Dear Sweet & Low,
I’ve been having a recurring dream that I’m a stripper. I’ve never danced in a ballet, salsa contest, hip hop video, or exotic burlesque show. I take pole classes at my local gym in the suburbs of Washington, DC. It’s for fitness, gets my heart rate pumping, and is more fun than the stair climber. But my favorite part is how I look in the mirrors when I’m dancing. It’s an amazing experience to view my body in this way. Normally, I’m casual, no-frills, and down-to-earth. When dancing in a mirror I am a fluid, graceful, and curvy seductress. I didn’t know I could look like that.
I’ve been with my husband for 7 years. We like to travel, are moderate consumers, and try not to be boring in our exclusivity. We’ve gone to sex clubs out of curiosity but have never partaken.
I started dreaming about dancing in my late 20’s. I have been to strip clubs with girlfriends, and my husband and I have gone a handful of times. It’s a very different experience going with other women than it is going with a man. With women, I’m free to relax and be playful. We get lap dances and chat with the dancers. Their stories are so interesting! They say women that come into the club as patrons are uncomfortable, trying to please their boyfriends, or in a group who wants to party. Most act like they can’t wait to leave. When I go with my man, we have fun, but he’s not crazy about lap dances. He wants me to dance for him or do whatever I want in the club, and this makes him happy. I encourage him to go with a group of male friends, but he thinks this will set a bad example about the kind of husband he is.
I’ve been practicing pole fitness for three years. I’m good, but I’m not like the girls I see on Instagram who can do handsprings and drops. The really good dancers make it look effortless. Their ability to lose themselves to the music and touch themselves in a provocative way is exciting, but I don’t think I could do that. Recently, I’ve hit a wall in my practice. I want to be that skilled and provocative! Why else would I dream about it?
I have a running fantasy where I am secretly dancing at a club. My husband doesn’t know about it. I’m not cheating on him, but the thrill of this secret is like being drunk. In my dreams, I’m a nasty, freaky dancer. I seduce the men at the club, take their money without giving them anything but a show, and then treat them like crap. I tell them, “That’s all now. Go away.” It’s verbal abuse I have never considered or wanted to act out in real life. And I know they love it. The more they can’t have me, the more turned on I get. And the more turned on I get, the more sexually free I feel on the stage. I’m terrified to try this in real life. I wish I could be that explicit and have a “don’t-give-a-F…” attitude. I can’t fathom treating my husband like that. Ever. I love and respect him.
I’ve investigated a couple clubs near where we live. The only thing keeping me from auditioning is the fear of what my husband and our family would think if they found out. He hates the idea of me dancing in a real club, even a nice one. I don’t blame him, but when I think of what I could learn about myself, I feel like it might be worth the risk.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Something has to get me unstuck, or I’m going to go nuts.
Sister, I feel your pain and share it. When I travel, the first thing I look up, besides cool restaurants, is where the best strip clubs are located. I look for pictures, feature dancers, and reviews on how the club is run. Most of the reviews are what you’d expect: guys posting about the friendliness of the girls, that they loved or hated the attention they received, and if they were charged a shit-ton on their tab. I tend to zero in on any female comments. Thankfully, they’re showing up more often as the lines of this male-dominated entertainment system become ambiguous.
I started my roaming tour of strip clubs as a way to get some closure on a hazardous part of my 20’s, when I had no clue what I was doing and believed stripping was a good way to pay the bills. I live in Vegas, home of the bachelor party. What is acceptable here wouldn’t fly in other cities. It is equal parts empowerment, and justification to be bad without an exit strategy. Suffice it to say, a woman skirting the wings of desperation walks into a strip club differently than a woman who is stable, emotionally balanced, and looking for a challenge.
Whenever I drive down the street of a club where I have danced (there seems to be an industrial segment of every major city committed to strip clubs and sex shops), I remember what is was like to pull into the parking lot, guzzle Red Bull, sit for fifteen minutes blasting Alicia Keys, and pray for the God of Hustle to invade my body.
Here are the images that come to mind: Inside, I pay my door fee. This ensures that the house gets paid, that the dancers stick around for at least four hours, and that there’s more incentive to make money inside the establishment, if you know what I mean. I exchange jeans and hoodie for a lacy bra, g-string, and booty shorts. I tip the house mom for her selection of mints and body spray. I tell the DJ to put me in the rotation. Most clubs let you pick your songs, but some are such meat factories, they don’t have time to accommodate all the new girls’ wishes. I walk the edges of the chairs and stage, pretending I belong there. I pretend that I’m picking my next conquest, that I’m slightly bored, and that I’m a force to be reckoned with yet super-approachable. I pretend I wouldn’t have the job had the general manager not taken a liking to me because he has a thing for Amazons. When I’m on stage, I pretend the three men at the railing don’t look like indifferent plaster busts of my high school math teachers.
The rest is a blur of faces, male and female. It’s a cloudy, hazy folly of playing a game to which I’ve never been exposed. Add to that being an introvert, intimidated by girls who have been playing with their sex appeal since puberty, and the need to ask every nice man, “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” in an effort to grasp what they wanted to experience. This was the catch-22 of insecurity. This wasn’t full-time. This was two nights a week, when fear and paying rent loomed over my head like a vulture. I lasted two months, became an avid smoker, and came to the sober understanding that I cannot drink alcohol worth a fig.
To make this perfectly clear, if you’re a nice girl, you can be a stripper, but you must become a mercenary at work. It’s less about dancing than it is about convincing men they want to spend money on your conversation, sex appeal, and the ultimate fetish for every strip club connoisseur: tease and denial. You are there to be what they can’t get elsewhere. They want to be wanted, enticed, seduced, and played with, knowing full-well they don’t get to keep you (and wouldn’t want to, given the choice). It’s not personal while being an extremely personal game.
That said, if there’s a forum run by professional exotic dancers announcing where they ply their craft—so that we who love dancing, but can’t commit three hours of practice every day, can support them—I haven’t found it. If I hear one more poler defend why she’s not a stripper and how she’s doing it for fitness, I will start pulling hair out from the sheer hypocrisy.
If the institution is that bad, why promote it with patronage? The Global Association of International Sports Federations has put pole dancing on “Observer Status,” meaning they may include it in the Olympics. We’re getting positive attention on all sides for the sport. But isn’t dancing in a club for men, who shove dollars into our underwear and between our breasts and butt cheeks, keeping the power in the hands of those who objectify the human? What about the women who do not feel objectified and understand that this is a job like any other? There are two camps of thought, and they both have to do with your fantasy.
1. The woman is in charge. As the huntress in a field of naive deer, she gets to pick her horned beast. Such a woman is aware and empowered. She doesn’t view her body’s sexual power as a gateway to sin. She embraces the erotic, the mind game, and relishes in her power, proclaiming that it is a man’s job to care for her wishes so that he may be filled with purpose. Her dance is an art form, a craft, and she loves it without regard to who is watching, while knowing she’s being watched. She has boundaries, and she sticks to them, cultivating a language of intent that doesn’t leave room for haggling. She knows what her time is worth. She studies the male (or female), understands his responses, and does not abuse that power unless he’s got it coming. She’s a goddess, not a vampire, although she can play that role, and any other, without letting it consume her. Stripping is a career. She clocks in; she clocks out. She has a life outside of the club, an exit plan, and areas of interest that don’t revolve around the power exchange game.
