*I was going to blog about the job I lost because I got googled, but instead, I got this fabulous letter from a girl at a strange crossroads in her life.
I’m thirty. I’ve been an athlete since age five; I’ve been a competitive swimmer and mid-range soccer player. I was always groomed by my parents and family to talk about my athletic events and my goals, but people were always talking to me about how I looked, how strong I was and how fun it was to watch me. I guess I miss being part of a team. Working as a dancer kind of feels like that, and it pays well.
I got into stripping on a whim, my Grandfather had just died and I had just come back from France. I needed money. I was working at a Cosmetics Company called Lush (that I love) but wasn’t making enough to survive and I needed to move out from my family’s house. At that point I had been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for about 4 years. I had actually never been in a strip club before and I told my boyfriend (at the time) and he was very supportive of me auditioning. He suggested we go together and watch the dancers.
That night, I felt comfortable as I watched the girls perform. They all had different looks and personalities and ways of entertaining. I went in the next day and was hired. There are things I’ll never forget about those first few nights: the Dj did my hair, the other girls showed me how to do my makeup and coached me how to dance seductively. I’d saved enough to buy my own first cars there. I worked at that club and stayed sober and all the girls would send someone who had a problem to me. I even took a girl to a couple meetings. Then the management changed and things started getting strained.
In 2009, I tried Jumbo’s and Cheetahs but the atmosphere wasn’t really my thing. I was heartbroken because the girls I had befriended at the other club were like family. I tried another seedy topless club where a lot of those girls worked. It was definitely in a rougher neighborhood, but I felt comfortable working again. I learned pole-dancing skills and loved the rush of being able to do crazy stunts on stage. I got into they best shape of my life at this club and realized that I wanted to setup something outside this dancing world to help me make money, something outside of the lifestyle. I started going to esthetician school (I still want to complete that), except things blew up in my face. I broke up with my boyfriend because he started smoking pot, he was already growing pot, but the smoking was a deal breaker. After we broke up, I dated someone else, but went back to him in a time of weakness and started smoking pot myself and that is how I “went out” and lost my recovery time. I started taking Xanax and still can’t seem to stop.
The circumstances in my life are drastically different from last year. I lost my car, place to live, and self-confidence I once had. Now, I’m back in LA living with my mom and dad who are very strict Christians and who don’t really like me or the fact that I am choosing not to go to school right now. I feel torn. On the one hand I can understand the benefits of not dancing and being all good and not making any money, but on the other hand, I would have to lie to them while I helped my self out financially. I auditioned at a classy nude club here in LA and felt differently about how I could present myself on stage and as a dancer. I’ve had many clients who are sweet guys who don’t have anyone to talk to or who are in frustrating relationships at home, I feel like I am an entertainer and just like the movies can take you out of your normal life.
I feel frustrated because I kept that job the longest and worked super hard at all the clubs I was at, picking up extra hours usually on time and a positive attitude. I can’t put this on job applications while trying to get a “real” job; I got a real job for a couple of months. I thought wow I could do a real job and dance too. Until my employer decided to be a jerk and not pay me for days I was there. I Got fired. I haven’t found another job yet. Living with my parents is killing me. I have to be loaded to be there. I worry about them finding out I’m going back to dancing. I have dreams about dancing and being on stage.
The great thing about dancing is that you are your own boss, if someone is offending you or being a jerk you get to tell them that and as long as you can be polite.
My parents believe dancing is wrong and in the category of prostitution. I know girls that seem to blur the lines, but I don’t. I was a clean athletic dancer, there to entertain and make money. I recently went to Seattle and auditioned for one of the biggest new clubs up there and won an amateur contest and was going to stay and work up there but the living circumstances were shady.
I want to do something great with my life and not just safe and that might mean doing something that I know that I can make a living at for a time until I have the training and job security and confidence to leave.
When I left dancing, I didn’t have an exit strategy. I was emotionally drained and mentally sick. Dancing and a bad relationship had eclipsed my life. I am frustrated because I believe I have a lot to offer and don’t really have the training or upbringing to know about business or even how to navigate emotional stress. After a year off of dancing, taking Xanax and going to AA meetings, I haven’t found the closeness and love that I had with my girls while dancing. I do like the idea of being clear headed. I want to build a life.
At the new place I am contemplating working, I am coming in older, out of shape. It’s a nude club, which I am comfortable with, since I worked as a nude model at times, and have done work in adult films. I know dancing affords a certain lifestyle yet it can be a very grey area to live in, however, I am having a hard time with all of this.
Dear having a hard time with all of this,
When I slipped back into dancing it was during an incredibly depressing (and strangely freeing) time in my life. I’d gone through the cancer roller coaster with my mom for several years, was in grad school and the economy crashed, blowing my personal assistant job up. While my mom was ill, I decided to return to my dark familiar: the strip clubs inhabited with transient felons and sad strippers, where drunk, lonely guys would pay to watch me dance. You and I have danced in the same bleak clubs in LA.
It took me a while to figure out that I had slipped back into a habit and it was no one else’s fault. Not the boyfriend, not my mom, not my boss, not the typhoid fever (which I had when I worked at Cheetahs), not the economy. I made my choice to go the safe route: strip for a while until I could figure out a way to pursue the thing I really wanted.
I found clubs to work at (in New Orleans) that had a thriving business because I had to come up with my rent and still have time to write, apply to internships, do a column for The Rumpus and finish my book. After doing the numbers, it made sense to extend the fictive dream of sex work and plug away at my goals like I’m being chased with a chainsaw. Some days I do this. Some days I get distracted. Every day, I work at my goals and dreams to write and teach.
The thing that moved me in your letter was that it’s everyone else’s fault. The relapse, living situation and things falling apart. You blame your parents, boyfriend and the club management for your circumstances. We both know that’s bullshit.
The only way out of your situation is to take ownership of the life you are living. The only way to do that is to grow up.
I recommend having an adult conversation with your folks about your plans to change your career and go to school. If you don’t want to ask them for help or support or if that is too impossible, then you can always return to dancing. You don’t have to justify or explain it. I know the allure of the life and the routine and the feeling of being part of a pirate tribe. I know about chasing the money high and being a performance junkie and the joy of walking with several hundred bucks. I know about the addiction to blind adoration from strangers when you’re lonely and afraid.
Don’t kid yourself: making money and dancing is the easier, safer route and you know it. You have known it since you were a little girl. The way people commented on your beauty and how they loved to watch you perform. How naturally this came to you and how conveniently you slipped right into the life, saved your money. The life outside the club is a motherfucker. It’s full of obstacles and is fucking lonesome. Use your hustle to chase your dreams and don’t be discouraged by one shitty boss. Strip clubs are full of shitty bosses. We give them nearly 40% of our income to work there, remember?
In 1999, I decided (after doing a thorough 4th step) that I needed to complete my BA degree at this totally unreasonable, all women’s college that I totally loved. I was dancing and had NEVER saved a penny. I spent my money faster than I made it, like it was glitter pouring through my hands. I hired an account friend (I was her only personal account; she did the books for bars and small businesses around SF) who helped me save 10K in a year to pay the school. I paid it in cash and graduated. It helped my self esteem to complete the thing I started. That said, I strongly suggest you complete your esthetician license.
My experience dancing was horrible when I was drinking and drugging. I made little money and hated myself. I don’t know if you still consider yourself an addict, but it sounds like you are interested in getting clear headed again and building a life. I don’t think it would hurt you to get sober again. The only thing we have is this day, and you can start anew right now. You can flush your Xanax down the drain and get to an AA meeting. I don’t know exactly what your needs or resources are today, but I do know that there are rehabs, outpatient programs and sober living facilities. I’ve found there is much community and friendship in the rooms, kind of like being on the same team.
Whether or not you choose to dance right now is less important than you deciding to take ownership of a life that is felt fiercely.Stand behind your choices. What I really want to say right now, hard time, is just fucking bring it.
Your descending angel (the pole dancing move),
AC by Sheila Hiber