First day as a stripper..another day in the life story and my 2 cents.
How I became an exotic dancer
My exhibitionist streak saved me from slinging doughnuts. First of two parts.
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By Sheila Hageman
Aug. 9, 2000 I can still remember the first time I was allowed to take a bath all by myself when I was about 6 years old. It was early in the evening, after dinner. Mom was washing dishes, Dad was reading the newspaper in the living room and my sister was doing homework in her bedroom. I filled the cracking beige porcelain tub with bubbling waves of soap and then soaked myself until my fingers were wrinkled like white sun-baked grapes. Balls of moisture formed on the bathroom window and fogged out the black night. My yellow plastic duck bobbed up and down by my two pink knees, poking out from the filmy water like two naked mole rats. Hot water traveled through the clanking pipes of the radiator and combined with the clinking of the dinner dishes Mom set out to dry. I held my breath and listened harder; the crisp turns and folds of Dad's newspaper were a song of comfort and home that protected me in the quiet night.
It was then that I first thought the world revolved around me. The outside sounds were made just for me. Other people lived on earth just to help fulfill my life's experiences. It was as if I'd discovered the meaning of life. I was the center of the universe and my job was to allow everybody around me to help me to experience the world. I wanted to know and feel everything in every way.
The bath water began to chill. Suddenly, the small tub enclosed me and made my dreams seem minuscule. How could the world be just about me? If it were, surely I would have a perfect life. That thought frightened me and made me think perhaps I was only a part of somebody else's world. I needed to return to my feeling of safety and connection with the larger world. I needed to stop the spreading veins of fear in my mind. I drained the water from the tub and fluffed my body dry with the mauve butterfly towel. My hand turned the wobbly crystal doorknob. I felt the exciting rush of cold hallway air and made a shivery dash for the kitchen.
My mom spun around as I rushed past her, squealing in my happy nakedness. My feet made streaky splats along the orange tiles. Mom dropped the Roadrunner glass back into the sudsy dishpan, "Karoomph!"
"Streaker, streaker!" my mom bellowed as I raced through the adjacent dining room into the brown living room. My dad peered over the top of the Connecticut Post. I zoomed past him and around the circle of the house again. I was laughing, running and getting goose bumps all over my body. It felt good to be naked.
Coming back to the opened bathroom door, I glanced in to see rivulets of water running down the steamy windowpanes. It was much more inviting to turn to my right and run around the circle one more time. Dad put his paper down and tried to catch me.
I was winded with happiness as I collapsed back into the bathroom, gasping for breath. I could hear my mom's and dad's muffled voices whispering from the other side of the door. Not only did I feel good, but now they were talking to each other without yelling.
The whole world had watched me. That's how it was meant to be. Shy little Sheila, who usually clung behind Mom's protective shadow, finally felt free to be noticed. I guess showing off was in my blood.
Years later, I plopped down into the orange booth at Dunkin' Donuts on my break and skimmed through the Connecticut Post's Help Wanted section. My view skirted to an advertisement I'd seen there before: "Exotic Dancers Wanted! Make up to $1,000 a week! No Experience Necessary! Will Train!"
A stripper. An exotic dancer. What a wonderful way to be the most beautiful and the most loved. I could show everybody what I was capable of becoming. Perhaps by showing my body to the world, I would be able to quench my longing for attention. All my life I was an attention whore..I think that is how the acting bug got in...
I mean, why shouldn't I become a stripper? It was almost as if I was being called to be one. My hair was blond and my ass was tight. Young, beautiful and intelligent women were supposed to do amazing and daring things.
I was wasting away in suburbia -- if I lived in New York I could go to more acting auditions. But it was so expensive to live there. I needed to make some big money. Ahhh, yes, I know this story.
A thousand dollars a week? I could do it. I was an actress -- all I had to do was play another role. I really do think it was my acting skills that made me good..when I was good, before the burn out sets in...I tore the small ad from the paper, shoved it in the pocket of my Levi's and brushed the color sprinkles from my pink polyester apron.
Two days later, I was driving to a brick apartment complex in downtown Bridgeport. I walked down a long dark hallway filled with the sounds and smells of babies and knocked on a door with a cardboard gold star that read "Star Management." I pushed open the thin wooden door into a small office covered with photos of naked ladies. Johnny, his striped polo shirt sweated to his chest, interviewed me for the job. His partner, Ron, was on the phone the whole time, talking to a woman named Lola.
I had brought my modeling portfolio with me. Johnny flipped through it, stopping to stare at the nudes. "Why don't you go slip into your costume?" I nodded and headed for the bathroom. The bathroom was also used as a storage room for extra boxes of glossies, so I barely had room to sit down on the toilet. I slipped on a white lace bra, a thong and heels.
