Showing posts with label dancing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dancing. Show all posts

late to the party

This past Saturday, I went to the HARDfest Day of the Dead electronic music festival. Alone. And it was amazing.

I'll write about the actual festival in another post, but I thought maybe first I should address the obvious weirdness of a thirty-seven year old woman who goes to trance fests - and usually by herself. I imagine that might raise an eyebrow or two, because duh. And I totally get it. If I wasn't me, I'd probably give me the side eye, too. So I'll try to explain why I do it.

For one thing, I never experienced festivals in my teens or twenties. I wasn't exposed to electronic music much at all; there certainly weren't any events like this coming through Tucson. There weren't even any good places to go dancing. It wasn't until I came to LA and befriended my gays (and I use that expression with their blessing) that I had the opportunity to go dancing regularly, and to really appreciate dance music itself.

I've always liked to dance, but my gay friends taught me to really, really love it. And to do it well. I try to be a pretty modest person in general, especially when complimented on things other people perceive as my talents - but I will totally, immodestly own being an awesome dancer, because I learned from the best. I learned everything I know from men who can move.

They're also older than me by a few years. So from the beginning, I never had any hang ups about my age, or any idea that I was "too old" to go out. I'd say half the crowd in West Hollywood is over forty, anyway. My gay friends are as fun-loving and free-spirited as teenagers. They don't think twice about being in their late thirties or early forties, and partying until the wee hours. They lead responsible lives, and are creative, productive professionals. They just know how to have a good time, and their lust for fun rubbed off on me. Also like me, they have only themselves, their pets, and their partners to consider, when it comes to how they spend their time, money, and bodies.

Anyway, the first time I went to an electronic/dance/dubstep concert, I was hooked. It was the perfect way for me to unplug from life and completely dial into music, which is a huge part of my emotional expression to begin with. I fell absolutely in love with the sound itself, and the ways it moved me, mentally and physically. And it didn't bother me that I was at least ten years late to the party. I just knew that having finally found it, I didn't want to leave it. I'm definitely aware of being, oh, about fifteen years older than the average attendee, and there are moments where that can be a little awkward (and I'll expand on that in another post), but I still feel, most of the time anyway, youthful enough in spirit and body to enjoy myself.

Finally, one other detail that lent itself to my perfect storm of loving trance festivals - I discovered them during the time I experienced a lot of personal trauma: the deaths of my parents, my divorce, the loss of some close friends. So it was the ultimate escape from all of that. It still is.

As far as going alone, this is probably weird or even unbelievable to a lot of people, but I actually much prefer it. I become so entrenched in my own experience that I'd rather not have to worry about anyone else's - if they're having fun, or if they need something, etc. I completely understand if it sounds hyperbolic or like emo-juvenile-new-age-baloney, but it's a spiritual experience for me, in a way (like Diane Ackerman's concept of "deep play"), and I like to have it alone. It's a way to reconnect with myself. It's one of the few times that I feel like I find clarity and feel inner peace.

And it's just ridiculous, incredible fun.

off and running

I run at night, and usually, very late. Ten, eleven, midnight. The past few weeks it's been at two, three in the morning. Sleep and I are having some issues. We should probably talk to someone about it. We probably won't, though. We'll probably plod along unhappily for a few more months, expecting a deus ex machina that never comes, until one of us breaks. It's a template of self-sabotage I've perfected.

I often assure the worriers in my life that no one's out at that hour, but that's not true. There are plenty of people out. But it's been my experience over the last few years living downtown - and running its streets at night - that those who are out have no interest in me. They've got plenty of other, bigger concerns: finding shelter, finding safety, finding whatever it is they need to give one another. They congregate in clusters below Angel's Knoll, talking in low voices, barely lifting their heads as I move past. They spread out in solo, huddled forms on Broadway, gathering bags and newspapers and cardboard around themselves, staking overnight claims in the relative warmth of doorways.

