Dancer Charlene Gehm's Gams Are Showstoppers for Shoppers and the Joy of the Joffrey
Like Farrah Fawcett, she has eyes of blue, an ivory complexion and blond locks tumbling in a cascade of loose curls. "But there's more to me than hair," protests Charlene Gehm, a lead dancer with the Joffrey Ballet.
Oddly, she says that as if no one has ever noticed. In fact, lots of people have, Rudi Nureyev and Warren Beatty among them. At the Joffrey's performances in New York and Los Angeles, "people want to know who that girl is," says Robert Joffrey; in 1976, on first sight, he signed Gehm to a long-term contract. At 57" and 110 pounds, she is, says Joffrey, "the most gorgeous woman since Audrey Hepburn to put on leotards and tights."
The ad world has noticed too. Her success has been astonishing. "She has the right look," says Lynn Cohen of the J. Michael Bloom agency. To supplement her $20,000-a-year dancer's salary, Gehm, 32, has exploited her form and grace in a tail-wagging TV commercial for Sergio Valente jeans, print ads for Capezio and an award-winning pitch for Hallmark Cards.
Charlene seems to have grand-jetéd effortlessly into simultaneous ballet and modeling careers, but she remembers it differently. The daughter of a Miami, Fla. high school chemistry teacher, she claims she was once "the ugliest, skinniest kid on the block." At Riviera Junior High, "they always called me Boney Maroney, after the rock song. It was humiliating." Explains her mom, Verna Mae, "She just didn't like food." Charlene agreed to after-school ballet lessons only "because it was a way to get out of dinner."
Soon there were other motivations. A scholarship to apprentice at New York's Harkness Ballet came when she was 17. It was followed by stops at Washington's National Ballet and the Chicago Ballet before she joined the Joffrey. In 1979 Nureyev picked her as partner for a sizzling pas de deux in Nijinsky's erotic Afternoon of a Faun, which they danced together for more than a year and then filmed for TV. "They were perfect complements: He's animal magnetism, she's cool heat," says the Joffrey's Joffrey. "She has a wonderful way of being sensuous without being vulgar."
Gehm's four-year marriage to dancer Dennis Poole ended in divorce in 1981, but she has not lacked for escorts. Beatty, for instance, invited her to watch him cut Reds, and in time their friendship flourished. "I've never spent so much time on the phone with any man I've dated," Charlene says, "but gradually I fell out of it." He has called again, but now, Charlene notes with a smile, she has a real Casanova.
The man in question is French-born photographer Patrice Cassanova, 38, with whom Charlene now maintains a close—though not a live-in—relationship. Home base for her is an unpretentious apartment in New York's theater district. "I'm strong-willed, independent and a neatnik," she says. "I'd rather clean my apartment than go to a French restaurant. My idea of true sensuality is being comfortable with myself—a pair of tight jeans, T-shirt and bare feet, a sort of Manhattan-style Daisy Mae."
Gehm is currently a lead in William Forsythe's innovative and controversial Square Deal, which combines spoken drama with dance. As she struts leggily in three-inch heels and slinky chain-metal dress, in the wings an admiring fellow dancer, Philip Jerry, says softly, "Eat your heart out, Farrah!"
Gehm admits she would like to break into films but quickly adds that dance will remain her mainstay. With another good decade ahead for her as a dancer, she need make no hasty choices. In two intensely competitive fields—ballet and modeling—she is already a clear winner. "With her looks and talent," predicts Cassanova, "she can have it all." Plainly, she wants no less.
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