Vegas Dancer Overcomes Injury to Fulfill Dream

Associated Press

Six years after she was told she would never dance again and would have to learn anew how to walk, showgirl Dianne Lalena is dazzling Las Vegas audiences and teaching teens about courage and tenacity.

“I just made up my mind that nothing was going to get me down,” the 24-year-old brunette said recently. “There was no way I was going to give up.”

Doctors told her she was through dancing in 1980 when she suffered a ruptured disc in her back while rehearsing with the Texas Rangerettes, a junior college drill team in Kilgore, Tex.


“They said I would never dance again, but I never lost faith in myself,” she said, recalling the spinal surgery and months of rehabilitation. “My religious faith just got stronger and stronger.

Couldn’t Sit for 2 Months

“They had to teach me to walk all over again. For two months I had to lie down or stand up. I couldn’t sit, couldn’t bend my back.”

Lalena dances six nights a week in the Las Vegas Hilton’s extravagant “Moulin Rouge” show. She admits that the adjustment to scanty showgirl attire was a little tough because of her strong religious beliefs.

“The first time you appear on stage in the skimpy costumes you’re really paranoid. You think everybody’s staring at you. It’s like going somewhere with no shoes. I try to stare above the heads of the audience, particularly the older ladies who ooh and aah at the beautiful costumes, then suddenly realize you’re not covered very well.

“But that’s just a part of show business, particularly in Las Vegas, and it’s done very tastefully. What you do on stage doesn’t reflect your personality.”

Teaching Career Ahead

She earns $515 a week dancing and picks up additional income as a substitute teacher--the profession she wants to eventually pursue.

“Once the legs give out, I’ll put the eyelashes aside and start teaching full time,” she said. “But I don’t want to get out of the business until I do everything I want to do.”

Her superiors give her high marks in teaching science, biology, zoology, English and physical education.

“She’s great with kids,” one professional evaluation said.

“I tell my students that life is hard, but you have to hang in there, that nothing worthwhile comes easy,” Lalena said. “I tell them they have to hang tough if they want to realize their dreams.

Relates to Students

“Because I’m younger, I can relate to them a little easier. They want to talk about everything from boyfriends to drugs to family problems.

“I tell them how I decided to just pick up my life and come to Las Vegas to chase my dream. I tell them if a dream’s worth anything, it’s worth their time and effort to make it come true.”

She often concludes a class by signing autographs on paper torn from student notebooks.

“I love working with kids and I believe teaching will be a great career when I’ve achieved my goals as a dancer,” she said. “Right now I’d like to be well-known for my dancing. I hope someday to be able to dance on TV, or with some star in a stage show.”

Childhood Dream

Dancing has been a dream since childhood years in Shreveport, La. She began dance classes at the age of 6, graduated from Louisiana Tech with a double major in physical education and science, and searched for a way to fulfill her dream.

“About the only professional dancing in Louisiana were the girls who danced on the tables in New Orleans,” she laughed. “I thought ‘There’s got to be more to it than this.’ ”

She moved to Los Angeles last year, joined a group for a three-month show in Japan, then headed for Las Vegas last November at the urging of some members of the group.

She spent the next four months auditioning for one of the coveted showgirl jobs available in half a dozen of the city’s showrooms. She worked as a secretary and substitute teacher to pay the rent while chasing her dream.

A Lot of Rejection

“I thought many times ‘I’m going home.’ It crossed my mind so often. Then it finally hit me--'You’re not going home, Dianne. Just forget it. You’re going to make it.’ ”

“There’s a lot of rejection in this business. But you’ve just got to pick your head up and move on. I feel like the Lord led me here. I’ve just left it up to him to help me make it.”

When she was learning to walk again she turned to body building to strengthen her back. When she received word she’d won the showgirl job, she suddenly found herself trying to tone down her muscles to fit the new role.

Doing 10 rigorous dance numbers six nights a week keeps her in shape without a lot of extra exercise.

But she pays close attention to her 36-25-36 frame.

“I really work at my figure,” she said. “It never comes easy. Any girl who tells you she doesn’t work at it is lying.”

Now 5 feet 7 1/2, she said she shrunk an inch because of her injury and subsequent surgery.

“I sure could use that inch today,” she said, noting that the slight height difference has cost her more than one job because of an entertainment director’s penchant for tall showgirls.