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Sensual Shania Twain Talks About Sex, Saddles and Skeletons in the Closet

Shania Twain has a very special traveling companion this summer. "He's mature," says the brunette bombshell. "He's a bit older. And very experienced."

And wink, wink he's not her husband. He's a horse.

An Andalusian named Dancer from Shania's stable back home in upstate New York is accompanying her on her concert tour across the United States. Whenever Shania, an experienced equestrienne, rolls into town and hops off the bus with a couple of hours to kill before showtime, she saddles up.

Just don't expect an invitation to trot along. Shania prefers to go solo.

"I don't want to make it a social event," she says. "It's my private time."

That is, as opposed to her public time, which is a lot of her time this summer. On her first major tour since the release of her blockbuster 1995 CD, the 10-million-selling The Woman in Me, Shania is finally on stage, performing live for stadium-size crowds. By the end of August, she'll have over 40 concert dates under her belt or, at least, somewhere around her famously unclothed midriff.

As such, Shania is answering the skeptics who once doubted that she would ever venture out of the recording studio and into the arena spotlight. After the release of last summer's Come On Over CD, Shania still sat tight, adding even more fuel to the she'll-never-tour rumor fire. Only when she felt like she had just the right number of hit songs, just the right musicians, just the right arrangements, just the right stage design, just the right show and just the right frame of mind, only then did she gas up the bus and go.

She admits it was a risky move, waiting so long to give her millions of CD-buying fans a full-blown concert experience. "Yeah, I thought, 'Maybe the fans won't be there,"' she says. "But you always take risks in this industry. No pain, no gain. If I'd wanted to have a run-of-the-mill career, if I'd allowed the industry to make my decisions for me, I probably could have had a successful, easy career. But maybe I wouldn't be as successful." She pauses. "I'm sure I wouldn't be, actually."

Shania's road to success has indeed been paved with risky, unconventional decisions. She refused to make Nashville the focus of either her professional or personal life, choosing instead to live, and record, in the lavish, 3,000-acre Adirondack wilderness retreat she shares with her husband/producer, Robert "Mutt" Lange. She pushed country's envelope of conservative style, brandishing skin, sensuality, sass and attitude like no woman before her had dared. And, of course, she opted to forego touring, which, for most country acts, goes hand-in-hand with hit singles, until The Woman in Me, the CD that made her a household name, was three years old.

Each of those risky decisions, of course, paid off handsomely. As a result, Shania is not only one of the most successful women in the history of country music, but also, it would certainly seem, one of the most independent-minded and self-confident.

Shania wasn't always so sure, however, of her course or of herself. The woman who introduced country music to the belly button, for instance, was so uncomfortable as a teenager with her blossoming figure that she tried desperately to conceal its curves.

"I was so confused at that age about all that stuff," she says. "I did everything I could to hide what I had." She wore baggy track clothes to school and sometimes two bras. "So I wouldn't bounce," she explains. It bothered her that she couldn't join in a pick-up game of football without feeling every pair of guy-eyes on the field watching her jiggle.

"I was a girl physically, but it didn't matter to me, I couldn't have cared less. I didn't think that's what it meant to be a girl." Now, she says, it's important for young women to hear that being a girl is more about brains than bodies.

"As women, we have a different mentality than men, that's all there is to it. We're different regardless of the way our bodies are made," she says.

"I don't want my body to be a distraction from my talent or my brain. I found that very hard as a teenager. Only now am I realizing that, you know, I don't have to hide my body for people to take my brain seriously. That's the mistake I made all those years. I could have played football just as well, bouncing away. There wasn't anything wrong with me; it was them. It was their perception of me that was wrong. That's why I'm so adamant now about doing the job I know I can do as a songwriter and an artist and an individual, and being the female I am at the same time.

"I'm definitely going through a stage where I'm becoming more comfortable with myself, and it does come out in the way I portray my music visually," she says, alluding to her videos for hits like "You Win My Love," "Any Man of Mine," "The Woman in Me (Needs the Man in You)" and "Still the One."

"Music is a very sensual thing. I like to make the distinction between sensual and sexual. You don't have to be having sex in a video for it be sensual. I think it can be anything but that. Look at Roy Orbison, he was rarely ever seen, but I think everyone would agree that his music was extremely sensual. A lot of people probably fell in love to his music. A lot of people probably made babies to his music. I think most women would agree: It's not about physical touching or how much you reveal."

Shania, it bears noting, has certainly done her share of revealing, especially when you consider how she turned her tummy into a trademark. But, she cautions, there are still some things she'd never do in front of a camera, or any other audience.

"Because I'm married, I'm not comfortable kissing another guy," she says. "I would never be comfortable being nude. There are some lines I've drawn for myself, my own standards of morality, as far as self-expression and being comfortable with my own body."