The door stuck on the shag carpet as I tried my best to appear graceful. Johnny whistled and nodded as I did the fashion model turns that I'd learned at Barbizon Modeling School the year before.
"Could you take off your bra?"
I felt so stupid reaching my arms around my back and trying to unsnap it. Johnny leaned back and revealed his sweaty pits as I exposed my nipples. I waited for him to say I was too flat-chested, but he just took a Polaroid of me topless -- "for the files." This only happened to me in NY, I wonder what they do with all those photos...
Johnny then went into a rambling monologue about the different clubs and their rules.
"Now, you look really young, so I need you to look glamorous from the minute you walk into a club." He rocked back and forth in his leather swivel chair, making squeegee sounds.
I tried hard to listen, but my moist thong kept sliding me farther back into the plastic folding chair. Whom was I kidding? Maybe Johnny would see right through me and tell me I wasn't sexy enough to be an exotic dancer.
"You'll need a signed permission letter from your guardian, since you're under 21." Huh, I have never heard of that before. It was all good as long as you were 18 in TX.
How do you ask your mother for permission to be a stripper? "You mean I've got to tell my mom what I'm doing? I'm 18!" I sat up and leaned onto Johnny's cluttered desk. "I'm an adult."
"Well, you aren't legal to work in bars until you're 21, but don't worry." Johnny touched my hand. "I won't tell anyone if you forget your permission slip.
"I'm your boss; you answer to me, not the club owners. I book you and I help you when you need it, and you help me when I need it." His hand ran through his curly hair. "If you have any problems, you just call me."
I smiled, nodding in agreement with everything he said. I wanted to get out of that stifling office.
"If you're caught on the premises with drugs, it's an immediate week's suspension. Clearly intoxicated, same thing." Tufts of chest hair spurted from his open collar.
Drugs and alcohol at work? Who does that? Ahahaha..so naive..soon you will learn my pretty.
"G-string stays on at all times and absolutely no physical contact with the customers." I liked that rule.
"You'll get paid $55 in cash at the end of your seven-hour shift. Of course, you'll make your real money in tips."
I thought it would be more money. How many shifts would I need to work to make $1,000 a week? How much could I possibly make in tips?
"So, when can I put you into the rotation?"
I had been hired. Just like that. I was a topless dancer. I didn't want to sound like an amateur, but there was one question that kept floating through my mind.
"Umm, the free training advertised in the paper?" I asked.
For the first time since I'd arrived, Ron cleared his throat, stood up and leaned against his desk. "Just get up there and dance," he said. Yep, there ya go..ON-THE-JOB training...
This is part two...
The Bungalow was tucked away at the back of an industrial park. I swung open the blacked-out glass door with the sign "No Fat Women Allowed!" The darkened pit gobbled up the bright noon sun, and the cool damp smell of liquor snuck up my nose. I leaned against the bar railing and a blond man's head popped into sight. I remember that walking in from the sunshine gorgeous outside clean crisp air into the club. Your eyes would have to adjust. It smelled of stale booze and cigarettes. The music muffled outside now played too loudly. It was always this weird transition.
"Hi, my name is Kyrea. I'm supposed to ask for Billy. It's my first day." Did that name sound stupid? Was I supposed to say my real name instead?
"Hey, it's nice to meet you! I'm Nick. The dressing room is down there -- I'll let Billy know you're here." He pointed off to the right and continued lifting boxes of beer to the bar.
I turned and saw it for the first time, a long L-shaped stage with Christmas lights strung along the edge, surrounded by chairs. I stumbled into the dressing room thinking I must have made a mistake; it was just a bathroom with a gold star on the door. There were three stalls (one without a door), a sink and two broken wall mirrors. I plugged in the space heater and it whirred to a start. I had expected something more glamorous. I have worked in clubs like that. You know you're in trouble because its obvious the owners and managers could give 2 shits about the dancers. Get your bag and run!
I pulled on my costume and tried to puff up my hair and squeeze my 34-A breasts as high as they would go. I looked too young.
I click-clacked my way back to the bar in my undies and high heels, wondering if I should have covered myself up or if I was supposed to be as nude as possible at all times.
The owner now sat at the bar, drinking a small bottle of club soda. He was in his late 20s and had long golden hair.
"Wow! You look beautiful." I could feel my face getting hot and red, just like my bra and thong. I felt like a gigantic tomato, but both Billy and Nick said I looked great.
"You might want to put on a robe when you're not onstage, though. I don't want you catching cold." Now my face got redder, but Billy gently squeezed my shoulder.
I showed them my forged permission note. They glanced at each other and Billy thanked me.
I relaxed on a wobbly stool and leaned my elbows against the rail. A few men started strolling in, so I tried to look as demure as you can look when you're the only woman in a bar and in your underwear.
