Even today, when there are few of the flesh-and-feather shows that helped build Las Vegas into the Entertainment Capital of the World, the showgirl remains a symbol of Las Vegas.
Her legs and come-hither smile — they never seem to end — remain a fixture of glossy PR campaigns selling the world on a vacation in the Nevada desert.
So when 85-year-old Jack Spargo found out that a woman who performed with “Les Folies Bergere” at the Tropicana was cutting his hair, he was amazed.
“You just never know who you’re going to run into in Las Vegas,” said Spargo, a Sun City Summerlin resident who was a commercial airline pilot for 30 years before retiring. “My old barber retired, and I walk into this new place and before you know it I’m talking to this former dancer who also worked for the magician Lance Burton.”
At Spargo’s suggestion, I found his hair stylist, Jeanne Laubscher, at Salon Chic and Barber on Sun City Boulevard.
She’s 53 now, part of the youngest batch of baby boomers. Blonde and seemingly still in shape to work as a dancer, she smiled that beautiful showgirl smile when I told her how impressed Jack Spargo was to have her doing his hair.
“What a nice man,” she said. “I’m getting to really talk with many more people with what I’m doing now.”
Like many baby boomers, she made a career change later in life. Hers came in the wake of the 2010 retirement of Lance Burton, who starred at the Monte Carlo for nearly 15 years. She was one of his “babes,” working in his levitation magic act.
“I’d always done hair, so I decided to get a license for it,” Laubscher said. “It’s another form of art, making someone look their best. It makes me feel good to see someone happy with their appearance.”
Yet her career change to a 9-to-5 lifestyle was not without stress.
“I’d been a professional dancer out of high school and then worked with Lance,” she said. “Free time is so different.”
Laubscher was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that drained her energy.
“Sometimes I think the stress of the career change had something to do with the lupus,” she said.
Fortunately, she’s now in remission. She’s resumed hiking, jogging and working with the homeless with her church when not doing hair.
We sat in the salon’s break room and went down memory lane as she sorted through pictures from her entertainment career.
Looking at a picture taken 23 years ago of her in “Folies” — the topless revue closed in 2009 after its nearly half century Las Vegas run — Laubscher remembered that in high school she went to see the show with her family.
“After seeing it, I was sure I could do it,” she said. “I’d trained in dancing and gymnastics.”
She auditioned and immediately was hired, but couldn’t perform until graduating from Bonanza High School in 1982.
“I didn’t think it was a big thing to make it at the time,” she said. “But hundreds try out.”
Off and on for 15 years she worked with “Folies,” often branching out to do other dancing gigs in and outside the country.
She worked with, and partied with, stars including Debbie Reynolds, Charo and Suzanne Somers.
She recently went to Israel, where her daughter, Janan, was performing with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.
“It makes me proud that she loves dancing, too,” she said.
Early in her “Folies” career, Laubscher met Burton. She would perform with him for years.
As she held a photo showing Burton magically keeping Laubscher off the ground, she laughed and said she could share how the trick was done, but then she’d have to kill me.
It’s impossible for Laubscher to ever forget her dancing career.
“I’ve got the dancing foot problems — arthritis, bunions,” she said. “A good foot massage is always needed.”
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Health section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.