Saturday, January 17, 2004

HOW I BECAME A GO-GO DANCER and related anecdotes
by Jessica Delfino

Today, I'm going to tell the story of how I became a go-go dancer.

This might get me in a little bit of trouble and it might make people look differently at me, but I don't care. I spent 4 years of my life dancing and it's kind of a big part of what made me the way I am. I learned so much about people as a dancer - I'd dare say I learned more dancing than I did in college, the only difference is, they paid me (to learn!)

I don't write or talk much about my go-go dancing days because, well, I'll admit it - people think that being a go-go dancer is cheap, and dancers are automatically assumed to be whores, but the fact is, most dancers are single mothers, drug addicts, abused women and college kids with the occasional foreigner thrown in. I feel like when people find out I used to dance it makes them think bad things about me and that they are more likely to discount anything I say or write or make, that it becomes somehow less valid to people, and quite honestly, I've got enough invalidation going on amongst my peers and enemies. Do I really need more?

But shit, fuck, I say. I haven't really talked that much about it to too many people, but I have told a lot of people I did dance. When I tell them, without fail, I get one of three specific reactions.

1. Cool girls (who might have been dancers themselves if only their parents were a little bit less something non-specific) and people who are interested in bizarre life experiences, (drug addicts, pot smokers, artists usually fall into this category) say, "Wow, neat! What was that like?"

2. Men get all gross on me and the way they look at me changes. I can notice it a million miles away. Sometimes their eyes shift, or they get fidgety or awkward, but even if they're good at disguising it and try to pull the, "Wow, cool, what was it like?" line, I can tell if they really are interested in the experience or if they are deviantly into it.

3. People get weirded out by it and ask me questions that make me feel like I am bad and dirty. They say things like, "Oh ---" followed by silence, and then they either try to change the subject or go to the bathroom and never return. Or they ask, "What was it like?" but I can hear the invisible translation, which is, "So, are you a slut?"

None of these reactions, by the way, is wrong. How are you supposed to react when someone tells you they used to go-go dance? I like the first reaction best because go-go dancing is so fun to talk about. As dark and seedy as it was, there were so many funny things about it and it was lots of fun, not to mention I made buttless underwear loads of cash in small amounts of time and was so popular because my teeth are kind of straight. I got sick of creeping people out by telling them I danced, hoping to get reaction number one and accidentally stumbling upon reactions number two and three, so I tucked it under the rug for awhile. Every once in a while someone will say, "I heard you used to dance," and then I will talk about it a little bit. Dancing has such a dark, gross stigma attached to it, really just a step above being a porn star or something and I guess it rightfully should. You should have seen some of the shitholes I worked in. But I feel like it could be done right, it could be okay, artful, something fun-ish to watch if not for all the really seedy shit that unfortunately comes along with seedy bars. However, I think the shit would come with the bar, no matter there were half naked girls dancing or not. But anyway....

Let me first explain what go-go dancing is, or what I did, anyway - Go-go dancing is like what they used to do on Laugh In or the 60's liberation dance or something like that. I was always dressed in a top that looked like a bikini with glitter (boobies covered) and a g-string thong (that's string up the butt underwear, butt not covered) and footed with six inch spike heels (the kind with see through Plexiglas soles and a metal rod going through the heel.) This outfit is not sexy, by the way. I have tried it on a few times since the old dancing days and I think I look like a gargantuan clown, almost medieval, like a Heavy Metal amazon woman. All I'm missing is a robot with a metallic tentacle penis who is lifting me up in its' arms while three suns set amidst a green and purple sky. I would get on stage and basically strut around (with the use of a pole, my only prop, my only friend) to jukebox hits such as Creed, Guns and Roses, Metallica and the Eagles. I know pole tricks because the other girls taught them to me. We would practice at night after the bar closed. Sometimes we'd also go to the park at dusk and practice on the playground. I can spin around the pole very gracefully (is that sexy???) and flip on my hands up against a wall and then spread my legs down towards the floor (again, sexy???) and maybe I could shimmy up a pole and flip upside down on that, too - need I use parenthesis? What's so sexy about a girl being upside down? It seemed to be a staple on the go-go circuit. Old stand-by tricks.

