Displaced ‘Folies’ showgirls reluctantly moving on from dancing

They kicked it high in the longest-running show in Las Vegas history. Now, they’re mostly just kicking it. Six months after the final curtain fell on "Folies Bergere" at the Tropicana, only one of its final nine showgirls has another show to show for it.

"I was just very lucky," says Kimberly Denmark, who segued into "Sin City Bad Girls," a cabaret jiggle show at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Imported from Paris in 1959 by Tropicana entertainment director Lou Walters (father of Barbara), the topless "Folies" ran for 49 years until March 28.

Denmark, who won’t reveal her age, scored her "Bad Girls" audition in February, a couple of weeks after new Tropicana management announced the end of the chorus line.

"I went praying that I would get something, and I did," says Denmark, guessing that her new show’s producers sought a "curvy, rock ‘n’ roll" type for the role.

Denmark’s former co-workers have had less success landing on their high heels. Most blame the economy and Las Vegas’ general disregard for its own history.

"I’m trying desperately to find a show," says Samantha Ostolaza, 39. "I miss it so much."

Ostolaza has been turned down for "Dirk Arthur Xtreme Magic," "Fantasy," "Bite" and pretty much the only traditional showgirl game left in town other than Mayor Oscar Goodman’s arm: "Jubilee!" at Bally’s.

"I know that with my age, the competition is a lot stiffer," Ostolaza says. "But I have some good years left because I’m still in good shape and still look pretty good for my age."

Ostolaza regularly checks vegasauditions.com and her network of friends for new leads. But the rare auditions that do come up attract hopefuls in far greater numbers — and for far fewer slots. (For its most recent audition, in July, a "Jubilee!" spokeswoman reports that more than 40 women turned up to audition for 10 roles.)

"Back in the day, people would show-hop, so there would always be turnover," Ostolaza says. "They would go from ‘Jubilee!’ to ‘Enter the Night’ to ‘Siegfried & Roy.’ But people are holding onto their jobs because there are no other ones."

Former "Folies" showgirl Cari Byers — who also tried both "Jubilee!" auditions offered since January — is using her involuntary downtime to launch a fashion line.

"Growing up, I always just wanted to be a dancer," she says, "but I’ve been doing stuff like this since high school out of necessity." (Finding size 6 dresses for a 6-foot-tall woman is not something you do off the rack, she explains.)

Byers, 38, sells her Green Tease line of dresses, skirts and T-shirts, sewn from recycled clothing, via the Web site www.greentease.etsy.com. She reports some success, but not enough to pay her credit card, mortgage and car payments at the same time. (Her fiance, a former "Folies" stagehand, is out of work, too.)

"It’s rough right now," she says.

Janu Tornell, 44, has given up on auditions, saying that her career has "moved on to its next step." Tornell was the longest-tenured "Folies" showgirl when it closed, having joined in 1995. She also was the most famous, thanks to appearing on the 10th season of "Survivor" in 2005. Currently, she teaches Spanish and French, four days a week, as an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — a job she also held while performing.

"School keeps me busy," Tornell says. "I’m enjoying it. I like it."

As for the other closing-night "Folies" showgirls, Claudia Cervenka is modeling and dancing for corporate events, Svetlana Failla is attending fashion-design school and working at a clothing store, Dana Kanapsky is a hostess at Stack at The Mirage, Sue White is an aesthetician and Kirsten Wolner says she’s figuring out what to do with her life.

"It’s not that we don’t want to dance anymore," Tornell says. "If they said to us, ‘Hey, you got another gig wherever,’ of course we’d go.

"It’s that there’s nothing out there anymore."

Even the still-employed showgirl says she’s worried.

"I don’t feel secure by any means," Denmark says. "We’ve got to get the people in, otherwise we don’t have a show anymore."

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.

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