2. The woman is the pawn. She doesn’t have options, and she needs to make money. It’s inevitable that she is hunted. She consigns herself to this fact and wants to get something out of it. She doesn’t know what else to do, what else she can be good at, but she wants to be wanted and feels a certain amount of comfort knowing she’s another sheep in a tribe of sheep. She’s used to a man being in charge and helping her survive. There’s gratitude and loyalty. She has a love/hate relationship with men and doesn’t trust many women, but this is the way of the world. There is power in manipulating men. Sex is a commodity, and she’ll use it while she’s got it. It may be her only leverage. If she drains a man dry, it’s his own fault. If she’s abused by a man, she chalks it up to the game. There is a hard strip of steel in her center. Her knowledge base is wide and extreme. She says yes to things that disgust her more often than she says no. Bearing the weight of sexuality becomes a source of pride. She is malleable, is an exceptionally insightful seductress, and attracts those that want to save her, whom she eagerly accepts or vehemently rejects depending on her mood. There is little to no exit plan. Each day is survival of the fittest.
The crazy thing is, depending on the day, I am talking about the same person. The best of the best understand this and use the opportunity to learn, grow, ditch the field, or embrace it. The best of those best TEACH.
In your fantasy, you mention feeling empowered by being wanted and denying those that want you. To whip a man into a frenzy throws him out of control. He is not the top of the food chain; he’s an animal that must wait, perform for you, and realize your will is an incredible force—which brings me to your husband.
When was the last time your man went nuts because you mercilessly teased him to the point where you were the only one in existence? Seven years is a good chunk of time. If you’ve fallen into a comfortable zone, awesome sauce, but that could mean you have forgotten what it was like in the beginning, when you were falling in love, experiencing the first waves of lust and the newness of the “other.” There is a streak of cruelty in every human. Embrace it. It does not mean you want to cause pain, sadness, or depression in order to feel powerful. There are other ways, and he gets to be your guinea pig. With consent in place, you might be surprised that being teased allows him the space to be scared and wowed by your feminine presence. Once you get a taste of it AND see him enjoying it, and hear from his mouth “PLEASE OBJECTIFY ME,” your fear will dissipate. I mean, he’s gone to a sex club with you. I don’t think he’s fragile. The fact that you don’t want to give a Fuck suggests you give too many Fucks about things that drain your time, attention, and passion. Ultimately, what other people think about you is none of your business.
On average, a person spends seven years in one field before they move on. It’s cyclical. Stripping is physically demanding. As you know, pole work is hard work. It’s upper body strength, lower body stability, and core all the way. The trick is to make it graceful without letting on how much it hurts. Knees hurting, lower back stress, neck strain, pole rash, shoulder problems, it’s all in the mix. Point your toes and keep that smile plastered to your face.
Home poler and YouTube star Ava Madison shows why being “Crazy in Love” with herself, her pole, and her fans is an opportunity to showcase her personal style and athleticism.
I say all this with a grimace. The world at large is busy preaching what it should and should not be, often neglecting the subtle differences that make it a world fully capable of accepting all variations. A woman who chooses to use her body for her own purposes is not weak, malicious, or sinful. A woman who chooses to use her intellect isn’t frigid, righteous, or superior. It’s hard to find anyone, male or female, that doesn’t consider their gender when pondering a career, relationship, or spiritual crossroad. If they choose not to consider it, they consider it by discarding that consideration. In other words, you can’t get around it. Weakness is as necessary as strength, and the repression of any part of the whole spells severe internal suffering, which can translate into physical illness, chemical imbalance, or all out breakdown. So come hell or high platforms, we are strong enough to fill in the blanks and make our own assessments.
It sounds like you have your shit together. Your man wants you and only you. The fact that you see him like a sexual creature says loads about your instincts, trust level, and ability to communicate. We live in a world that says we can have it all, and we believe it. Sometimes we are so consumed with being a good partner, worker, mother, daughter, wife, sister, homeowner, and respectable member of society, we forget to pause and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We are consumed with “What’s next?”
There isn’t a what’s next. There’s just THIS MOMENT, and you already know this. It’s why you dance. As a dancer knows, the point at which pain transcends into beauty is as fine as a grain of chalk.
