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State of Carolina

Argentine world-champion salsa dancer at the club Forty Deuce keeps men mesmerized and crying for more, using tease instead of sleaze

September 04, 2002|MARIA ELENA FERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A cymbal crashes, the saxophone purrs, the bass rips into a bump-and-grind, and vavoom! Who's that girl?

She springs from behind a curtain, all dolled up in a red low-cut gown and matching boa, her black bra peeking through, unmatched stockings full of naughty holes, stilettos high and pointy.

Slender and athletic, sexy and playful, she sashays and struts inside the spotlight. Her big green eyes and thick black lashes are all come hither. Her lips curl seductively. Now she's dancing, now flirting, now gyrating, and, oh, she's hotter than Georgia asphalt.

"Yeah!" yells Andre Blake, 36, jumping from his seat at the center of the Forty Deuce horseshoe bar. Others around him are hooting and clapping. Some, obviously regulars, yell, "Caro-leena! Caro-leena!"

Carolina, who are you? What are you doing to these people who have come to Ivan Kane's cozy, stylish Melrose lounge?

Exactly what Kane, who also owns the racy Deep on Hollywood and Vine, was envisioning all his dancers would do. "She leaves the guys and the girls wanting more and hoping for more, but not getting it, and being fine in the end because they feel so satisfied," Kane says.

Similar acts have been titillating Hollywood in recent years--the Pussycat Dolls and Velvet Hammer burlesque dancers occasionally perform at such clubs as the Viper Room and, earlier this year, the Sunset Room put on "Sunset Rouge," a full burlesque act complete with acrobats and clowns.

But Forty Deuce, open for two months, is slightly different. It is Kane's throwback to New York City's old strip clubs on 42nd Street, "the back-alley" lounges he frequented as a teenager when he skipped school with his buddies. Kane gutted his first Hollywood bar, the eponymous Kane, which had been open for five years, to create Forty Deuce, a 125-capacity, sophisticated lounge with a low bar, lounge chair seating and cocktail tables with tiny, inviting lamps.

"Back then, we called 42nd Street 'Forty Deuce' and after Sept. 11, I just wanted to pay homage to my city," Kane says. "The vibe in the club is right for the name because it has that old Times Square feel to it. This is not a gentleman's club or an in-your-face strip club. The dancers are professional dancers. They are not strippers. I wanted to go back to the days when erotic dancing was an art form, and the tease was what it was all about."

Teasing, Carolina Cerisola has discovered, comes naturally to the 22-year-old Argentine world-champion salsa dancer. Her sultry act--which incorporates traditional bump-and-grind a la Gypsy Rose Lee with modern salsa and samba steps that make climbing the Santa Monica stairs seem like a Sunday stroll--is not X-rated. She does not bare all; it just seems as if she does.

"She's phenomenal," says Blake, who says he is partial to her Latin rhythms because his mom is Venezuelan. "She is sexy but at the same time refined. She has a lot of class to her. She's a baby, but up there, ay, Dios mio! Burlesque is a hard thing to do. We live in a very sexual society, and we've gotten away from the class of it all. For me, this is refreshing."

Offstage, there's still a lot of girl in this woman whose act is so hot that she is the only dancer Kane schedules to perform every night the club is open, Wednesday through Saturday. At 5 feet 6, she's thin but still preoccupied with the flatness of her abs, which she mentions often in conversation. She eats only once a day on the nights she performs "because I don't like my [stomach] rolls." She also worries what her boyfriend and mother would think if they caught her act. Knowing how she makes her living, she explains, is "very different than actually seeing me."

"I've discovered a whole new side of me, my sexy side, since I started dancing for Ivan," says Cerisola, sipping some orange juice, the only thing she'll allow herself four hours before her show begins.

Before Cerisola met Kane through a mutual friend a year ago and started dancing at Deep, she was on the salsa circuit and spent five months as partner to Johnny Vasquez, the "Prince of Salsa." She danced in Marc Anthony's "I Need to Know" video and Guy's "Dancing" video, both in 1999.

Now, the "Latin girl," as club-goers are prone to call her, has become Forty Deuce's headliner. Hollywood celebrities, such as Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney have stopped in to see what the fuss is about. Last weekend, Daryl Hannah, Vince Vaughn, and Kiefer Sutherland were among those in the audience.

"I can't believe what's happening," says Cerisola, who has lived in Los Angeles for two years and is still learning English. "Wow! I'm super happy. More than anything, with myself, which is very important. I never expected people to respond this way. When they yell my name, it always takes me by surprise. It's all very new to me because I've always been in a Latin environment."

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