I could feel eyes staring at me from across the bar. I tried out my most seductive smile, but I couldn't tell if he smiled back. My ice water slid down my throat, causing my nervous belly to ache. No more smiles for you, mister.
I sat there for half an hour, wondering when the other dancer would arrive. Johnny had said I should watch her first and then imitate her moves. It was almost noon, which was when the shows were supposed to start. The clock churned on and men kept entering. They were talking about me and pointing, in between going to the cooler at the back end of the bar for a sandwich and gulping down their beers. Billy said, "Whenever you're ready."
My feet carried me past the catcalls and whistles, past the pool table and the TV. I dropped my plastic purse into the giant tip basket at the corner of the stage.
Two wilted dollar bills from the bar started the jukebox A jukebox?!!? Where the hell was this girl working?!?!and I picked out my first set of songs -- fast ones so that I wouldn't have time to slow down and be aware of what was going on. I turned to face the crowd and smiled at the few men who sat by the stage. Their eyes were eye level with my calves; they couldn't help staring up at my crotch.
Oh, my God, what should I do now? I sashayed down the stage and grabbed a metal pole that stuck out from the middle of the stage and stretched my legs. The music began to beat out from speakers all around me. Male eyes peered through the hazy smoke, heavy-lidded with the effects of liquor.
I rotated my hips slowly, bent over and extended my legs. I danced like molasses sliding down a wooden banister and swung my long hair, letting it land and brush against my ass.
Men were watching me from all sides. I saw two guys leaning against their pool cues, drooling. All other action in the bar had ceased. The walls were lined with mirrors, so I could see myself dancing. I looked firm and shiny and perfect with the rosy lights playing on my body from above.
I'd stop dancing long enough to take the dollars held out to me. The men wanted to know my name and how old I was. They wanted me to stop dancing to talk to them. But I didn't want to get in trouble, so I tried to never stop moving.
"I must know your name!" A man in a blue suit squeezed my hand as he handed me a five.
"Kyrea!" I shouted over the music. I turned my back to him and undid my bra. The smelly air clung to my curves. I caught a glance of my white breasts in the mirror and I felt really naked for the first time.
"Perrier? What kind of a name is that?" I laughed at the suit and kept dancing.
It was funny how safe I felt. No one tried to grab me or said I was a whore. All they said was how beautiful I was. I felt like a queen on a pedestal with control over the men. I only had to dance for a customer about a minute before I'd see a flash of green being waved somewhere else. I decided when to dance away from one guy to the next. I was the one with the power; the men were helpless in my womanly spell. I remember that feeling too. The good nights
This was much better than selling doughnuts.
I noticed another woman standing by the stage. I scooped up my dollars as the men applauded and scurried back to the bathroom, clutching my bra to my chest. Men stopped me along the way, wanting to buy me a drink. I just smiled and rushed past them.
I plopped down on the bathroom chair and pressed out my dollars flat. Some of them had been crumpled into little balls and thrown to me, and others had been folded into little bow ties and swans. Always some loser folding all the bills into origami, now I have to spend my time unfolding that shit. If I have to spend five minutes unfolding your origami elephant it better be a $50. ...I know, I'm a bitch. I had earned $32 during that set. Not bad considering that my doughnut job had paid $5 an hour.
I mopped off my body with hard brown paper towels and yanked on my next outfit, a yellow thong leotard with pink hot pants. The muffled sounds of pool balls being smacked, men laughing and coughing and hard rock music pulsed through my ears. A whoosh of powder on my damp skin and I was all set. I wanted to get out there to study the other dancer.
I ordered an orange juice and settled in at the bar to watch the show. Kelly did a lot more talking than dancing. She also had her own repertoire of moves. She'd bend over and look at a guy between her legs, pick up dollar bills by squeezing her breasts around them and slap her butt and make a squealing noise. Her performance was not a striptease, really -- it was a half-naked woman walking from man to man and wiggling. There is a lot of that out there.
Billy sat with me and reviewed the club's rules, which were strictly enforced. The Bungalow was strictly topless and no flashing (pulling your G-string aside) was allowed. A lot of girls "play" with their t-backs to make it look like it might come off. Several clubs realized girls were flashing and made a rule that you couldn't touch your t-back at all. Physical contact with the customers was grounds for immediate dismissal. Any problem with a customer was to be handled by the bouncers. "If anyone should proposition you, come and tell me." Po-po in the building.
I looked Billy in the eye and nodded.
"I run a clean club and I don't want to get closed down."
"You can count on me."
Billy smiled and touched my arm.
