It was the joke I made repeatedly. “I should just be a stripper,” I would mutter whenever I felt bored or overwhelmed at work. I never thought I would actually do it. As someone who’s happily played the role of the good girl for as long as I can remember, becoming an exotic dancer wasn’t part of my plan. But from my first pole-dancing class, I was hooked and immediately curious about trying it outside the studio.
When I finally admitted to myself I was genuinely interested in becoming a dancer, I was clear about my boundaries: I wanted to stay covered, top and bottom, and I did not want to give private dances. Luckily, I found a bikini bar that met my requirements. (Bikini bars mandate that dancers keep on the equivalent of, well, a bikini — at a minimum, pasties and a G-string.) I auditioned barefoot, so nervous that I forgot to take off my clothes, but they put me on the schedule.
I quickly settled into a routine — choosing songs, introducing myself by my stage name and getting to know the regulars. Although the experience isn’t so different from what I thought it would be, I still didn’t expect just how much I would love it. I understand dancing is not for everyone, but I must say there are some delightful perks. Here are 10 of my favorites:
1. Every day is Halloween. I have learned how to make every fictional character, superhero, animal, and profession into a sexy parody of itself. I made a dreidel bikini for Hanukkah. I was a slutty pilgrim for Thanksgiving. I tried to do Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter, but a customer mistook the red “A” for Alvin and the Chipmunks. Essentially, dancing is getting paid to play dress up, which means you always have an excuse to buy things you’d never be able to wear elsewhere. Bring on the shiny gold booty shorts and the bedazzled bras!
2. Normal high heels feel short, and, therefore, entirely manageable. After spending hours on end in seven-inch platforms, I find it’s no big deal to put on five-inch stilettos to go to dinner. In fact, it feels like I’m wearing flats.
3. The red lights on stage are more effective than any Instagram filter. The lights even out skin tone, disguise cellulite and wrinkles, and even add muscular definition. It’s like being airbrushed, tanned, and toned all at once.
4. You get killer abs. They might not look like a six-pack (mine certainly don’t, except occasionally at certain angles under aforementioned red lights), but I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been. As someone who’s never had a particularly healthy body image, dancing has helped me accept and appreciate my body for what it can do, rather than just what it looks like.
5. There is no such thing as too much sparkle. Remember that time in eighth grade when you doused yourself in body glitter before a school dance and thought you looked like a shimmery fairy, only to be told by your parents to go wash it off because you might give people the “wrong idea”? Well, this job is said “wrong idea.” No one can judge you for wearing sequined outfits, bedazzled shoes, shimmery eye shadow, sparkly lipstick, glitter hairspray and just plain body glitter because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to wear. The only downside is I often end up picking bits of glitter off my steering wheel, because, as one of the other dancers so wisely informed me, “Glitter is the herpes of craft products: it gets everywhere and never really goes away.”
6. Dollar bill origami. Contrary to the songs of Lil’ Wayne and T-Pain that suggest dancers move around in an endless cascade of magically floating dollar bills, money is not aerodynamic. While some polite customers place their tips neatly on the stage, most simply wad up their ones and lob the little balls at the stage. However, some get more creative. I have received a wide array of airplanes, one bow tie, one fortune teller, two ninja stars, and one paper crane.
7. Sometimes, it rains when you least expect it. Though the expected money isn’t bad, the rare occasions when someone decides to “make it rain” are, from a financial perspective, relatively stunning — a girl might easily make well over R2000 on a single song. The “rain” might be in response to an impressive trick, or it may come as a result of the guy in the corner deciding it’s time to go and showering whichever dancer is onstage with his remaining singles. But it can also happen in response to a mistake. Trip on a heel and keep going? Fall out of a handstand? Forget to tuck in a tampon string? The audience often supports these potentially embarrassing incidents with handfuls of ones and cheers of encouragement.
8. You learn that there’s no one version of sexy. In either dance style, or body type. Not all strippers are pole dancers, and not all pole dancers are strippers. There are girls who are experts at pole fitness and girls who barely touch the pole. Girls who can twerk and shake their asses all day long, and girls whose asses adamantly refuse to wiggle (me). Girls who are barely over 21 and girls who are close to 40. Girls who are all curves, and girls who have none and everything in between. As one customer astutely observed, we’re all tall, but that’s only because of the heels; in street clothes, we range from 4’10″to 5’10”. And though each crowd responds differently to the dancers and our unique styles, everyone is someone’s favorite.
9. You have an outlet to discuss every esoteric fact you’ve ever learned. I’ve had fascinating conversations about the origins of Santa Claus, the structures for various types of sonnets, and different architectural styles of roofs. I’ve also received instructions on how to deep fry a turkey, retile a bathroom, and make my own almond milk, as well as a few lectures on the workings of fantasy football, which, honestly, I still don’t understand.
10. You can wear pajamas to work. You’re just going to take them off anyway.