They never bother me, and I try never to disturb them, or run too close. I am well aware of the privileged life I lead compared to them, and the thin sliver of dumb luck of having been born to whom I was born, that separates me from them. If they smile, or nod, or say hello, I am friendly back. They're not people to be afraid of. They're just people, looking for happiness and security like the rest of us. But they happen to be at the bottom of a much steeper mountain than most, and I feel for them.

I run to Little Tokyo, then past. I loop back and navigate the Arts District, maze-like and crooked. I run down Spring Street, past late night revelers and diners. I run to South Park, then up to Figueroa, and back home. If it's early, I follow stop lights. If it's late, I run red lights with impunity.

I run with music. I couldn't run without it. Lately, I run with Hamilton Leithauser screaming in my ears. He eggs me on. If my voice can hold those notes at this volume, and hold them so richly and effortlessly, your legs can hold out until the end of this song. Listen to me. Don't think about anything other than my words, my harmonies. Don't think, Ellie. Just listen.

I do think, though. I can't help it. I meditate on exactly what it is I'm working for, with each step. Health, of course. But that's not what I think about. My thoughts, when I'm running, stray to much shallower, albeit exotic waters.

I think about sex when I run.

I obsess about it, even. Somewhere along the way, the exertion of intense physical exercise crossed wires in my brain with the excitement of having sex. Sometimes, thanks to endorphins, the high they give me feels strikingly similar. I've realized that I never feel more alive than when I'm having sex - or just about to. And a really hard run, one that leaves me panting, sweating, and burning with muscle fatigue, makes me feel thrillingly alive in the same way. This is my body. This is the hardest I can work it. This is the ultimate physical test I can put it to, and these are the visceral rewards it has to give. All of it applies to both endeavors.

Then there's the vanity of it.

I am never more vain than when sweat is running down my back, and a torn, ratty t-shirt clinging to my skin. My hair sagging in a damp ponytail on my neck, and my face flushed red with blood. I am never more superficial than when I'm wearing four year-old trail runners with holes in the toes. I am never more keenly aware of the shape of my body than when it's hidden under a thermal and sweatpants.

I run so that when he moves his hands down my body, around my hips and across my stomach, I feel like my best, sexiest self. I run so I can confidently peel off my clothes, lights on, eyes locked. I run so that I never have to shy away, or flinch, when he touches any part of me. I run so I can exult in that touch, and rise to it. I run to remove the obstacles to intimacy between he and I.

Whoever "he" is.

Whoever "he" will be.

And by obstacles, I don't mean flesh itself - some arbitrary, culturally predetermined amount of it that has to be eliminated before a woman can be considered sexy. Fuck that noise. Sexy happens at all sizes and shapes. Sexy is not a number on a scale. What I run to remove are the mental obstacles that exist, as they do for every other feeling human being, between having and loving my body: the hang-ups and insecurities that are an inevitable part of the human experience. To be clear: we should all determine for ourselves what size, shape, and weight makes us feel sexy and healthy - and work towards that ideal. And hopefully, that ideal is of our own design - not imprinted on us by unwelcome and unrealistic societal influences. Though it's fucking hard not to feel those influences, innit?

Anyway, that's why I run. I'm running towards my ideal self, which may look nothing whatsoever like the next woman's.

And sex. Sex gets me running.

Another thing that gets me running? The power of secret-keeping.

When I was a dancer, my body was in the public domain. Anyone could come see it, anytime they wanted. There was very little I could hide. Precious little left to the imagination. And that was ok. There is no shame in what I did. I gained some unexpected, hugely valuable skills from my experience as a dancer. And at times, having my body in the public domain was actually quite fun; at the very least, it was a massive, constant ego boost.

But now that my body is, once again, a private matter, I find a wholly different kind of pleasure in that privacy. Anyone seeing me on the street can size me up and know, generally, what my body is like. But I tend to dress, day-to-day, in non form-fitting clothing. Baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts are my uniform. So the exact contours and curves of my body - the lines of muscle or the pockets of fat - are a secret I can choose to keep or reveal, as I wish.

I love that.

I find that deliciously empowering.

