a night in the life, part one

6pm

I eat a small meal, typically a salad dense with vegetables, or maybe a large apple and some milk. Sometimes just a bowl of raisin bran. I read once that eating foods high in fiber about 45 minutes before you exercise helps maintain your energy during a workout. It seems to work for me.

7pm

Some days, I struggle to find the motivation to exercise, which I consider to be the first part of my work night. And some days it's already there. It depends largely on how much caffeine I have in my system.

My workouts are simple and never vary: I spend about half an hour using five pound weights, doing sets of 30-35 reps of various exercises using my arms and legs. Leg lifts, squats, donkey kicks, extensions, lunges - things like that. I do abs, too. There's nothing fancy about my routine, and I have no great secrets of Stripper Fitness to impart. I just take my time and keep my movements measured. I don't particularly enjoy the process, so I try to make the effort count.

Running is another story. That I truly enjoy. After weights, I throw on my beat-to-hell trail runners, grab my phone and my keys, and run south out of downtown for anywhere from 30-60 minutes. Some nights, I run the entire time. But usually it's about 70/30, running there and run/walking back. I listen to the music I'll know I'll be dancing to later that night, which helps pump me up. I've always relied heavily on visualization to help me get through workouts - thinking about how I want various parts of my body to look, in clothes (or out of them), when I'm dancing (and here I mean just dancing out with friends), or lying on a beach, or walking through an airport - anything. It's dumb I know, and super narcissistic, but it works for me. So thinking about how I'll look on stage, in my underwear, with a room full of men scrutinizing every part of me, is a pretty big motivator.

It's extremely difficult for me to muster the will to go to work if I haven't worked out. I don't feel tight or sexy. And dancing isn't easy to do if you don't feel confident in your body.

8pm

I get ready. I'd guess I spend as much time and effort getting ready for work as most women put into getting ready for a big date. I have to be aware of pretty much every inch of my body. Which is not to say I'm always a completely polished sex kitten. Not even close. There are plenty of nights when my nails/toes desperately need a mani/pedi, or my hair wants cutting (or coloring), or something like that. But for the most part, when I leave for work, I feel well put together and pretty. I have to.

I don't actually wear more makeup than when I'm going out. Nothing crazy, no glitter or harsh eyeliner. No over-the-top lipstick colors, or eyeshadow. I learned quickly that my appeal as a dancer is the "natural", girl next door look. Many's the time I've heard some variation of the question, What are you doing in this place? You don't fit. So I go with that image, because it seems to still be working. God knows I'm neither innocent nor all that natural, but if men want to give me money because they think I am? Brilliant. Have at it, gentlemen.

9-9:30 pm

I walk Chaucer one last time, then lock up and head for the subway, where I buy a one-way ticket for $1.50, because I still haven't gotten a TAP card. The Metro station is just around the corner, but the schedule is somewhat unreliable. Sometimes I have to wait for ten minutes or more before my train comes in, and another fifteen before it leaves again. During this time I play 7 Little Words on my iPhone and listen to music. My stop is another eight minutes down the line, and from there, I have a 12 minute walk to the club.

The area I walk through is not nice. A few of my coworkers have freaked out when they learn that I have to hoof it through this part of town. You're nuts, they say. You have a death wish. Some have offered to give me a ride in, on those nights they plan on working. But for one thing, it's pointless for people without fixed work schedules to make plans, because things always change. And for another, I really don't mind. Living downtown has gotten me more than used to shady areas. I don't want to sound like a naive idiot and say, Oh gosh, I'm completely safe, nothing will happen to me! But I'm as careful and aware of my surroundings as I can be. And I move quickly. And dress in dark colors. Plus, I actually like the brisk walk. It's a time for me to mentally focus on the night ahead, and get my energy up and running.

Sometimes I text a friend on the way. The thought of a loved one - of someone supportive and rooting for me - is a great source of inspiration. That's part of why I'm doing this, I'll tell myself. Good people like that, who I want to stay close to. If I'm feeling low or pressured or negative about the fact that Oh my god, I'm dancing AGAIN, I'll remind myself how much more opportunity there is in LA for me, professionally, socially, culturally. I'll remind myself of the bigger picture, and The Plan.

10-10:30 pm

I arrive at the club, playfully fist-bumping the valet in greeting. We're gonna have an awesome night tonight, right? The bouncers call me by name and hold the door for me. We wish one another a good night. This is de rigueur: we all build one another up with positive energy, jokes, and flirtation - dancers, doormen, managers, bartenders, DJs. It's a service industry thing. There is no camaraderie like that among a well-run strip club, with hardworking, friendly employees. It's the us vs. them mentality on crack. We protect our own, emotionally, financially, and physically, if need be.

On my way down a separate hallway from where customers enter the club, I swing by an unmanned check-in window, where I tap my fingertip on a tiny scanner. My stage name loads on a computer screen above: I've just been automatically added to the stage rotation. I change out of my street clothes, swipe on a bit of lipgloss, and put on a single spritz of perfume. It's incredibly sweet and youthful, and I love it, but I would never wear it outside of the club. I don't bathe in it, like some dancers do with scent. One of the first things I learned about dancing is that men don't particularly like to return home to their wives and girlfriends reeking of another woman.

My things I store in a locked locker, in a dressing room four times the size of my apartment, which is clean and well-lit. I greet the other girls, but stop to chat with very few. I quickly check myself over in the mirror, then head around the corner, through an entrance/exit just for dancers, and out onto the club floor.

My energy and optimism are high, and I'm ready to make some money.

(to be continued)