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Skye's limit for WCW's Nitro Girl; Performer: Rosedale's Stacy Keibler pins her hopes of becoming an actress on her opportunity to play a wrestling character totally unlike her real-life self.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The trashiest line of work for women in TV today, barring "Jerry Springer" guest appearances, of course, almost surely is cheerleader for World Championship Wrestling, also known as a Nitro Girl.

The newest Nitro Girl, Skye, wears tube tops, fishnets and hot pants. She bumps and grinds hip thrusts in the ring between televised wrestling matches involving behemoths named The Total Package and Dr. Death.

Back home, in her real world in Rosedale, you'd never recognize her.

Last month, Stacy "Skye" Keibler beat out 300 competitors for a $10,000 check and a Nitro Girl spot. Her winning performance -- a 90-second high-energy dance routine during the WCW's "Monday Nitro," -- was seen on TV by 4.4. million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Since her TV debut, the 20-year-old Keibler has been busy, in and out of the ring. These days, Nitro Girls wrestle as well as dance. So recently, Skye "knocked out" fellow Nitro Girl Spice with a makeup case and drew on her face with lipstick, then hip-checked a 300-pound Nitro Girl wanna-be who tried to muscle in on a dance routine.

Trashy, trashy, trashy!

But outside the ring, Keibler isn't Skye.

She still lives with her folks in the beige ranch house where she grew up, still sleeps in the same room in the same twin bed with the white porcelain crucifix and the poster of babies dressed as teddy bears hanging above the headboard. She still dates the same guy she's been going with since the summer after her freshman year at the Catholic High School of Baltimore. She wears jeans and no makeup.

Trashy she's not.

"I'm not like that," Keibler says, the sting of having to defend herself audible in her sweet, girlish voice. "I'm just doing what I like to do."

What she likes to do is dance. Any kind of dance: ballet, jazz, tap. She's been taking lessons since age 3.

"She danced from the minute she was born," her mother, Pat, boasts. "Stacy was one of those kids you'd find dancing on top of the coffee table."

Mention Keibler to her former dance teacher, Jean Kettell Gable, and the reaction is immediate. "Those legs," she says. "They went up forever."

At this very moment those legs, clad in dark navy jeans with a 36-inch inseam, are neatly crossed as Keibler sits on a white and mauve love seat in her parents' living room, her mother by her side.

She is 5 feet, 11 inches tall, she says, standing and stretching as if to make the point. "Too tall for the Rockettes," she adds, sounding slightly wistful.

Instead, she found ways to perform closer to home: modeling, earning bit parts in movies like "Liberty Heights" and "Pecker" and becoming a cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens.

All of this helped prepare her for her stint as a Nitro Girl. That and not missing an episode of "Monday Nitro" for the past three years.

Keibler's boyfriend, Kris Cumberland, has been watching the WCW for years. Stacy joined him -- reluctantly, at first. Wrestling was so silly, so fake.

"I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " she says. Then the couple attended a live WCW show together and she was swept up in the athleticism, the enthusiasm and the show biz. She was smitten. "It's a soap opera," she says.

She's right. Professional wrestling is part soap opera, part action adventure, part cartoon, part Oprah and part love story. There are good guys -- "babyfaces" in wrestling lingo -- and bad guys, or "heels." Fans know the matches are scripted by the show's writers. They watch anyway.

"Monday Nitro," which airs from a different city every week, regularly sells out 20,000-seat arenas. Tickets for tonight's show at the Baltimore Arena, where Keibler will make her hometown debut, are going fast.

Lately, however, "Monday Nitro" and other WCW shows have been losing ground in the ratings to shows produced by the rival World Wrestling Federation. The WWF's "Raw is War" on USA and "Smackdown!" on UPN feature such titillating stunts as female gravy wrestling. Earlier this year, Coca-Cola Co. pulled its sponsorship of the WWF, saying its shows "crossed the lines in terms of content."

"Monday Nitro" is now hot on reclaiming its audience. The show recently hired two new scriptwriters, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, who created the outrageous story lines -- faked hangings, "accidental" female frontal nudity -- so popular with WWF viewers. Among their first decisions: making the Nitro Girls more a part of the show.

"It used to be the Nitro Girls would come out and dance for 30 seconds," Keibler says. "If you changed the channel, you could miss them. Now the girls are getting scripted into the action."

And already -- surprise! -- the Nitro girls are at war.

Try to keep up: The war started when Kimberly Page, the group's founder and a former Playboy bunny, quit the Nitro Girls to avoid being stalked by a psycho wrestler. A power struggle ensued and the babyfaces faced off against the heels. It was three against three, with two girls remaining neutral. Spice, a babyface, fought A.C. Jazz for the title of group leader and won. A.C. Jazz left the group. Tygress, a heel, plotted to usurp Spice's power.

Thrown into this chaos, Keibler's character, Skye, had to make a choice: Was she a good girl or a bad girl? Actually, the writers made the choice.

"I'm a heel," Keibler says, giggling.

So a woman who says she's never had a fight in her life is now pulling hair, shouting and fighting on national TV.

"Stacy's so nice and easygoing. I just can't see her playing a bad guy," Keibler's friend and Ravens cheerleading captain Teri DiFatta agrees. "She must be a good actress."

'Classy sexy'

Acting, in fact, is Keibler's ultimate goal. Being a Nitro Girl is great and all -- the fans, the performing, the travel to such exotic places as Little Rock, Detroit and Indianapolis. But it isn't her dream job.

Her favorite TV show is "Friends." "I'd die for an opportunity to be on there."

She's a bit more circumspect when it comes to the WCW, where she's already made it clear what she won't do. No mud wrestling, no gravy wrestling, no costumes resembling lingerie.

"I don't want to look cheap. I want to look sexy, but classy sexy," she says.

She will, however, pose for a swimsuit calendar.

Other Nitro Girls have gone on to pursue a variety of careers. Tayo is trying to make it as a country singer. Whisper got married. A.C. Jazz left to run her own cheerleading company. But right now, Keibler is simply too busy to dream about the future.

Along with modeling, being a Ravens' cheerleader and a Nitro Girl, she is a full-time student (on partial scholarship) at Towson University, a mass communications major with a 3.7 GPA.

Keibler is rarely home. Her bed is covered with pieces of open luggage spewing feathered, filmy shrugs and sequined halters -- her Nitro Girl costumes. "I leave my bags packed in case they call," she says.

Next semester, when football season is over, things will be less hectic, she says. She'll only be taking three classes, one via the Internet, one at night, and a third drawing on her Nitro experience for internship credits in film production.

Maybe she'll have time then to watch TV with her boyfriend, see her friends, go to the gym, hang out. Maybe.

The phone rings. It's for Stacy.

She's gone only for a moment, then returns with a sigh and flops on the couch.

"They want me to bring black vinyl shorts and fishnets to practice on Sunday," she says, rolling her eyes. "Where am I going to find those in Baltimore?"

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