I guess I'll just tell the story of how I started dancing and you can make up your own opinions.

When I was 19, I lived in Maine with my boyfriend at the time, Alex Raye. Alex was super cute and sweet - he was a musician and artist who had long blonde hair and he was funny and just terrific. Living in Maine is really shitty because there are no jobs that don't suck and the weather is unbearably cold in the winter. There's nothing to do there but drugs and fuck, so that's what we did. I was going to school at the University of Maine for Fine Art and Alex and I had been dating for going on 2 years. I was starting to feel really bored and directionless. One day, I got a call from my father who I'd never really known. His name is Mark and he lives in California. I met him when I was 4 and again when I was 12. He supposedly was violent and abusive to my mom and did lots of speed. I don't know if any of it is true or how much truth there is to it, but I wanted to really get to meet him as an adult, so when he offered to let me move to California and live with him, I couldn't say no. I told Alex that I was going to move to LA to live with my dad and he was less than happy, but I was ready to get the hell out of Maine.

I talked Alex into going to school at the Art Institute of Denver where his cousin, Tim was already enrolled. I thought it would be good for him to bust out of Maine, too. So, together we packed up all his shit in a U-Haul trailer (I sold most of my belongings at a flea market all summer long to save up the money to go and so I could travel light) and we hitched it to his VW Jetta and drove to LA along with a friend, Matt Trescott and my cat, Spaz. He dropped me off at my dad's place and split. We didn't make any arrangements to keep dating or anything like that, easier not to, we agreed.

While in LA, I met this freaky rich couple at a Halloween party. The girl was 28 when I was 19 and her boyfriend was like 50. They invited me to come over all the time and would try to get me to do three ways with them. I was really scared and small town girl so I didn't know what to do with this kind of attention. They took me to a go-go bar one night and I was petrified. The guy bought me a lap dance from this black girl MUCH to my chagrin. I tried to protest, but he kept saying, the poor girl, just take the dance, she needs the money. My teeth chattered the whole time she danced in front of and on me, and I counted the seconds until it was over. I made them take me home immediately afterwards. When I got home, my dad screamed at me for being so stupid. He said, "Didn't you know that they want to fuck you? You are so naive!" My dad and I didn't have any kind of relationship to begin with so I figured we might as well sort of be friends to start with, but he wanted to jump right into being a dad and that didn't sit right with me since I felt if he'd wanted to be a dad so badly, he should have tried jumping in during the formulative years when I might have benefited from a screaming maniac father figure. It wasn't 6 months before I had bought myself a shitty car and driven myself back east to live with my mom in NJ, Spaz in tow.

On the way home, I stopped and visited Alex.

Christmas was coming up and I wanted to be near familiar familial surroundings. I wanted to see snow and get presents and see my mom beat up one of her siblings in the traditional Rizzo family holiday celebration spectaculars that went down like clockwork on a yearly basis. Something about snow and booze made everything fall onto the ears like fighting words. Though it sounds rough or sad, it was actually pretty entertaining in hindsight and I'd do anything to be able to see my mom splash a cup of coffee in my aunt's face just one more time. And I really do love my aunt. Christmas just isn't the same without the cops.

My mom had talked me through going to California and had been against it since the beginning. She said, "Don't do it, I left Mark Delfino for a good reason." But you can't tell a kid that. She might as well have bought me a ticket with those words written on the back. The whole time, I'd call her crying, asking her why my dad was so insane? She said, "Just come back to the East coast and you can live with me in NJ. You can get a job here and I'll buy you a few college courses for Christmas." Wanting some kind of stability in my life, I agreed and was there in 5 days. The ride was so fun. I befriended a bunch of truckers via my Citizen's Band radio (a gift from my LA boyfriend Brian Neustein who also gave me a small gun and had hallowed out a secret compartment in the back rest of the driver's seat of my car for me to hide it in. He later came to NJ to visit me and get his gun back and was arrested at JFK when he tried to board a plane with it in his pocket. What an idiot. Can I pick 'em or what? Who did he think he was, Jon Bon Jovi?)