I love the idea that the showing, the sharing of my body can be a gift I give to another person. Something for us both to enjoy. That if I work hard enough on it, it can even be a bit of a surprise. I run to gain muscle tone that doesn't show from underneath loose denim, or empire-waist dresses. I run so that he - whoever "he" is - has no idea exactly what I'm hiding, and is maybe, possibly, hopefully a little bit delighted when he finds out.

None of this is to suggest that my body is anything "better" than anyone else's. It's just a body. It weighs a certain amount. It has certain measurements. Those numbers are no better or worse than anyone else's numbers. They're just my numbers. The point is, the potential of making it something that I feel is special, that I am empowered by and can enjoy - that's what gets me off and running.

Even if half the time I come home and eat three bowls of cereal, anyway.

fully unemployed

Last night I rode up to work and was faced with this:



An empty parking lot and a closed-until-further-notice sign on the door. I can't say I'm all that surprised. Things like this are not exactly uncommon in the industry, and I know this particular club was closed down for a brief time last year. It is a little odd considering that management had told the girls that we were on the cusp of a grand re-opening, with a new name and some major staff changes.

I texted a few people, trying to get answers. Got none. Then turned my ass around, biked home, and went upstairs to A.'s, where he was a champ distractor. He sat me in a chair, gave me a lap dance of my own (blame Chromeo), bought me an ice cream bar at Famima, then watched Unthinkable with me because, as I told him, I wanted to watch the darkest, most dystopic movie I could. One that would make me forget about my first world problems.

Such is my news, this Saturday afternoon.

And yes, I Instagrammed pictures of an empty strip club parking lot and a closure notice. I'm ridiculous.

a night in the life, part two

(continued from here)

10:30 pm

I walk through the dressing room door and out onto the club floor. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the low light; when they do, I step over to the DJ booth to say hello. I glance at his roster to see who's working, and engage in a minute's worth of small talk. It's worth my time to be friendly to him. He can grant favors, bend rules - in other words, help me make more money. For instance, he can bump me up in the stage rotation, if it suits my purposes - or take me out of it completely. Or, when he tallies the number of lap dances I've done (it's his job to keep track), he can knock one or two or more off, thus requiring me to give the house less of my earnings. He can also go out of his way to buy/download music he knows I'll like, which ultimately helps us both (because he gets a percentage of my tips, too). It's never been a chore to be friendly with the DJs I've worked with, though. They tend to be easy to get along with and very down to earth - probably a result of years of patience cultivated in the face of neverending dancer drama.

I take a moment to get the lay of the land. I'm assessing how busy it is, looking over the patrons, and deciding what tables are my best bet. I profile. I strategize. Finally, I do a lap, walking through the club at a calculated pace and with a deliberate course. I don't saunter. I move with purpose, giving the illusion that I'm busy - that someone is waiting for me. I weave in and out of tables, making a point to walk in front of certain ones and avoiding others. I take care to be seen by the two middle-aged men in suits - the ones drinking what looks like Scotch, and watching the stage. I don't bother with the 20-somethings in Lakers apparel. Their table is strewn with beer bottles, and those that aren't talking loudly amongst themselves have their eyes glued to the TV on the wall.

A girl with whom I'm friendly is sitting with some customers and two other dancers. She calls out my stage name as I walk by, inviting me to come join the group. She's the ideal partner for working customers: shrewd, clever, a great conversationalist, and very pretty. She wouldn't beckon me to the table if it wasn't worth my time, so I take an empty seat next to a man not otherwise engaged.

And so begins the hardest part of dancing, for me: the first awkward moments of trying to make a complete stranger feel like I'm interested in him, not his money. The truth is, there's actually a very good chance that if I can draw him out a little bit, get him talking about himself, I probably will find him interesting. I'm just like that; I like to hear people's stories, hear about their lives and interests. But making a man in a strip club genuinely believe that - particularly when one or both of you is stone-cold sober - well, that, as they say, is part of why we make the big bucks. It's hard.

