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LOS ANGELES — Don’t call her a stripper, because Carolina Cerisola never takes it all off. The dancer may belong to a tradition of racy stage seduction that goes back to the Moulin Rouge, but she swears there’s nothing to make a lady blush in her nightly performance at Hollywood burlesque club, Forty Deuce.

“When I first heard about taking off my clothes for Forty Deuce,” recalls the twentysomething Cerisola, who has been the club’s headliner since its 2002 opening, “I said, ‘No! I’m not going to do that!’ It was hard to understand at first because it’s burlesque, but it’s not” — Cerisola pauses to search her limited English vocabulary for the best word — “burlesque burlesque.” In other words, she’s no hoochie-coochie girl.

A former world champion salsa dancer, Cerisola begins her improvised striptease in a heavily beaded gown and ends it in a lightly sequined bra and panty ensemble. And her celebrity followers — including Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Adrien Brody, Justin Timberlake, Mick Jagger and David Bowie — can’t get enough of what they do see. But the queen of the “shaky-shaky,” a signature dance move that looks exactly as it sounds, also has legions of female devotees, including Angelina Jolie and Demi Moore — and an especially protective one who surely wouldn’t appreciate raunchy dancing of the lap or pole variety. “My mom came to see the show,” says Cerisola. “She liked it, but I’m from Argentina — we’re used to seeing skin.” 

Tonight the rest of America can also get a peek of Cerisola’s talents when Bravo premieres the first of a four-part docudrama called “Forty Deuce.” The reality show, which kicked off with a celebrity-studded party in Hollywood Thursday night, follows club founder Ivan Kane; his wife and business partner, Champagne Suzy, and the club’s three main dancers as they toil and sweat to create Forty Deuce’s good, clean fun.

In the first episode, Kane chases his ultimate dream: to open a branch of Forty Deuce in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. In the meantime, he faces an unthinkable disaster: Cerisola’s visa has expired and she has to return to Buenos Aires. Will Cerisola ever return? Tune in next week. (For the record, everything turns out fine. Kane and Champagne Suzy currently have plans to open more clubs in New York, London, South Beach in Miami and New Orleans. Champagne Suzy also is launching a line of lingerie inspired by the club.)  

This story first appeared in the April 7, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Throughout it all, Cerisola steals the show, whether performing onstage with Forty Deuce’s jazz trio or sitting with Kane in an immigration lawyer’s office. “Carolina has that intangible thing that separates certain people from the pack,” says Kane. “She just connects on a visceral level. All the dancers are incredible, but she’s the star.”

Despite her heady success with Hollywood’s celebrity crowd, Cerisola remains surprisingly wide-eyed. She mentions a few career highlights worthy of Us Weekly — the time Courteney Cox gave David Arquette a birthday party at Forty Deuce and hired In-N-Out Burger to cater; the night Ricky Martin came backstage to pay his respects, and how both Sting and Prince have flown her around the world to dance onstage with them.

Yet Cerisola’s head hasn’t been turned by the temptations of fame. Her life’s ambition, she says, is to marry and move to Italy. But her real passion, aside from dancing? “Strawberries and tall boys,” she replies.

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