No one ever dreams of growing up to become a stripper. But maybe some of us are just born with it in us.
I worked with a girl who used to tell a story from her childhood about a time when her mother would not buy her a toy in the toy store because she had so many at home already. She looked to a man who was shopping nearby. He was tall and wore a cowboy hat. She politely tugged on his pant leg and asked him to buy her the pony toy that she wanted. After she and her mother had checked out and were ready to leave, the man in the cowboy hat caught them as they were walking out. He had the pony in a plastic shopping bag and he reached down and handed it to her. Her mother demanded the man return it but he refused. He told them that he had a daughter that lived too far away for him to see regularly so he wanted to do this for himself too. The girl’s mother gave in and thanked the man. The little stripper-to-be went home happy, clutching the pony in her tiny hands. Her cuteness, charm, and graces had been rewarded with a tangible prize and she never forgot how it felt. “Look at me now”, she’d say. “I’m still at it today”.
When I was four, I did ballet like most four year old little girls do. My mother was told within the first week that it wasn’t really working out. When the teacher told me to be a butterfly by holding my feet with my knees out during stretches, I ran around the room flapping my arms instead. I spent most of my ballet time in the time out chair, which to me was the special chair since I was the only ballerina in training who got to sit in it on a regular basis.
One day my Mom had to pick me up early because I had been so disruptive in class that they felt calling her was necessary. On our way out, she took me outside and showed me the pictures in the window of all the ballet classes at their recitals. I looked at all the little girls in their colorful, fancy dresses. They looked so beautiful to me. I remember wanting to be like them, but just knowing that I wasn’t. My Mom told me that if I wanted to be in the recital, I had to start listening to the teacher and doing as I was told.
I really did want to be in the recital. But somehow I just knew that I was not going to be in it. All these years later, I’m a dancer anyway. I know how to move my body with grace and appear weightless as I spin in the air around a brass pole. Dancing, for me, is an art, a form of self-expression. Ballerinas and strippers alike can relate to that. Needless to say, I never got to be in that recital. Today, I sometimes giggle when it occurs to me that I didn’t need to behave in that silly ballet class to be a dancer after all. Or maybe I always was a dancer, deep down inside, just a slightly different kind of dancer.
I worked a part time job at a day care center for years in addition to working my night job. On the playground, there was a huge, orange, lion shaped slide/jungle gym. It had a big, blue double-slide and holding it up were two yellow poles. Sometimes, when they weren’t scaling the lion, the children liked to hold onto those poles and spin around them. One afternoon, one of the little girls came up to me crying, “She took my pole!” I couldn’t help myself.
“You don’t need that pole! Your future is much brighter than that! Go play in the sand box or ride bikes!” The small child looked confused but quickly turned around and ran toward an unoccupied trike.
I’ve known a few ballerina-turned-strippers. Grace was a career stripper that I worked with for years. She didn’t dance in addition to a part time job at a grocery store. She didn’t dance just on weekends. She danced five days a week and often worked eight hour shifts. She was not in college or pursuing another career path.
Grace was very good at what she did. She put on a beautiful performance. She could bend her body in ways most of us couldn’t imagine. Her best move was the one in which she would jump off the top of the pole and land on the stage floor in a split. If you complimented her she would say, “Thanks. After sixteen years of ballet and gymnastics, I’d better be good at it”.
This is why when I see little girls dressed in their sparkling pink tutus carrying bags that say “I love to dance”, I cringe a little. I have two sons but if I am ever blessed with a daughter, her bag is going to say in bright glittering letters: “NO THE FUCK I DON’T.”