t show one afternoon the bar manager asked her to fill in. At first, she resisted. Then she found out dancing paid more than her paltry waitress salary. Her audition was one song. "You’re hired," the manager said.

Gisela became a star on the local circuit. For the next two decades, she evolved with the business. She worked for Gladys. She worked for Irving.

All these years later, Gisela can tell you what has changed in the exotic dancing industry (the way dancers are seen by customers). "There’s nothing to tease. I always had layers to take it off nice and sexy. That is not what they do today. I’d started with my gloves and took them off slowly. That’s strip tease. If I came up there naked they were bored by the end."

And what hasn’t changed (the way dancers see their customers): "As soon as I get up there and heard my music... I just blocked out that people were watching me. Then I was OK. Everybody thought I was dancing for them because I looked at them, smiled at them, winked at them."

Just like Aurora.

And like Aurora, some 50 years earlier, Gisela was "jamming" – from Princess Avenue to Regent. "Sometimes on the weekend we’d go all day," she says. "There was no going home in between."

Gisela is home now with her cats and Annie. She regales visitors with her tale of the day Elvis died, Aug. 16, 1977. She was dancing at the Continental.

"I walked off stage," Gisela says. "Stupid me, I was dancing to his music when I heard he died."

The Elvis cuckoo clock on the wall strikes 4 p.m. The chime is the King singing "Jailhouse Rock."

Gisela will tell you that, even to this day, there are people in the trailer park where she lives who will act strange if they find out about her past life in burlesque. She is almost 80 years old and still being judged.

But not by Donut or Jimmy or Mickey. Or the second Elvis cutout that is found in Gisela’s bedroom.

The Go-Go dancer smiles.

"I’ll never sleep alone," she says.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 6:30 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Chelsea; minor edits.

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