I danced a total of six half-hour sets that day, keeping up my energy with a ham sandwich from the cooler and a lot of ice water. I used the ice onstage by running it down my body. It kept my skin cool and my nipples hard. The men loved it when I did something spontaneous like that, because they could tell I was discovering the moves for the first time. Hahaha, I almost forgot about the ice trick. Yep they love that one. I will go into more detail on that one tomorrow.
Kelly was older than I and you could tell she'd been a dancer for a long time. She wore the same costume all day long, while I liked to change my outfits so the guys would have something new to look at. My whole mood changed when I switched my costume from white lace to black plastic. That was me, I hated changing, more laundry. I also felt it was better because guys would look for you based on outfit. Like, bring me the girl who was wearing the black dress with pink at the bottom.
I must have warded off a dozen date invites. The men seemed to be asking me out seriously, not like I was a prostitute. What did these old fat guys think? That I would want to go out to dinner with them? That they were going to make a love connection with a stripper? Yes! They think they can take you away from it all. Of course, there were some who wanted something else and were very clear about it. As soon as a man's words began to sound like a proposition for sex, I'd flip my hair and dance away.
The guys got rowdier and more offensive as the day wore on. Some guys would look away when I approached, so as not to have to give me a dollar. The old, if I don't see you I won't have to tip you. I would just stand there until they had to tip. Ha! I was such a bitch. But it worked! Others got pissed off because I wouldn't flash. They told me that everybody else did it, but I had no intention of flashing. There were plenty of customers who were more than happy to watch me do an actual striptease dance. I used a lot of eye contact and found that the men liked to be teased. They watched my face as well as my body. My acting skills were really coming in handy. Yep!
Kelly's dancing got bawdier and she spent a lot of time at the far end of the stage. She would bend over and fiddle with her thong while customers leaned in close. She'd flip herself up all of a sudden and shoot a look to the bar. I pretended not to be watching her, but she must have known I was.
After 5 o'clock it got really busy and Kelly waved to everyone. One fat guy threw a matchbook onstage and the guys went wild, screaming and clapping.
"What's going on?" I asked Nick.
"You'll see. It's her signature move." I looked toward the stage again and was bewildered. Kelly was inserting matches in her nipples. The audience got louder as she lighted the matches and carefully swung her flaming breasts in circles. The stunt lasted only a moment, but customers were throwing money onto the stage. It was bizarre, but I guess the men liked the novelty of it.
There is always a couple of girls who did this. It wasn't my bag. I tried it a few times though. Maybe I'll explain that one too. :)
The second-shift dancers began arriving around 5:30. Other wise known as the A-team. It was my first opportunity to speak with other women all day. One dancer with long blond hair started quizzing me as soon as I walked into the bathroom after my last set and counted out my dollars.
"Wow, you made a lot."
"Yeah? It's my first day."
"Your first day at this club or you mean your first day dancing ever?" She was slipping on a cheerleader outfit.
"Oh, my very first day."
"Mmm, well you better watch yourself around these other women. You're young and pretty -- a lot of dancers are going to be jealous." She brushed her hair up into two ponytails.
"Oh, I don't know."
"Seriously, you should put a lock on your suitcase and watch your back." She checked herself out in the mirror one last time and then whipped around and left the dressing room. She had not sounded friendly in her warning. In fact, she sounded downright hostile. Perhaps she had been talking about how she felt, and I decided that I should try to stay out of her way. I felt a twinge of panic at the thought that she had actually threatened me. Sounds like she had it right on. No one likes the new girl. I hated being the new girl.
I hurried to leave because I had a dress rehearsal for Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" at 8 at a local Playshop. I wished that I could take a shower to wash off the sweat and smoke that clung to me, but instead I dumped on some more baby powder.
I left the club at 6:30 with $275 in cash. Wearing sweats, I slipped out completely unnoticed; I'd become totally invisible by putting my regular clothes back on. My mind was spinning, my legs ached and I had a pounding headache, but the cool evening air refreshed my tired body and brought me back to the real world. By the time my Sundance hit Interstate 95, I was feeling like Sheila again. Kyrea drifted away into the black night somewhere around exit 40.
As I drove I wondered how long I'd be a stripper. I could feel that bar darkness beckoning, a place where I could escape the pressures of being a superwoman. In the club, my only responsibility was to be sexy. I knew the crowds of men had no respect for me. It didn't matter who I was or what I was about; they only wanted to look at my naked body.
I spoke to my reflection in the foggy rearview mirror. "I'm Sheila now. Kyrea is back in the bar." I brought my attention back to the road and as the white dashes flicked by I realized I had no idea who I was or where I was headed.
And the road stretched out very far in front of me.
salon.com Aug. 10, 2000
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About the writer
Sheila Hageman is a writer in New York
I loved this article. She has since retired, good for her! She has a blog too http://strippermom.blogspot.com/