I rolled into NJ on Christmas Eve, tired and relieved to be back in warm, fuzzy familiar dysfunction instead of the strange, lukewarm untested brand of family calamity my dad had offered up. Christmas came and went, and my mom told me that she wouldn't be able to buy me college classes because money was tight. She was living in Manasquan, NJ at the time (with my three youngest sisters also) and they all lived with her control freak boyfriend named Jim who would yell a lot.
My mom worked full-time then for the 2 River Times, a newspaper owned by Geraldo Rivera and his sister in Redbank, NJ. She depended on me to baby-sit my youngest sibs while she tried to bring home some bacon. Jim worked too, but I forget what he did. He wasn't that interesting.

I told my mom I wanted to get a job. She said, "You can only get a job if it doesn't interfere with you babysitting." I said, "But I don't want to babysit." She said, "But I need you." I said, "But can't you find a someone else who likes babysitting?" She didn't want to hire anyone else because she was afraid someone was going to cook her kids or something or steal them and so I kept the 'job', which, by the way, didn't pay. I had to figure out something or else I was going to go crazy. So, here I was in NJ. I couldn't get a job and I wasn't in school. I felt like I was going to be a fat toothless loser in a matter of months if I didn't do something drastic. I looked in the papers and saw the ad in the classifieds one day.

Be a professional go-go dancer! Make lots of cash! No experience necessary. Hours 9 PM - 2 AM.

It was perfect, because my mom generally worked from about 9 AM to 8 PM. I called and set up an interview, then I told her when she got home that I was going to be starting a new job as a bartender that night. I left for my 'interview'. The lady I spoke to had told me to bring some sexy outfits with me. I had nothing sexy, I was a 19 year old from Maine. I had the fashion sense of an idiot and the sense of sexy of a 19 year old from Maine. I collected a few pairs of underwear that didn't have period stains in them and a padded bra I'd bought once for a wedding. (???) I also had a pair of block heel white patent shoes which were awful, but they were the closest thing I had to sexy. I also had an ugly teddy that I don't even know what I was doing with, I think my ex-beau Steve had bought it for me when I was like, 12. I put it all into a plastic bag and went to the lady's apartment where she'd asked me to meet her. When I got there, I wasn't ready for what I saw. She was 300 lbs and breathed in more cigarette smoke than oxygen. Her apartment smelled like 15 cats had taken turns shitting into an ashtray. In a raspy voice she explained the rules. "You gotta buy a pager. I call you, then you call me back and go where I tell you to go. The shifts pay $20 plus tips. You give me $10 of your shift pay and keep your tips. No fucking. You start tonight."

She gave me directions of some shwag hole called "Jim's Paradise" or something somewhere in South Jersey. I drove there shaking the whole way. "Can I really do this?" I thought to myself. I got there and the place was crowded with slack-jawed firemen and a few dorks from Philadelphia out for a night of fun! The girls seemed prettier to me than I was to myself, and I felt intimidated by them all. I almost walked out. "I don't have to do this," I told myself. Somehow, my feet led me into the dressing room. I sat down for a long time with my plastic bag of ratty underwear in my lap. Finally, a girl came back to get me. She could see I was nervous and tried to make me feel better. "It'll be fun," she said. "You'll see." I went out and danced around for awhile, but I couldn't regular dance (still can't) much less sexy dance. Some fat bald guy yelled for me to get on a stairmaster. I was so shaken I almost started crying on stage. I had to take some deep breaths and muster back the tears. I was very sensitive back then. I still am, but I can hide it better now. I just ignored the fat jerk as best I could and tried to strut sexily around on stage, but really just ended up stumbling awkwardly. After dancing for two songs, I'd have to go down to the bar and talk to the guys. I'd hold my hand out for tips because I was too nervous to pull the side elastic of my underwear out or squeeze my boobies together to form a little money pocket the way the other girls were doing. I didn't know what to say to these creeps. Most of them seemed pretty nice, but shady, too. I just told them I was new, because I didn't know what else to say. They seemed very excited by that and were eager to celebrate this landmark event in my life with me by giving me a dollar.

At the end of the night, I counted up my tips. I couldn't believe it, so I counted again. I'd started dancing at about 9:45. It was about 2 am and I'd made close to $300. I had never been so happy in my life. I'd never made that much money doing anything ever. I drove home shaking and elated and couldn't wait to do it again the next night.