I’ve dragged my sweetie to pole competitions in Seattle, Northern California, and the Pole Expo in Vegas. I don’t compete. I love watching and encouraging amazing athletes putting it all on the line. My man is in the same boat as yours. He doesn’t care for lap dances. He likes the athletics, the female form, but when it comes to a tease, no one does it better than me. I don’t have to twist his arm, but he goes because he loves how passionate I am. He has also shared that, before we started going to clubs, he used to feel sorry for the men. He didn’t know you could sit, chat, or be with a woman who likes lap dances, giving and receiving, without feeling sleazy and disrespectful to women.
Buzzfeed captures bodybuilding men trying to work the other pole. Warning: A stainless steel pole in the crotch kills the mojo.
My proudest dancing moment came after a date night with my squeeze. A local company of pole artists put together a show lead by a small person from Chicago. She was the epitome of badass bitch. Standing three feet and change, the sides of her hair shaved, the rest a black-blue mohawk, she organized dancers, contortionists, and artists from all walks of life to perform around a Doors tribute theme. We cheer. We drink. We enjoy. Suffused with imagery, I can’t wait to get home. I was given an X-Pole for my birthday some months before, but I had yet to dance for him. This was partially because I was still getting comfortable with the tricks and flow. I wanted to make sure it was a gift I could give without wanting something from him in return. By the time I turned the lights low, stripped out of my dress, and did a hair flip, none of that mattered. I have never danced with so much freedom. It was my music, my lingerie, and my moves. He was with me, but it wasn’t about him. His pleasure fed mine; my pleasure fed his. Magic.
I say this to you from the banquet of my past, present, and future: If you want to dance at a club, play that game to the fullest. Go and see what it’s like. Have no regrets. Assign no one the responsibility of your successes and failures. You don’t need to focus on why you want to tease, torment, and humiliate the men in your mind. They are phantoms of an unbalanced world. Your psyche wants to understand why any person, not just you, can be cruel. We are surrounded by cruelties, large and small, most of which are blown out of proportion to the extent that we keep victims locked in the stories of their past, or ignore them altogether. If you understand cruelty by acting it out with strangers—who by all accounts have signed up for the hustle and are therefore exempt from pity—maybe you can avoid it in your own life. You desire understanding because your biggest strength is compassion.
But don’t get it twisted. Your home is a reflection. Your job is a reflection. Your relationships are reflections. As a mirror reflects what is surprising, beautiful, and possible in your angles and symmetry, so will you reflect the atmosphere of joyous abandon or continuous struggle.
If this doesn’t sound appealing, sign up for the next teacher training at your studio. If they don’t have it, find one online. Chances are your teachers will have worked at a club. Pepper them with questions. Share your desires. They will understand better than anyone. The more you talk about it, the less you will feel torn between what others think and the reality of being a professional dancer. You don’t have to teach a class to be an inspiration for those who seek movement to relieve their suffering, but you will understand the flow of give and take, push and pull, and the business world of true empowerment on a higher level.
Pole Sister, no matter what you decide, dance. Dance from your heart. Love your music, the gift of your body, and the spirit of your fantasies. They are telling you how to play, and play you must.
Book Review Time!
This month it’s How to Make Love Like a Pornstar by Jenna Jameson (and Neil Strauss). What does this have to do with stripping, you might ask? The Queen of Softcore Porn started as a dancer. In this autobiography, she illustrates how her childhood influenced her choices, her relationship with pole dancing, and the kind of men she attracted, and how a girl can get hooked to drugs and abuse. This story, by no means, glamorizes her lifestyle. I’m a fan of Neil Strauss. As a Rolling Stone contributor, he’s know for interviewing the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n rock magnates Marilyn Manson, Howard Stern, and Dave Navarro. This book has comic strips, letters from Jameson’s diary, and gorgeous photo spreads. Luckily, we have a wealth of personal accounts to use when scratching the itch of curiosity. They are, perhaps, the ones who save us from the darkest hours.
If you found this entertaining and/or helpful, please spread the word. If you have a fantasy you want translated, write me a letter at [email protected]. Thanks so much for reading. It is my highest honor to share this work with you. As always, be kind to one another, ask for consent, share what you can when you can, and let tomorrow take care of itself.