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Meet Michelle L’amour in River North

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle L’amour.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Michelle. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I began dancing when I was 15. I started with ballet and then added jazz, hip hop, contemporary, belly dance, and even a little flamenco and ballroom. I was a very shy kid and it took a lot of courage for me to walk into that first class, but as soon as I did, I was hooked. From that moment on, I wanted to be a dancer. I ended up going to college for finance at the University of Illinois in Champaign. I still danced and dreamed on the side. Then, September 11th happened and the financial markets crashed. I knew that finding a job would be difficult. I didn’t really enjoy finance or the thought of being in an office all day. This event really reminded me that life is short and I wanted to be doing something I loved. As soon as I got my degree, I went back to teaching dance. In this time, I started doing burlesque. I was asked to choreograph a burlesque show and I didn’t know what that was, but when I heard the music, I knew. The unmistakable rhythm of the drums had me moving and I realized this is what I had been doing privately in my bedroom for years! The first time I did a striptease on stage, I knew there was no going back.

I have been doing burlesque in Chicago, and all over the world, for 15 years. I opened a burlesque school 10 years ago called Studio L’amour (which now offers online classes) and I ran an award winning burlesque troupe called The Chicago Starlets. My husband and I also ran the Everleigh Social Club, a private members social club in the West Loop, for 4 years. I currently produce the shows at Untitled every Thursday, Big Sexy Show at the Comedy Bar every Saturday and I book all the entertainment at the Drifter Tuesday-Saturday. I also founded Naked Girls Reading, a provocative literary salon that will be celebrating its 10 year anniversary in March! The salon started here in Chicago but now there are chapters in 20 cities all over the world!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The path I have chosen is not easy. When I started doing burlesque there wasn’t much going on in Chicago. I had to educate the audiences on what burlesque was. I had to show them that they would LOVE it. Once I started doing shows, the women would come up to me and ask me to teach them. This is how I started teaching burlesque. That was a natural transition because I was already a dance teacher. There wasn’t a curriculum for burlesque like there was for ballet, so I crafted one so that women would learn about the technique, style and history of burlesque.

Going into business for yourself is not easy. It is more than a full time job. You are on all of the time. I wear many hats. Producer, choreographer, instructor, administrator, promoter and then, there’s the actual performing. It is a lot of work. Sometimes I would fantasize about just having a 9-5. How easy that would be to clock in and clock out. But then, when I really thought about it, I knew I wouldn’t last. I’m restless and I need excitement.

Being your own boss is challenging, but when you are also an artist, it’s even more challenging. Pay days are never regular. You don’t know when the next thing is coming and you’ve got to be ready. When I would produce shows with my husband, we would never know if people were going to show up. We had to sell tickets to pay for the venue and pay for the talent and hopefully we could make some money to live on. It was always an unknown. We were always putting ourselves out there and risking everything. It was very stressful. At one point, we were on food stamps. Things were hard. But now, there is burlesque everywhere in this city and burlesque has grown exponentially in this country. It’s kind of amazing to see the shape it has taken on since our beginnings.

Michelle L’amour – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
My production company, Everleigh Entertainment (formally known as Lavender Cabaret), is known for exquisitely decadent productions. We put on fabulous shows with top notch entertainment. We are very professional and we take what we do seriously. There are a lot of hobbyists out there but this has always been our life. We are very grateful to be able to produce regular shows in Chicago, and to also have been a part of the production for the Halloween parties at the SOHO House since they opened. Our desire is to showcase sexuality in a healthy and approachable way. Everything we do is with love and integrity and I think that shines through all of our productions.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
There have been so many, but my most recent moment came when I revealed my struggle with alopecia, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks hair follicles and I lose my hair. I’ve had this since the age of 6. I have had periods of beautiful hair and periods where I just have patches on my head. This caused a lot of shame and insecurity in me. I became very good at hiding. No one knew my secret.

The secret was harder for me to keep though in these most recent years. I’ve had a flair up in the past 3 and a half years and it was so difficult for me to go through. I was a burlesque star who was losing her hair. These ideas didn’t mesh in my head. It caused me so much pain, grief and stress, which are all things that make the condition worse.

I recently shaved my head in November and I made a video on YouTube in January to come out to the public about this. I needed to stop hiding. I wanted people to know that even though there are so many reasons to not do something in life, those reasons are just excuses. I could have let this cripple me but instead, I will use it as a platform to show women and men that beauty is truth. This has been the backbone of my teaching for years but I had to practice what I preach and believe that my teachings were also for myself, not just others.

I am very proud that I did this. I feel amazing and the feedback has been incredible. So much love and support from fans, friends and family. It was hard for me to do because I thought I would lose fans and I would lose work, but it’s actually been quite the opposite.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Melanie Bert, Mike White, Kaylin Idora and Dark Water

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