One of Cherish Melvoin-Berg’s favorite childhood memories involves a garden snake and a mean babysitter. “She ran screaming, and I never had to deal with her again,” she says. “Snakes have always been my friends.”

Today Cherish dances at burlesque shows, fund-raisers, and backyard parties wrapped in a six-foot-long boa constrictor. “It feels great,” she says. “It’s very smooth. It’s kind of cold. It’s not slimy. It’s kind of restricting. It’s kind of sexy. But not so sexy.”

The snake, Pagan, lives in a tank in Cherish’s Bucktown apartment and only performs when it’s warm. “I don’t like to take her out because if she catches a cold she could die, and I would freak out.”

After a recent gig at the Chicago Arts District Warehouse in Pilsen, Cherish strolled through the gallery introducing Pagan to guests. Its head hovered within inches of her face. It flicked its black forked tongue at her, and Cherish puckered her lips.

“In nature humans are not prey for snakes,” she said. “The only time that they’re going to bite and strangle is to eat. And I’m too big to eat.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Saverio Truglia.