The next night the lady sent me to Trenton to dance at a scum shaft on the edge of town. I can't even remember the name of the place. A lady was in charge of that place. She had arthritic fingers. I told her I was new. She said, "Sure you are." The dressing room was a bathroom the size of a phone booth (remember those?) which five girls had to change in. One girl wore lots of make-up and everyone talked shit about her. One of the other dancers told me that once while the overly made-up girl was dancing on stage, her tampon had fallen out. She said in a thick Puerto Rican accent, "Yo, she stuck her finger up her asshole and shit on the stage. I swear to Christ on the holy bible." The Puerto Rican girl took me under her wing a little. She said, "Hey. You gotta look sexy if you want to get tips. Do this." She turned her head upside down and shook out her long, luscious hair. When she rose back up, she puckered her lips out, sucked her cheeks in and squinted her eyes. "Do this," she said. I felt like I was in a Sweet Valley High novel and I did it because I liked the idea of someone trying to help me look pretty.

That night I made something close to $250. My 'career' had been born.

My mother didn't seem to know that I was dancing, or if she did, she didn't let on. There's no way she didn't know though, an Italian big-mouth bad-ass mother - if she'd known, she couldn't have kept her mouth shut about it, no way, unless someone cut her tongue out. So, I worked and worked. Every night at 9 I'd go to the various dive bars that my den mom would send me to. At 2 am, I'd race home and hide my money. I devised a plan - I'd save up enough money so that I could move out, get an apartment in Philadephia and go to art school. I'd been talking to Alex and he was missing me a lot. He also missed the East Coast and was thinking about coming back. I told him to transfer to the Art Institute of Philadelphia and live with me near there. He said he would. So now that I had something to work towards, I just busted ass every night. I never did any kind of prostitution and I NEVER drank or used drugs, and I got offered drinks and drugs ALL THE TIME. One girl said to me, "You do coke?" The question itself freaked me out. "No," I said. "Well, you will," she said, non-chalantly dumping the white contents of a folded piece of paper onto a dirty counterspace. "Everyone here does." I got so pissed at her for just assuming I was going to follow the trailer whore pathway that unfortunately had been laid out for her like a map, so I said, "Well, I won't." She turned to me and stared at me for a long, awkward time. "I promise you, you will. If you aren't lying already." I stared back at her. "I promise you, I won't."

The weeks and months flew by and I don't know how this happened, but one day while my mom was at work I counted all my money. I had managed to save up nearly $10,000 in ones, tens and twenties, fifties and hundies. A dancer told me, "Don't put your money in the bank, then you won't have to pay taxes." So I'd kept it in my dresser. It filled up almost a whole drawer. My mom came home that night and was acting really weird. "I called the place you 'bartend' at today," she said. I knew what was coming. "Yeah?" I should have never given her the number. She had yelled at me though about not knowing where I was and so to blow her off I gave her the number of one of the go-go bars telling her I really couldn't take personal calls unless it was an emergency, then I just crossed my fingers and prayed that she wouldn't ever have to call. "So, you're a go-go dancer, huh?" My stomach exploded. "No," I lied. When my mom and I get along, we really get along. And when we don't, we bleed. Within a matter of minutes, hair and tears were everywhere. My mom kicked me out, screaming, "How would you feel if I did that? What would you think if I go-go danced?" It almost seemed like it was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but part of me at the time, and maybe even still today thinks that she was a little bit jealous. I made more money in four hours than she did in a week. I know she probably ached for me in a maternal way, also, and wished she could impart some knowledge into my eternally stubborn brain, but she was 37 at the time, and still hot. I hope that if she ever reads this, she forgives me for typing what I truly do believe, and that is that I bet, if only for a fleeting moment, the job option crossed her mind.