Back in her native Canada, she says, there's an ordinance that allows women to go topless in public. "You can actually walk down the street topless," she says. "I wouldn't be able to do that. Even if every other woman was topless on a beach, I don't think I could do it.

"I'm definitely more on the conservative side. As far as my music goes, obviously, the most I've ever shown is my midriff, and I'm quite comfortable with my midriff. It's like a man showing off his arms or something.

"Being comfortable with your body...," she says, then trails off before latching onto another line of thought. "I mean, some people aren't even comfortable being nude in front of their spouse."

Clearly, there are some things Shania holds sacred to the relationship between a husband and a wife. In the case of her and Mutt, their whole relationship itself seems to be so sacred, so personal and so off-limits to the rest of the world that it rarely reveals itself in public.

Mutt, who's 16 years older than Shania, never accompanies his wife to any public events. At awards shows, dinners, television tapings and other high- prof1le industry get-togethers that require Shania's attendance, he's a no-show. Most people outside their inner circle of friends and music associates don't even know what Mutt looks like. It causes quite a stir whenever Shania's seen on televised events with a handsome man at her side. Viewers wonder if it's Mutt, but it never is. It's always someone else, her brother, her manager, the head of her record company. But never Mutt.

"We reserve our time together for more private things," she says simply. "He has no desire to be in public. Even though we work together, we don't mix that part of our lives with our private lives. It's very healthy. We're just normal, real people. We're not your classic 'Hollywood couple.' I don't know what that is, exactly, but it's not us."

Shania has always placed a high value on the institutions of home and family—which is all the more vividly understandable considering that she lost her parents in a 1987 highway accident. In an instant, she realized how fragile a family can truly be.

"Yes, you can lose somebody overnight," she says softly. "Yes, your whole life can be turned upside down. Life is short. It can come and go like a feather in the wind."

Shania's sense of family sanctity was jarred again in 1996 when an Ontario newspaper broke a story that revealed a startling fact about her biography. The story, soon picked up by other news outlets in both Canada and the United States, called Shania's long-professed claim of an Ojibway Indian bloodline a "sham." It pointed out that she had been adopted while she was still a toddler and that it was her adoptive father, not her biological one, with Native American origins. It was her adoptive father who was killed in the car crash. Since Shania (whose pre-show-biz name was Eileen) had never pointed out this fact, or even mentioned her adoption in all the hundreds of interviews she'd conducted, she was accused of perpetuating a lie.

"It's nothing I was actually hiding," she says calmly. "It's very bizarre to me that it was ever perceived that way. And it was quite upsetting to me that people would actually think I was deliberately concealing something. Of course, the media wants something to be 'hidden.' They want me to have a skeleton in my closet. But I really don't have any.

"When my friends came over to my house and met my parents, I never even thought of saying, 'Oh, by the way, this isn't my real, biological father.' There are probably a lot of my friends who never knew my dad was not my biological dad. But it wasn't a secret. My father said, 'There will be no step-anything in this family.' We were a very mixed family. I've got a step- sister and two step-brothers, and we have three different fathers. It's just been one of those families. In a lot of ways, it wasn't all that different from the Brady Bunch."

Shania's family may have been similar to television's cheery Bradys in some ways, but it differed in at least another: The Bradys never went to bed with empty stomachs. The Twains, however, often lived hand-to-mouth. "We were hungry a lot when we were kids," Shania admits.

Things certainly didn't get much easier when her parents died and Shania, at 21, took her three younger siblings to raise. Buckling down to her role as family breadwinner, Shania picked up the pieces of her own dream of singing stardom only after she'd seen her little brothers and sister into adulthood.

In other words, Shania knows the meaning of hard work, and of hardship. She says the years of struggle gave her character and backbone, but also made it difficult for her, sometimes even today, to feel like she can afford to slack off.

"In the end, it made me a very strong person," she says. "I don't feel like I have to fight to survive anymore, so I've kind of mellowed out a little bit. It's brought me to a place where I've decided I'm just going to be optimistic from now on. I just have to be positive about life. I have to learn to laugh and to have fun. I have to learn to loosen up a little bit."

Which brings us back to her tour. Shania is loosening up all over the place this summer, probably on a stage somewhere near you. And because it's her first time on a serious, pull-out-the-stops tour, she's finding out just how grueling road life can be. That's okay, she says. "Later in my life, I'm going to look back and smile and be very fulfilled,'' she says. "I know that if I don't give it my all right now I'll regret it later. That's very important to me, because I've worked all my life to have this."

If life is a highway, Shania is on it for the long haul. And, as she's always done, she'll take all its bumps, its spills and its surprises in stylish stride. "You never know what's around the next corner," she says. "But you have to be willing to explore it."

By Neil Pond, Senior Entertainment Editor; Country America, September 1998 cover

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