Yep—it’s true. I was a dancer. And no, I don’t mean ballet.
This is a touchy subject, as I am now a full blown suburban Mom, in a town, while not exactly Puritan, is a far cry from the mean streets of the cities where I used to live.
There have been rumors about my past swirling around since I first touched ground here in this idyllic berg. I don’t blame people—I would’ve talked about me too. Who did I think I was? Some brash young girl, in too-tight shirts, moving in with a divorced father of five, who, because he’d retained custody of his kids, was thereby exposing them to the illicit being that was me.
Did it matter that I was also college educated, or came from a “good” family (simply meaning I was read to, nurtured, encouraged to ride my bike around my solidly middle class neighborhood with my dog in hot pursuit, and generally given every advantage that each child deserves)? Not really. Those details were eclipsed by the lurid nature of my more recent past.
People like a juicy story, especially when it makes them feel better about themselves—and I was an easy target for gossip.
No one has ever asked me directly, but I often wonder if they wonder, how on earth did a girl like me get herself into a position like that. One thing us dancers and ex-dancers have in common; our dancing was born of a need. Many were single moms, or didn’t have enough money for college, or had to leave home for whatever reason and couldn’t figure out a better way to support themselves.
Then there were the girls like me, who were supporting drug habits, or abusive boyfriends—or both.
When I started dancing, I was on the tail end of a nightmarish journey which still defies explanation. It started with what I thought was a love story. You know the one: girl meets boy; a ruggedly handsome Yale grad, falls head over heels. But then I found out he was, in reality, a sociopathic drug addict whose habits I adopted and which quickly escalated, leaving us both homeless in New York.
We ended up living on the roof of my old apartment building after I was evicted, trying to keep our last few lines of cocaine from blowing away in the wind. By the time we boarded a train for Chicago (paid for with bad checks), it was because we had pissed off too many people to stay in New York, and I was ready to do anything that would keep a roof over my head.
Well, not anything: I could’ve left my guy and quit doing drugs.
But I wasn’t logical like that, so instead, I danced.
I’ve been over this a billion times, and if you know me, you’ve already heard my story. Here’s the part I may not have mentioned; I liked dancing.
Not at first and not all the time. I mean, I had stomach cramps so debilitating before my first audition I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get out of the bathroom long enough to make it up on stage. Forget skydiving or drag racing or visiting border towns in Mexico; this shit was scary. Also, there were the hoards of, for lack of a better word, grody guys. (I heard someone say “grody” the other day for the first time in a couple of decades and I’ve been aching to work it into my lexicon. Done.) But generally, the gross guys were in the minority and the rest of the guys were just normal dudes who treated me nicely, especially as compared to the meanness of the guy I was keeping back at home.
There were lots of fun things about my job. I made a ton of money (none of which I saved, but it was still nice to make), I got to wear improbably high heels and get my hair and make up done every night, I worked with good people, made my own hours, and was allowed to get massages (we had a private masseuse) or go shopping (in the in-house dancer apparel store) or lay around in the tanning bed if I felt like taking a break. Granted, this was a very elite club, and I’m sure they’re not all like that, but mine was and I took full advantage.
The thing I really loved, though, was the dancing.
Not the table dances (even though those were fine because again, I was lucky enough to work in a place that strictly prohibited touching) but the stage dancing. And I wasn’t one of those crazy acrobats flying around a pole either—my style was extremely straightforward. But I got to feel something that every woman should get to feel once or twice in her life; brave, beautiful and free.
There is something about being unabashedly naked in public while a song you love fills the room, and allowing yourself to move in whatever way your mood strikes, feeling the power, the primal force of your unchallenged femininity, that can really make your day. And I don’t think it’s about the nudity either, because I’ve felt that way clothed as well.
It’s about being utterly convinced that something powerful is moving through you, and you are a worthy conduit.
But before you go running off to your nearest Gentlemen’s club to try out on amateur night, let me say this: the other place I’ve had this experience time and time again, is in yoga class.
As when I danced, it is not a given that you will feel this feeling; the stars have to be aligned. Your body must feel strong, the environment right (no bad vibes), your mood a potent mix of excitement and control, and your mind absolutely in the moment.
But when it strikes you, and you are in a pose that feels magnificent, and you know that you’re not just doing the pose, you are the pose, you will understand.
The cool thing is now that you know what to look for, you can skip the drugs, the shitty boyfriend, the gross guys and the stigma of being a stripper, and go straight to the good stuff. Try approaching your next yoga practice with the belief that your body and the way it moves is beautiful. Luxuriate in all it can do. Forget words like “fat” and “can’t” and reach up your arms, arch your back, take big deep breaths and admire that work of art that is you.
Oh, and to any guys reading this: I apologize. This is an admittedly chick-centric piece. Maybe the thought of all the women I’ve just inspired to be semi-exhibitionists will make up for my glaring lack of attention to you. If not, I’m sure there’s a stripper out there somewhere who can easily fix the problem.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise