In the wee hours of a Tuesday morning, with the neon glow still warm, the Tropicana’s doors will gently swing to a close for the last time after a storied presence that spanned nearly seven decades. The Tropicana, bedrock of the Las Vegas Strip, is to be replaced by the promise of new thrills in the form of a baseball stadium. In its swansong, I offer an homage to an icon of entertainment, and a memory that’s as exclusive as any can be—I, the lone writer, and indeed lone man, who ever graced the stage of “Folies Bergère” as a showgirl.

Stand in place, arms wide, and imagine the applause—a cascade of claps, seven times over—as instructed by Janu Tornell, who coached me through the motions one must embody under the spotlight.

It was the autumn of 2008, my foray into an offbeat Las Vegas pulse a staple in the pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. My column, “Fear and Loafing,” saw me don every conceivable Sin City hat, from Stratosphere window-washer to Venetian living statue. Whether window squeegee or feather boa in hand, the quest was always to find the heartbeat of the people churning the lifeblood of the Strip.

“Folies Bergère,” once akin to Paris in the Nevada desert, was a show steeped in a tradition of glamour, where the showgirls ruled sovereign. Yet, the tides of entertainment were shifting. As its closure loomed, a sole beat remained in its sequined heart, and I—the unlikeliest of showgirls—would dance it.

Though initially faced with a resounding ‘no,’ fate saw the Tropicana fold the very next day after “Folies” posted its final notice. Suddenly, a columnist’s folly became a farewell gift. Yet amidst the impending finale, it was the show’s leading ladies, like Tornell—star of “Survivor: Palau” and Vegas native raised by a Cuban dancer—who mentored me with a fear that any misstep of mine might dim the glitter of the final bow.

So there I was, towering headdress threatening autonomy, gargantuan heels defying physics, and opera gloves stretching down from elbow to awareness. Tornell’s voice guided each pirouette and posture, as I mirrored her poise with questionable accuracy.

This venture was not my first encounter with finer femininity. A childhood scuffle with Debbie Lee had prepared me for the stage in some round-about way. Here, the showgirls had height as their weapon, the same advantage Debbie wielded, ensuring my head seldom rose above collarbones.

“Folies Bergère” was a gleaming relic of Vegas yore, a vestige of extravagant entertainment that burned brightly even as showgirl productions dwindled to memory, replaced by towering neon emissaries who greeted tourists with the same wink and charm.

As showtime beckoned, Tornell’s stage whispers sculpted my movements, though it was the thundering score of “Orpheus in the Underworld” that roared through the Tiffany Theatre. I navigated a live tableau, carefully avoiding acrobats and unicyclists in my midst.

Ultimately, I found my intended perch on the staircase, and save for a few curious onlookers, my ruse remained largely undetected—a tribute to the anonymity afforded by Vegas’ embrace of the extraordinary.

Backstage, among congratulations and laughter, Tornell’s parting words were both affirmation and benediction—”You were good, and hey, it’s Vegas!”

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Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson, a Senior Editor and respected voice in iGaming and sports, brings over a decade of journalism experience with a focus on digital gaming and cryptocurrency. Starting in sports analysis, he now leads a team of writers, delivering insightful and advanced content in the dynamic world of online gaming. An avid gamer and crypto-enthusiast, Mark's unique perspective enriches his professional analysis. He's also a regular speaker at industry conferences, sharing his views on the future of iGaming and digital finance. Follow his latest articles and insights on social media.


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