First things first, I’m a sex worker. By that I mean a freelancer in the adult entertainment industry, and more often than not this means stripping. I’ve been dancing a little over four years now after transitioning over from mostly online and fetish work, at this point I consider dance to be my primary hustle. I think occupation is an essential part of identity, although I never really felt like a girl in a Danzig video, or a topless extra on the Sopranos. It’s difficult for me to picture myself being purely decorative, as we are so often portrayed: voiceless caricatures, only existing within the context of our work and yet somehow separate from it. Schrodinger’s sluts, if you will.
If I had a dollar for every time a customer told me “I didn’t expect to meet a girl like you in a place like this” I wouldn’t even have to dance anymore.
Folks tend to forget that we’re people too, and that our performances are carefully curated and practiced. I did not magically wake up one day able to twerk in a headstand or do aerial gymnastics. It’s a skill, not a talent. Through dance we find something that most keep locked away, a part of you that is at once entirely performative and uniquely honest. I don’t have to be me for a few hours – instead transforming into a fantasy of my own creation. Safe under the veil of anonymity, I can become an amalgamation of all the parts of myself too vulgar, too inappropriate for daily life.
I prefer to look at stripping as performance art somehow mixed with therapy. I’m like a snake charmer, but for middle-aged drunk men going through a bad divorce. I am the reminder of a freedom passing through cracks of time, before the reality of life manifests in cocaine-induced psychosis. My role is the priestess to a rite of passage dating back as far as shaking your ass for money goes, a scantily-clad guide as bachelors prepare themselves for a lifetime of disappointing the missus and pretending they’re not into prostate stimulation.
Dance is an art, and no less so when it’s monetized under laser lights and advertised with a stock photo of chicken wings next to a swimsuit model. Musical accompaniment is an essential part of this art – yet, there are parameters … unfortunately.
Pretty early on in my career I played around with what sort of songs I could perform to, or -more specifically- get away with performing to. About 6 months in on a slow Tuesday afternoon I took a chance and asked the DJ if he could play me Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand.
He hadn’t heard it before.
“What’s it like?” He asked
“I don’t know, Goth, kinda sexy.”
“Sure…” I lied.
My manager switched the song before the second verse even started.
As I stepped off stage to the last echo of Dope Show, he pulled me aside, “I get your goth alt punk thing, but this is a business. Stick to accessible stuff, y’know… Zombie, NIN, Manson.”
I am so very tired of dancing to Marilyn Manson.
If I had my own club, something I fantasize about embarrassingly often, there would be no censorship, no restrictions on our self-expression. We would be collectively owned and operated. No dress code. No creepy male staff members telling you to lose weight or smacking your ass. Think burlesque – but you don’t have to pretend you’re really into Firefly or join a polyamorous facebook group, and you could actually get paid.
In honor of this pipe dream, here are five songs I would perform to in this utopian shake junt.
1.) Autolux, Turnstyle Blues
Turnstyle Blues is the first track on Autolux’s 2004 debut album, Future perfect. It kicks off with just the drums- setting stage for emotive, somewhat languished vocals and measured tune. It’s got a distinctly 2000’s vibe to it, something that would fit perfectly in a coming of age romantic indie film. The sort of song a drunk frat boy would refer to as “Hipster shit,” basically. The pacing is transitory, going from slow and sensual into a chorus doubling as crescendo – ideal for punctuating with a few tricks before sliding back into the seductive rhythm. Little details like occasional feedback and brief canon with the lyrics add to a dreamlike ambiance. Best way I could describe it is like if Elliot Smith was in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Really such a versatile song – easy to move to but incredibly dreamlike; alas, too slow and alternative for your average club.
2.) Cursed, Model Home Invasion
Someone introduced me to Cursed shortly after I started dancing, specifically this song, suggesting I play it at work. I knew right away that wouldn’t be possible, but I knew exactly why it was suggested. At once sinister and erotic, sludgy riffs with vocals preformed either in a threatening whisper or as pained cries, this track off the 2001 album II is something I would want to hear from a champagne room while playing dominatrix. It’s not dancey or hype at all but it is intensely atmospheric, feverish, and ominous. Ideal for consensual experiences in the darkest of darknesses, this song feels dirty, taboo. To me, it encapsulates the duality of trauma and eroticism.
Georges Bataille once said “Extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror.” Model Home Invasion walks that line like a tightrope.
3.) True Widow, CREEPER
Off their 2013 release, Circumambulation, CREEPER is a heavy, slow tune that expertly sets the tone for the entire album – which I would also dance to. Honestly, this is one of my favorite records. Every time I put it on and hear those distant explosions it gives me a little shiver. The riff is monotonous, but persistent, so it’s absence is intentionally foreboding. True widow has described their genre as “Stonegaze” which is a pretty apt description, though there’s a southern gothic twang to it as well. CREEPER lends itself to something otherworldly that’s dark and sexual, begging your curiosity and anticipation to take hold. They have a knack for writing songs that make you feel like a sexy bog witch or something. Maybe that’s because I’ve mostly been on mushrooms when listening to them. I highly recommend combining the two, though probably not in the strip club unless you’re brave, but hey – we’ve all been there, right?
4.) Morphine, You Look Like Rain
Morphine is one of those bands that makes you nostalgic for a time and place you never lived in that probably doesn’t exist, it’s somewhere in a dimensional rip between an 80s Cramps show and that club from Dark City Jennifer Connelly sang in. The upright bass, the sax, that shuffle beat, it’s perfect. A group vocal chorus unaccompanied comes in about midway through and leads into a hazy sax solo before dropping back into Mark Sandman’s crooning praises for some unknown woman’s brilliance. Look Like rain is what would be a sapiosexual anthem were that term not so incredibly cringey. The lyrics are empowering and celebratory of experience and maturity, something pretty damn refreshing with all the “now hiring class of 20XX” advertisements and fetishistic infantilizing that’s so commonplace. At risk of sounding hacky, who doesn’t want a man to just acknowledge your mind for once, (and while we’re here – what’s the deal with airline food?) But in all seriousness, this song is what you feel over cocktails on a good date. It’s remarkably simple in it’s composition, but what it does – it does right.
5.) Sisters of Mercy, Lucretia My Reflection
I’ve often asked myself why they don’t already play Sisters of Mercy in the club. As many times as I’ve danced to type O or something off Pretty Hate Machine, you’d think this industrial essentials band would fall in there somewhere. Lucretia is just all my favorite parts of 80’s music and industrial in one song. Bass guitar heavy and set to a metronome drum beat with romantic and rebellious lyrics, it’s moody and evocative but easy to move to, and accessible enough to fit into any party environment. Originally written about Patricia Morrison (goals) and the Reformation of the band – if you didn’t know any of that it still sounds cool as hell. What does “dancing the ghost” mean? Is Lucretia a vampire or something? There’s war metaphors, but why is Gary Marx wearing sunglasses at night in a factory? Who cares! It’s sexy goth stuff, pass me a clove.
There’s probably tons more I could list off, in fact I know there are, I made like a fifty song playlist. I think things like this always change over time, even day to day. Most nights for me it’s honestly Meek Mill and Cardi B, but this list is what I settled on because they’ve been in my practice playlists the longest. Time and time again I return to these songs to hype myself up, and even if they aren’t going to urge a Chad to hand over his trust fund, they’re what I would blow a couple stacks on.