Jump to six months later. I had convinced my friend Lisa to move to NJ with me. She came down and we looked for an apartment together. The plan was, she, Alex, Alex's cousin Tim, Tim's girlfriend Erin and I were all going to try to find a place together. Lisa and I looked around and we found a house that was so beautiful we had to take it, even though it was in South Jersey. It was a three bedroom house with two floors, a huge living room and kitchen and garage and yard and deck and sliding glass doors and mirrored walls, three bathrooms, the works. It was only $800 per month - not so bad considering the rent I pay for a studio in NYC. Everyone came and moved in and Tim, Alex and I got enrolled in school at AIPH. Meanwhile, Lisa and Erin got jobs working at various restaurants together while Erin went to nursing school. I was starting to run low on money and decided to start dancing again. I looked through the classified ads and found a job at a bar called "Billy's Beef and Go-Go." I didnt' know it at the time, but age 23 would meet me at Billy's.

It was a GREAT job. If I worked a lunch, 12 to 4, I made a hundred dollars, guaranteed. If I worked a night shift, 4-8, I'd make $200. If I worked 8-12, $300. The most I ever made, one night I worked a double, 4-12 and I made $700. Not too fucking shabby for a 20 year old. Dancing at Billy's was so easy because at lunch there was only one dancer. I would dance three songs and then walk around to the guys and get my tips. In between sets, I'd read Milan Kundera in the dressing room. By then, I felt comfortable enough to pull out my underwear to collect a tip or make a little money holder out of my boobs. I never blew anyone, I never jerked anyone off, I never fucked anyone for tips. I'm sure it happens, but I never saw it happen with my own eyes.

Billy would fire me every few weeks because he said someone told him I was doing drugs. I'd protest, promising - and meaning it - that I wasn't doing drugs. I still to this day have never tried cocaine, though I've done acid a few hundred times. But I wasn't tripping while I was dancing, though I should have been, it would have probably been kind of fun. At the time I didn't smoke pot or drink on the job, ever, and rarely when I wasn't working. It freaked me out too much. Still, Billy would fire me, then I would call him in a few weeks and ask him to let me come back, or he'd call me if someone called out and say I could have my job back.

In between getting fired and re-hired from Billy's, I danced at a place in Philadephia called "Delilah's Den." It was supposed to be a fancy go-go bar, the kind they call, "Gentlemen's Clubs." Gentlemen, my ass. Those places are much more rowdy and gross than any of the shitty dive holes I danced in around New Jersey. Those guys are raunchy and nasty and will try anything to get you to give them a blow job or touch their dirty dicks. It was made very clear to me the first day that I better not get caught blowing anyone. I know that many of you just assume I must be a slut, but I really like to date one guy at a time, for a long time. I just don't like to fuck around. I'm scared of AIDS and stuff, I'm kind of a pussy. Anyway, the girl, whose name was Trixie, a "Jersey" girl with a raspy cigarette voice and way too much make up, super-skinny in a gross way with really awful fake boobs (they all had fake boobs there - it was a topless joint; many of their breasts were slanty eyed or misshapen, sadly, though they'd paid a small fortune for their operation) said to me, "You better not try to suck anyone off in the Champagne room." The Champagne room was a private room in the back where you were alone with a guy for an hour. He paid $100 for the privilege and had to buy a bottle of champagne also, at $50 a pop. I promised I wouldn't. "I mean it, because last week, Divine, she got caught blowing someone and we beat her ass good, didn't we, Vixen?" Vixen was putting on lipstick with a shovel. "Yeah, we smashed that bitch UP!" A shyer, sweeter girl, still with fake boobs whose name was "Apples" leaned over to me and said, "They break your shit, they rip up your clothes, they take one of all your shoes. It isn't worth it." How did she know, I wondered? "Why do they care so much?" I asked. Trixie overheard me and got up in my face. "Because if you suck someone off, they'll expect everyone to suck them off, and I don't want to have to suck anyone's dick, cause I'm married," she said, holding up a finger with nails like razor clams which showcased a diamond the size of a small planet. "So do me a favor and don't be a little whore," she said. "Noted," I replied. I didn't even think she wanted to hear me rebut. She just wanted to exert her authority. Authority noted.

