For as a long as there’s been music, women have danced for the entertainment and titillation of men. Scheherazade. Minsky’s Burlesque. Cage dancing go-go girls in the psychedelic 60′s. Times Square strippers, pole dancers and lap dancers. Women dance….Men watch.
This entry was originally written and posted on October 21, 2009 at 9:00 am on the now defunct dirtygirldiaries.com
This week on Three Naked Ladies, Essence Alexander sits in for Rachel Aimee.
For ESSENCE ALEXANDER, the next logical step after receiving dual degrees from a prestigious university, was, of course, dancing in upscale gentlemen’s clubs from New York to Vegas. Since 2001, dancing has enabled her to stave off “starving artistdom”. Her one woman show, Essence Revealed, reveals it all.
Editor’s Update: Essence now goes by the name Essence Revealed, The Bubbling Brown Sugar of Burlesque. She has toured and performed Canada, Europe, China and South Africa and can be seen in the documentary, RED UMBRELLA DIARIES.
Jodi Sh. Doff: Lauri, I loved your piece in Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys about coming out to your mom — but what was it really like?
Lauri Shaw: In Mother-Daughter Day, a stripper tries to win her mother’s love and approval by taking her out for the afternoon. Mom bulldozes over countless boundaries, makes a colossal pest of herself, and finally demands to know point blank what her daughter does for a living. When she gets the answer she never really wanted in the first place, she goes completely ballistic, and any warmth that was left between the two women unravels in full.
The story isn’t quite verbatim, but it’s close. After that day, my mother did her best to pretend the whole thing never happened. When I tried to bring it up, she changed the subject. If I persisted, she said, “I don’t want to hear about it.”
My father was a different story. He didn’t speak to me at all for several years. Which was a neat trick, since my parents are still married and living together. My father’s a complicated man–extremely religious and very controlling. He was also an officer in the military, a reservist, but I spent some time on Navy bases as a child.
I never had a good relationship with either of them. Stripping was probably beside the point. As a child, I got my ass beat for eating non-kosher food. So anything at ALL having to do with sex? Are you fucking kidding me? I was out of that house by the time I was 15.
JshD: Just the opposite, my dad had worked in the burlesque houses and the carnival side shows, so I somehow thought down ‘n dirty was my birthright.
LS: What sort of things did your dad say about strip clubs?
JshD: He’d always glamorized burlesque, Bettie Page, and even the underworld. My mother blamed all my wrong moves on his stories and truthfully, they were a bit of an inspiration. They knew I tended bar in a skimpy leotard, but not about the stripping until after I’d quit. Even so, they hated me working the clubs. They couldn’t separate my drug abuse and the strip clubs. But then, neither could I.
I’d wanted them to see that it wasn’t so bad, that the flames of hell weren’t licking up from the floor, so I forced them to come have a drink at the Mardi Gras where I worked. My mom had been a “good girl,” she’d never even sat at a bar before and here she was, music blasting, creepy men hunched over their drinks and naked women everywhere. I was all la-ti-da about it, but it was pretty traumatic for them. They saw seedy people & scary things. But, in the 80s, that’s exactly what it was: seedy & scary. It confirmed all their fears.
LS: Sounds like it was traumatic for them because they loved you.
JshD: My mom kept a Rolodex card listing my height, eye color, scars & tattoos — so she could claim the body when I was found dead in the streets. Seriously. She also worried about appearance. She didn’t want anyone to say anything bad about me. At 79, she still worries about that with my writing, god bless ‘er.
Essence Alexander: Writing was the catalyst for me telling my mother that I stripped. I had been writing my show about stripping. My mother knew I was working on a play, but I was cryptic about the particulars whenever she’d ask about it. When I was finally ready to workshop the piece, I told her the dates, not thinking anything of it. Then she told me she planned to come to the reading. YIKES! I knew I had to tell her now, but how?! My mother is the queen of good appearances from the conservative British West Indies. As a child, she went to church six days a week. This is a woman who didn’t allow me to have boyfriends until I was in college and she had no way of stopping me anymore. I gave the script to my “cool” aunty, her sister, to read first. “Uh, this is kinda my true story and I’m going to tell Mum.” Her first reaction was a concerned, “Does she have to know?”
JshD: I’ve totally used my writing as a way to let my mom know things. After spoiler alerts and disclaimers, she reads. Then if she’s up to knowing more, we talk.
EA: Yes, I wanted her to hear it from me and have time to digest the info before seeing the adventures of her first born in America as a stripper on stage. My aunt called me the next morning and said, “It’s your life to live and she’ll be OK or not. I love the script by the way!”
So I called my mother and said, “Soooo, while I was writing my show, I worked as a stripper off and on. But I don’t do it now.” My mother replied, “Well, why aren’t you still dancing now? Your legs broke?!”
LS: Ha! Your mom’s got serious character.
JshD: Amazing. Obviously, you expected worst…
EA: I wonder if my aunty padded my fall. I told my sister and she burst into tears because she had the movie Player’s Club as her only frame of reference. She came to work with me one night: watched, ordered Chinese food, got bored and went home. I’ve never told my father and I’m not sure my mother did either. I think parents can be OK with other people doing something but NOT their child. I would have taken it to the grave and not told my mother were it not for the show.