I didn't used to have to play this game. Where I worked in Arizona, dances were so stupidly cheap that we could simply offer them straight-out, and either give one or move on to the next customer accordingly. But for $20 a pop, some chatting-up is required. It's been the most challenging aspect of dancing in LA: the hard sell. The schmoozing. The sales. And it's all sales. I'm selling my company, my conversation, and, ultimately, if I can convince him to leave his friends and accompany me to the lap dancing area, a taste of my sexuality. And I'll only get paid for the last of these. I can waste an hour or more, sitting and talking with someone, only to be told "Later" or "No thanks." I can spend an entire evening with someone who's strongly insinuated and/or verbally promised me monetary compensation for my time, only to walk away empty handed.

And there's nothing I can do.

And it happens to girls all the time.

That's part of my job, though: to gauge the payoff. And the faster I can do so, the more money I can make. If within minutes of sitting with someone, I get the sense that he's not a spender, the faster I cut my losses and move on, the faster I'll get to someone who is a spender. But there's often no telling. It's a gamble that a dancer must take, sometimes several times a night. And there's nothing to say that the same man who won't get dances after half an hour won't decide to get them after all, after a full hour. Drinks certainly help. But there are no guarantees.

Sometimes I come on strongly, being aggressively flirtatious and suggestive: holding eye contact and occasionally touching his knee. Sometimes I'm chill, putting on the air that it's just a relaxed night at the bar for me: that I love hanging out and drinking with customers (for drink we can), and any money I make is incidental and bonus. Sometimes I wax intellectual, pulling my chair close to his and listening intently to him talk about his profession or his hobbies, and doing my best to hold my own on the subject. It's my job to determine what version of me will most flatter, impress, and seduce him. It's my job to figure out who he wants.

At some point, though, turkey will have to be talked. At some point, I'm going to have to remind him, either directly or obliquely, that I'm there to make money, not conversation. At some point, he's going to either have to pony up, or I'm going to have to move on.

(to be continued)

3.13.12

Work was awesome. Had the perfect customer. Clean cut artist/photographer/filmmaker who just moved downtown from Hollywood. Friendly, easy, wealthy, and ready to spend money. Which means, hot damn, I get to pay off my bike tomorrow! So excited.

And yes, I know I still owe The Internets another lurid episode of A Night In The Life. Working on it, I swear.

After work was walking Chaucer, and ran into my bestie out with his own pooch (conveniently, our dogs are BFFs too). The other night he and I had been messing around on his iPad looking at all the apps that are aimed at young/tween/teenage girls. We were beside ourselves reading the descriptions, rules, rewards, etc. for things like Top Girl, Social Girl, and It Girl. These apps are insane. You get points for "hotness", which you cash in for clothes, which you wear on dates intended to keep your boyfriend happy. There are also requirements for how often that boyfriend needs to be a) kissed and b) spoken to, in order to keep him "lovestruck". There are popularity contests, cat fights, and cliques - of which you need to be a member in order to be cool enough to flirt with certain guys (which one game has ranked by "manliness"). In one app, a girl's career choices include model, hand model, or model stand-in (I think - something like that, anyway - I'm probably mixing up some of the details), while the boys in the game have jobs ranging from rock star to senator to fireman to businessman. Volumes could be written.

My friend is a big analytical geek like me - and a feminist - so we can gab for hours about stuff like this. We decided, that night, that we'd both pick up the app and compete to see who could be Top Girl (the layers of irony here, being that he's a gay man - and a switch - are truly spectacular). But he totally cheated and got a jump on me; he's been playing Top, Social, and It Girl for the past day and a half. What a bitch, right? Anyway, I went back to his place and he walked me through the games for a while. Mind-blowing. He's taken a zillion screenshots already, and he's planning to do a full explication/close reading on his blog, so I may have to share that here.

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)

Dancing. Again.

Figuring out where to dance in LA was like deciding which of Chaucer's turds to scoop up first. I didn't like any of my options, so I more or less held my nose and just picked one.

Yelp, online dancer community forums, and the club websites themselves were my only guidance. But each of those resources has pitfalls. Yelp tells me everything about what it's like to be a customer at Club X, but nothing about being an employee. Dancer forums are unreliable and largely outdated. Club websites tell me about the owner's taste in web design, not what I can expect from his actual business.

