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‘Bootcamp’ serves up showgirl shine on Las Vegas Strip

Stacy Law-Blind grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was supposed to attend Stanford.

Instead, she says, “I went to the University of Las Vegas Boulevard South.”

The tall girl who stuck out in ballet class — “I always felt like I was in the way,” she admits — moved to Las Vegas in 1979, found a home among the other statuesque dancers in “The Best of Burlesque” at the Landmark and never looked back.

The single-named Mistinguett arrived three years later. While the trained dancer never performed onstage in Las Vegas — she was a quarter-inch shy of the 5 feet 8 inches required to be a showgirl — she carved out a respected career as a producer, director and choreographer.

The duo have put their 60-plus years of combined experience into “Showgirl Bootcamp,” a new, twice-daily workshop that’s as close as you can get to feeling like a part of Old Vegas — at least until someone launches the Whack a Guy and Bury Him in the Desert Experience.

Lashing out

“You don’t want anyone upstaging your face,” says Law-Blind, 57.

She’s leading a showgirl makeup tutorial on the stage in the Saxe Theater inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort. Each attendee has her own lighted, trifold makeup mirror, as well as the attention of a group of dancers ready to assist.

“Relax the eyebrow,” Jennifer Jordan, dance captain for “Vegas! The Show,” advises one woman. “Eyebrows are the window to the soul.”

“You’re so close,” Gabriella Versace, singer and host of “Sexxy,” says to another by way of encouraging her eyelash placement.

Eyelashes, for the uninitiated, are a very big deal in the showgirl arena.

“Even on your best day, you still could screw it up,” Law-Blind tells the attendees. “It’s almost like an event to get these on.”

By the time she’s finished applying them to her volunteer, you could rest a coffee cup on those lashes.

‘Cutting, cutting, cutting’

The showgirl may have helped put Las Vegas on the map, but the city hasn’t been terribly kind to them of late.

The Tropicana’s “Les Folies Bergere” closed in 2009, its 50th year. In 2016, “Jubilee!” at Bally’s, the last of the showgirl spectacles, packed up its rhinestones after 34 years. “Vegas! The Show,” which shares the Saxe Theater with “Showgirl Bootcamp,” is the sole production on the Strip with a traditional showgirl number.

Asked why they’ve fallen out of favor with producers, Mistinguett, 67, who prefers to work behind the scenes, has a one-word answer: “Money.”

For decades, the shows were loss leaders to attract potential gamblers. Now, it’s all but impossible to build and maintain the costumes, let alone pay the dancers, while expecting the show to turn a profit.

“The hotels just keep cutting, cutting, cutting, cutting, cutting,” she sighs.

It’s the buskers, though, those women who put on headpieces and pose for photos with tourists, who draw Mistinguett’s real ire.

They’ve done at least as much damage to the reputation of showgirls as that Elizabeth Berkley movie.

“We’ve gotta stop that,” she says. “I can’t believe the city doesn’t crack down on this.”

Law-Blind makes a point to refer to those women as “showgirl impersonators.”

“When you see Elvis on Fremont Street, you don’t call him Elvis,” she says. “You go, ‘Oh, that’s an Elvis impersonator.’ But with showgirls, they think that they’re real showgirls.”

When Law-Blind tells people in other cities that she’s a showgirl, she says, they’ll ask, “Oh, are you on Fremont Street?”

Walking and toasting

Once their makeup is done, they’ve donned the towering feathered headpieces and gloves to go with their glittery “Showgirl Bootcamp” T-shirts, and they’ve posed for the “after” portion of their before-and-after photos, the attendees are put through their paces.

Despite the name, there’s far more “Showgirl” than “Bootcamp” until Law-Blind blows a whistle to gather the women to practice the showgirl walk.

Incorporating new movements each time out — “Bend that front knee and make an ‘S’ shape with your leg,” she instructs — Law-Blind knows it’s a lot to keep up with, especially for the women struggling just to keep their headpieces upright.

Their walks are bookended by champagne toasts, two of the three on this particular morning.

The middle one involves gummy bears in the flutes, into which the women dunk pieces of cotton candy.

Law-Blind calls it the “showgirl version of a Jager bomb.”

When the show’s over

“Showgirl Bootcamp” doesn’t pretend to make attendees feel like actual showgirls.

To accomplish that in less than two hours, the duo would need to hire some goons to break a couple of pool sticks across everyone’s backs before letting Kathy Bates go all Annie Wilkes from “Misery” on them.

The feathered headpieces, each of which Mistinguett made by hand, weigh around 10 pounds. The ones Law-Blind wore, including the backpiece with the plumage, were five times that. As they’d break, they’d be welded back together and would get even heavier over time.

Law-Blind figures she’s gone under anesthesia 30 times to have needles stuck up and down her spine to create more space. Her feet have been reconstructed, including having plates inserted to stabilize them, over the course of three surgeries. One of those procedures sounds like something from a horror movie.

“They took the knuckles out of my toes,” she says, “and sewed my toes together.”

‘A little bit of showgirl’

The workshop is an offshoot of Mistinguett’s “Showgirl Follies,” the production she launched in 2010 that gives dancers, many of whom are long retired, the chance to perform again.

In much the same way, “Showgirl Bootcamp” is designed to empower its participants.

“Women need empowerment now more than ever. … It’s that feeling of confidence in the way you look, the way you walk, the way you feel about yourself, that has to constantly be driven in and fed,” Mistinguett says.

“I get to give that to women who maybe didn’t have someone to empower them, to tell them that they’re beautiful,” Law-Blind adds. “Not just tell them, show them.

“To apply it into your daily life so you have that little bit of showgirl in you all the time, when you keep that with you, it does empower you.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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