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BEFORE SHE WAS FAMOUS


From an early age, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone Fortin was involved in artistic activities in her school and took courses in piano and ballet. She received a dance scholarship from the University of Michigan, but dropped out at the end of her sophomore year. In 1977, with $35 in her pocket, she moved to New York to pursue dance.

After more than a year in New York, she had turned 20 and was still struggling to "make it." She scraped by on odd jobs, like at a Dunkin' Donuts, while auditioning. She saw an add in the paper from a photographer seeking a nude model. The young dancer had a good body, she knew: 34c-23-33. She had posed for art classes before to get by. Did she know that this photographer, Lee Frielander, was a key figure in the small world of Modern photography? A decade before, curator John Szarkowski included some of Frielander's work in the "New Documents" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. Frielander was now offering $25 to hire a model for a nude photo session. The young dancer accepted.

The next year, in 1980, she formed a band with her former boyfriend and her demo was brought to the attention of Sire Records. In 1982 Madonna signed for the first time with the group Warner and released her first album, self-titled, "Madonna." The album became a hit, rising to number 8 on the billboard 100. Her follow up album, Like A Virgin, became her first number one, which gained success at the international level.

In 1985, she expanded her career to Hollywood, with a teen-hit, "Desperately Seeking Susan" in which she played Susan, a woman who looked, talked, and acted exactly like Madonna. In July of 1985, the black and white photos she'd posed for six years earlier were published in Playboy. Not to be out-done, Penthouse had acquired black and white nudes by Bill Stone, and published them in the September 1985 issue. Madonna, then one of the biggest stars of the moment, was outraged and attempted to block them from being released.

Now, she has been a sexy symbol for almost thirty years. Arguably, she has helped shape pop music, and defined through her various reinventions what it means to be a pop-star. Now past the age of 50, she may no longer be a leading sex symbol, and what, by the way, is with the fake British accent? But whether it was her music videos, movies, or her infamous book, "Sex," anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s has some memory of Madonna the pop-star that shaped our collective sexual psyche.

We'd like to remember her before all that--before the glamour and fame, the costumes and the spectacle, when she was just a girl from Michigan with a dream of being a dancer, when she was a starving, struggling artist, working the shifts at Dunkin' Doughnuts, when she had a shitty apartment with tattered thrift-store furniture, when she didn't need to change her natural beauty in anyway, not even by shaving, because her trim legs, slender hips, and firm breasts, were absolutely perfect as they were.
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