I chose based mostly on two factors: proximity to my apartment and positive Yelp reviews. I don't want to get any more specific than that for safety reasons. Suffice to say the club I'm at is within both train and biking distance.

I called the club one evening to ask whether they were hiring (though this is a formality - clubs will take on as many girls as they can). I was asked three questions: Have you danced before? Are you in really good shape? Are you over 19? I answered in the affirmative. I was told to come down the next day, and to bring everything I needed to work that night. When I hung up the phone, I stood in front of the mirror running my hand lightly over my stomach. I can do this.

The next day, I started getting ready at four in the afternoon. Buffing, shaving, oiling, lotioning, primping, preening, curling, and making up. I only packed one outfit in my bag. Seven inch acrylic heels with clear bases and black patent leather uppers, a pair of thigh high argyle socks, ruched black panties, and a sheer red Cosabella bra. I stopped at Wallgreen's on the way to the train station to buy gum and a padlock.

Auditioning to be a topless dancer is two parts depressing and one part hilarious. As with everything else in dancing, a sense of humor and ability to not take one's self too seriously is essential.

Here's how it goes: A girl takes off 97% of her clothes, and someone - almost always a man - evaluates her body with varying degrees of scrutiny, depending on, essentially, how high end the club is, and how attractive the other dancers. Sometimes girls will be asked to perform on stage. That's never happened to me. The only other "audition" I gave was in Las Vegas years ago. I, along with two other girls, changed from street clothes into our costumes, and walked in front of the club manager. That night, I was the only one asked to stay. That's not to say I was (as arbitrarily determined by one man's subjective gaze) any better a physical specimen than the other women. But I was extremely young and fresh faced, and that was the vibe of that particular club, at that time.

It's a weirdly matter-of-fact exchange of power. A girl is sized up, valued/devalued. Commoditized. How much money can this girl make me? In this way, the manager has the power to determine her fate. But I'd argue that the dancer potentially has some power, too. If she's pretty, if she has a great body - and, bonus! a great personality - he'll want her as an employee. It's in his interest. One great looking girl will attract another great looking girl to work there, and so on. Better girls (better should really be in quotes) = more customers, and wealthier clientele. And pretty dancers who are smart will leverage their looks not just against patrons, but against their employers, as well. More on that later.

While I stood there making polite small talk with this man - a pretense for him to surreptitiously check out my body - I couldn't help but feel like I was cashing in my chips. Collecting a blank paycheck for the weeks of amped up workouts, the nutritious eating. Even the social graces I've acquired over the years. I'm in pretty good shape for a 36 year-old woman; I won't discount that. But my smile, combined with an ability to put men at ease and get the conversation focused on them...that's where the money is. And honestly, it's not as deliberate and manipulative a maneuver as that sounds. Most of the time, I'm genuinely interested to hear their stories. I pride myself on having a cocktail's conversation worth of knowledge about a lot of topics (thanks, NPR!), so it's actually kind of fun and intellectually stimulating to engage with men of different professions and walks of life. In the past two weeks I chatted up a civil engineer (who was tickled pink when I could discuss light rail and the specifics of the LA metro), a graphic designer (!), an artist, and a tortilla factory owner, among others. To be a successful topless dancer, one needs to channel her inner geisha. And this is one aspect of the job I genuinely enjoy.

Anyway. I got the job. I very much like the club itself, if not the location. Again, I don't want to get too detailed lest I give away where I work to any would-be stalkers, but it's clean, large, well-appointed (as these things go), and fascinatingly high tech. The managers are extremely nice and easy to work with, and the girls are some of the friendliest I've ever met. (In fact, small world - one of the girls and I worked at the same place in Arizona, years ago. She's super, super cool and down to earth. Older, like me, no children, huge dog freak.) The only things I don't like are the clientele, which, with a few notable exceptions, is not my target market (more on that at some point), and the tip out rates, which are insane. The club takes a huge cut of our earnings. It's a complicated system, and I don't want to get too specific (because, again, that could give away my location), but as an example - if I earn $200 with one customer, the club takes $60 of it immediately. But when I talk about my earnings, I will always talk about what I walked out the door with.