I didn't last at Delilah's more than a week, and it wasn't because I didn't like dancing topless, though I didn't, (I made more money dancing not topless at Billy's though all the girls at Delilah's swore that you didn't make more money dancing topped) and it wasn't because working the required 9 hour shifts there wearing mandatory 6 inch heels was probably legally breaking the law, though I'm sure it was and I hated it, and it wasn't because I blew someone in the champagne room and got beat up, though I didn't, and it wasn't because I had to pay every single person there (DJ, coat check, house mom, den mom, make-up lady, costume lady, etc.) a $10 tip "If I knew what was good for me," according to Trixie, and after 9 hours had usually only made about $100, before tips. It was because one day I got sick of wearing a gown, which is what you had to wear at a fancy place like that. I hated wearing a gown. It got caught up in my feet as I was coming down the spiral staircase (what the fuck did they need a spiral staircase for???) and almost sent me down the stairs on several occasions. Plus, where the hell was I going to wear a gown after I was done working there? I'd already bought three because you had to change after every dance you did, and in a fancy set up like Delilah's, you only danced once an hour, so I'd just rotate my gowns every three hours. One day, I came down the spiral stairs in a pair of short shorts and a tank top with bare feet. The manager told the house mom to send me home at the end of my shift and tell me I was not welcome back. Thank God.

Also, one of the worst things that ever happened to me happened while I was dancing at Delilah's. This is the kind of thing that gives dancers a bad name and will make you all think I'm a slut, but I'm going to tell you anyway. One time during a lap dance, which the men paid $20 each for, this guy wanted more than a lap dance. He kept trying to get me to do more, touch him, let him touch me, etc. I kept saying no, citing the reason being not that I didn't want his dirty hands all over me, which was the truth, but that if I 'broke the rules' which we both knew involved no touching, the other girls would beat me up and break my things. He laughed. "Are you kidding? All these girls break the rules. They do whatever I want them to do." So. "Why don't you ask them to do it, then?" I said. "Because I like you," he said. I was flattered (yeah, right - it's at times like this when I wish I owned a filter for translating sarcasm over the computer [which I will invent sometime in the year 2035]). I ignored him and just begged the cd to play faster so the song would be over and I could get my $20. I turned around and shook my ass in the guys face and he stuck his finger right into my crotch, hard. It was like skeeball, he had one chance probably to get it right in, if the timing was perfect and all the stars were aligned, and he hit the bulls eye. It hurt and grossed me out and I was really freaked out, so I just ran off and didn't even get paid for the lapdance. Later that day, I got fired.

The worst thing to happen to me at Billy's was not so bad in comparison - One day I was getting tips and this drunk guy ripped my top off. I punched him in the stomach and grabbed one side of my top, trying to wrestle it away from him. A bouncer came and broke us up and kicked him out. It sucked, but it was no finger in the pussy trick. Sorry, I wish I had more awful gross stories to tell you, but there really weren't any. I pretty much just stayed to myself. In between sets, I'd read books in the dressing room and smoke cigarettes. I didn't drink or use drugs or really talk to anyone because all the girls were much different than me, and they actually separated themselves from me on their own. They were all pretty stereo-typical. They all had nice bodies, skinny, but covered with tattoos. They all had fake breasts except for one or two others and myself. They all wore too much make-up and used too much hairspray and smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much booze. They all had kids. They all had boyfriends who were addicted to drugs or locked up in jail. They all had nice houses and nice cars to make dancing seem worth it. They all had pocked skin and ugly faces and bad teeth. One night a local told me, "You are the hottest girl at Billy's, you know that?" I said, "I'm not trying to be vain, but I know."

So, I pretty much danced at Billy's on and off, fairly steadily until I met Kurt. He was a Jehovah's Witness when I met him and he wasn't really supposed to be dating anyone, but especially not a dancing whore slut. He told him mom that he would quit being a Jehovah's Witness if she didn't like him dating me, and she told him she'd quit paying for him to go to college and stop talking to him if he stopped being a witness. I was almost done with school anyway and I promised myself that I wasn't going to dance anymore once I got my degree, which, by the way was funded one half by the government and one half by my ass. I told Kurt that if it made things easier for him, I'd quit dancing, and I did. A few months later, I graduated from college and got a job as an Art Director at a dot-com where I made a good starting salary for someone right out of college, about $500 a week - half as much as I made when I was go-go dancing.

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