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Men drinking draft at the tables nearest to a stripper’s true north: The pole. But the "who" or "where" matters little to Aurora, who has spent her entire adult life in a business that — for all its literal exposure — operates largely in the shadows. In her other life, Aurora (her real given name) has raised two children and works part-time as a health-care aide, where she performs such glamorous tasks as cleaning bed pans and washing patients. No regrets."I’ve put myself through school doing this," she says. It’s a burlesque history unique to this city, rife with colourful characters with a decidedly blue hue: A larger-than-life Queen of the Go-Go Girls, the 11-year-old boy-turned-protégé she adopted into the business, an octogenarian former stripper obsessed with Elvis, and a woman who now owns the very strip club in which she once performed — while dating one of the world’s most famous WWE wrestlers. Back in the Green Brier, as Aurora straddles the pole with her thighs, hanging upside down, her long-time friend and former colleague Chelsea is explaining the one truism and shared experience of almost every terrified dancer who has taken the stage for the first time in Winnipeg since the mid-1960s. It’s one of the ultimate self-taught professions."Anything Aurora has learned on the pole," Chelsea offers, in genuine admiration, "has been trial and error."Seconds later, the music stops.
Women like Aurora are leered at, fantasized about, marginalized and shunned. She has a long-time boyfriend who works construction. Aurora quickly gathers her clothes off the floor and slaps her CD back in the First, some background.
After all, she has already made a couple stops in her "jamming session" — an only-in-Winnipeg phenomenon for dancers that goes back almost 50 years — and has seven more gigs to go.
Her final show won’t be finished until after midnight.
"I was closer to the dancers and knew them better than anybody.
Some of the best years of my life."Today, Irving has over 20 photo albums filled with photos of the dancers who performed in Winnipeg over the last 50 years.
"All I’m thinking about is don’t be late," she says.
He knows them all."This was one from Paris," Irving says, pointing at a black-and-while glamour shot.
"Her stage name was Devil’s Angel."Turns the page."This girl got knifed to death. Back in the 1990s, when the burlesque business was at its apex — before the Internet flooded the planet with free and unlimited porn — Irving’s agency booked Winnipeg-based dancers all over the world.
So what’s going through Aurora’s mind as her driver, another former exotic dancer named Chelsea, tries in vain to find a parking spot?
“All I’m thinking about is don’t be late,” she says.