In California, there are two types of adult clubs: fully nude, where no alcohol is served, and "bikini bars", where alcohol is served. At these clubs, girls are only allowed to take their tops off onstage (and have to remain at a remove from any tippers near the stage). Tops stay on at all other times, including during lap dances. This is completely different than Arizona and Nevada, the only other places I've danced.

I did not know this. No one told me this.

So, here I am on my first night, doing my first round of dances, boobs free and clear, la dee da, feeling all psyched to be making $20 in 2.5 minutes, when the DJ coughs meaningfully behind me. "____," he says (my stage name). "You need to leave your top on, hon."

This was my first performance review, in other words. My customer service was too good. I am such an overachiever.

I'm sure I'll be relating many an anecdote about work, so I'm not too worried about getting out every detail about the place, about how dancing works, etc. right now. But I'll summarize how things have gone. I've worked two of what I consider "long weekends" - Thursday through either Saturday or Sunday. The first, I made just under $1k in four days, working 4 hour shifts. Not terrible at all, and nothing to complain about. But the whole point of doing this is to be able to do so little of it that I can get a 2nd job - a REAL job. I need to have enough time and energy to be able to mount a professional life more or less from scratch, at 36, with nil experience or marketable skills. I have my work cut out for me. Dancing is exhausting, truly exhausting, especially at my age. So while I don't want to seem ungrateful to make $250-300 for a few hours of working, the fact is, I need to make at least that, if not more. The next week was much better. I made just about $1200 in three days. So I hit my goal and could take Sunday off, which I did.

So! Thaaaaaat is where I'm at, and what I've been doing in that area of my life. More updates on the remaining corners of my universe soon...

a contextual history of your blogmistress

I've been blogging sporadically for the past five years or so, and I know some people have been reading my drivel, amazingly, the whole time. I don't know, maybe these poor souls can't afford library cards or Netflix accounts or something.

But I'm not sure how much anyone really knows of my personal history. And since I've decided to go all-in on this blog, I figure I should address that. I can't expect people to become personally invested in my life if they don't know who the hell I am, or where I'm at in my life. This is obviously a highly abbreviated history. I'm only hitting the points that lend relevancy to my present state of affairs - why I'm doing what I'm doing, both online and off.

I'll start when I was 19.

I worked my first year through college as a barista in a bookstore, then as a waitress. One day, one of the guys I worked with told me I should apply to cocktail waitress at a strip club. He had girl friends who were making a killing doing it, he said. At the time, I was barely surviving on my waitressing wages. It was summer in a college town in Tucson - no one was around to spend money at the campus restaurants where I worked. I was leaving with single digit earnings some nights. So I decided to take his suggestion. I applied at a club down the street from the university, and was hired that day.

I lasted six months as a cocktail waitress. The money was good, very good compared to working in a restaurant. But I saw what the dancers were making - and how easily they made it - and I was envious. I'd also gotten comfortable enough in the surroundings that it didn't seem like such a big deal. So one night, I traded in my cocktail tray for a bra and garter set, summoned every ounce of courage I could, and walked on stage, shaking with terror.

That first night dancing, I made almost $400. From there, it only went up. Most nights I'd make between $500 and $600 - even weekdays. Weekends I'd make closer to $800. There were several times I made over $1000.

I was 20 years old.

It was surreal, to say the least. My classmates were starving students eating Top Ramen and worrying about the return on used textbooks. I had a Platinum American Express card. Kids my age were excited to go to Lake Havasu for spring break. I took my boyfriend to Bora Bora. I lived in the most expensive apartments in the city and bought absolutely anything I wanted. I leased a BMW, then a Porsche. I got incredibly lazy about school. Apathetic, even. I was working for (what I felt was) a near-worthless English degree that would earn me pennies on the dollar of what I was making as a dancer. I'd drop classes half a semester in, then buy a plane ticket to Australia on a whim. I wasted incredible, egregious amounts of time, potential, and money during my twenties. But the money I was earning didn't decrease, even as my age increased, and I couldn't bring myself to stop. Eventually, I got serious about school again, and re-enrolled full time.

I was 30 when I finally graduated. And I was still dancing.

That was when I met my husband. It was only then that I stopped. But I didn't get another job. I became a full time girlfriend, then fiancé.

From 2007 through 2008, I blogged for Weddingbee, a wedding planning site. I stumbled across Weddingbee when I got engaged, saw that it consisted of (unpaid) user-contributed material, and immediately decided that I wanted to be one of their bloggers. So I set up a sample blog, published the required two weeks worth' of material, and applied. The publisher and site creator liked my writing enough, and happened to have a need for an assistant editor, that I was actually offered a paid job as contributing editor. I took it, and did that for a while. I was Miss, then Mrs. Lovebug.

I blogged nearly daily about pretty much every aspect of my wedding planning. It was an excellent distraction from the actual engagement itself, which was disastrous. I don't say that with animosity. It's just a fact: my husband and I never should have gotten married, and I'm pretty sure we both knew it. It's amazing how far denial and an utter lack of self-awareness can take you down the wrong path in life. It's hard to look back at my Weddingbee posts, because they feel disingenuous, and almost manic with a need to project an image of happiness. That's not to say every moment of my engagement and wedding was awful. But things weren't as great as I felt the need to make them seem.

My husband and I separated after two and a half years, in the fall of 2010, with relative amicability and what I hoped was a sincere determination to remain friends. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, and we haven't spoken in months. Luckily, ours was a relatively stress-and-complication free severance. No kids, no money to fight over (I didn't pursue alimony), very little in the way of stuff to sort out. The biggest question was who'd get the dog.

I got the dog.

I spent several months after our separation in an unproductive, sometimes self-destructive haze of denial and fear. I didn't work. I didn't even try to get a job. Financially, I survived by living on the inheritance I'd received from my mother's death in 2009. Emotionally, I survived by spending most of my time with friends, and the boyfriend I met weeks (weeks!) after my separation. The people in my life did everything they could to try and nudge me in the right direction, but I wouldn't budge. I blogged a bit during this time, on and off. I'd write about the fun things I'd done with my friends one day, and the next, about the crushing depression and despair that would swallow me up unexpectedly. I ended up deleting all of the posts I wrote during this time, plus pretty much everything I'd written since my marriage. It all felt like an incomplete picture, and again, disingenuous. It was around then that I really started to question why I was blogging at all.

When money got thin, I went back to designing blogs, a small online hobby/business I'd created in the years prior. It didn't go well. I was still too much of a wreck emotionally to stay focused, and the technology had long since outpaced my skill set. I'd never been much more than a hack, when it came down to it.

I procrastinated looking for a real job. I was terrified of entering the job market at 36, with very, very little in the way of marketable skills and experience. I'd completely fucked myself by dancing for so long. Writing my resume was a sobering experience, to say the least. Sending it out, to no effect, was the reality check I'd avoided for about a year.

In the late summer of 2011, I ran out of money completely. I had three choices: #1, default on my lease and move myself and my 145 lb dog in with a local friend on the hopes I'd get a job quickly. #2, default on my lease, pack up my things, leave LA, and and move in with my father in a tiny town in Florida. #3, try to drum up some quick cash dancing. Yes, it had been years since I'd set foot in a club. And yes, I was at this point thirty-six years old. But it was, all cards on the table, the one thing that I knew I could do to make money fast. I knew, forgive a brief lapse of humility, that I still looked young enough and good enough to pull it off. And that I was hungry enough, desperate enough to stay in LA where there is so, so much more potential and opportunity, to swallow my pride and do what would seem to most to be unthinkable.

And this, dear reader, is where I humbly submit that maybe, just maybe, my blog has the potential to be somewhat interesting because, yes, dear reader, I chose door #3.