An on-going series of memoirs from Rosie, a ballerina with a master's degree turned exotic dancer & her continuous journey navigating through life and its stigmas.
Before I get to the good parts of how and why I became an exotic dancer, you first have to understand more about my past and where I come from. The path to exotic dance is like many things in life, not a straightforward one. Most people don’t just know or think to themselves when they’re younger “I’m going to dance naked for a living when I grow up.” Society doesn’t really give you that option. What I do want everyone to understand however, is that it was always a choice for me. In my opinion, that is probably the worst stigma against stripping – that women have no other choice. Well, I’m here to convince you that presumption is wrong. That stripping can be both enjoyable and beneficial, and despite popular belief you don’t have to compromise your values.
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia in a typical middle class family with what seemed like a fairly normal childhood, though I wouldn’t call myself the most normal child on the planet. Not in like a “somethin aint right with that child” kind of way, but I certainly acted different from most kids my age. My mother told me when I was born I hardly cried, but instead looked around in silence as if to say “this is it?” I was definitely an observer, I noticed everything even if I didn’t quite understand it. As a young child I wasn’t nearly as talkative or hyper as the other children at my daycare. I think kids probably thought I was rather odd and shy. I was always working on crafts by myself and things like that. My mom says the daycare lady really liked me, probably because I hardly caused any problems. She even had a nickname for me: “Mona Lisa,” because of my serious demeanor. Needless to say my parents were very impressed by how confident and outspoken I became over the years.
I always loved to dance, I was born a dancer my mother says. When I was finally old enough to take dance lessons I was enrolled in creative movement for toddlers. I remember picking out my first leotard, it had cheetah print... I was drawn to the cheetah print! From then on dance became my life and though a lot of things changed throughout that time, dance was the one consistency maintained in my life. It gave me purpose, motivation, and an identity. I was a ballerina; a bunhead. That was my life and I loved it.
When it came time for eighth grade I was presented an opportunity to audition for a performing arts high school in Atlanta, Ga. I remember pitching a fit and crying because my mother wanted me to go to a different school then all my supposed friends from middle school- but the reality was none of them were really my friends, I was nothing like them. I didn’t wear Abercrombie, I wasn’t particularly popular, and somewhere around that time my parents got divorced (believe it or not divorce was a lot less common back then). I tried to find things in common with my classmates but I was just too much of an introverted bunhead who didn’t wear fancy clothes because after my parents divorce we couldn’t afford it. Even at such a young age I had to take a step back and realize what I truly valued in life, and I wasn’t going to succumb to valuing popularity and style over passion and drive. Just the same, middle school is a weird transitioning period for most, and kids are easily impressionable. I think my mother knew I needed a different environment to truly succeed and be happy. I still can't believe I was upset about going to a school where I could dance even more than I already did!
I’m forever grateful I went to that school. Never did we have a problem with cliques or bullies. It was a small school, everyone was an artist in someway so we all had that common ground of openness and understanding of uniqueness. I began to come into my own and thrive at that school. I started speaking my mind and pushing my boundaries of potential. Instead of sports and P.E. we had dance, and instead of home economics we had media communications and tech for performances. These weren’t just artistic kids these were smart kids too. We had some of the best test scores and graduation percentages in the state of Georgia, yet we were undervalued and underfunded by the state. I was dancing six days a week and attending school five days a week. People I had known from middle school were turning into cheerleaders and football players, party queens, high school drop outs, and others incredibly successful in their academics, but they had social lives and my friend group consisted of all the people I danced and performed with- that was my community. We didn’t have time for many extra curricular activities. Dance was my past, present, and future. I was very focused, always had been.
2. "Excuse me, that's my barre spot!"
Being a dancer was a rigorous and demanding task that constantly held my attention. What was once my place of freedom and expression started to become more of an obsession of perfection and constant self discipline. As a child you never thought about how competitive the dance world could be and how hard that would be on a little girl who doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body. I didn’t want to be better than everyone else, I wanted to be as good as I could possibly be. I wanted that to be enough. I made so many sacrifices for dance. Often times my commitment to dance would affect my performance in academics and I was constantly catching up on sleep and homework from all the classes and long rehearsals. Even when my mother grew tired of having to take me to class and pay for my lessons I demanded that this was everything I had and how dare she think of taking that away from me. I did not come as far as I had to only stop there, but classes were expensive for a single mother and she was always too stubborn to let my dad help.
It came to a point where my mother simply couldn’t afford it anymore. Luckily for me my dance director and teachers fought for me and told my mother that I had to keep dancing. They wanted me to stay with the studio. So, we made an arrangement and I was allowed to continue. I felt sad for her because even though she always tried to put us first I blamed her for being heartless and selfish for not wanting me to continue. Little did I know how hard she was struggling to maintain a life for us and how difficult my sisters and I made things for her at times. I felt as though there were times where I just wanted her to be more of a parent and there were times where I just tried too hard to be an adult. I blamed her for a lot of resentment and pain I had as an adolescent and I regret that wholeheartedly. Luckily, my mother and I get along very well now. We have a strong relationship where I can tell her almost anything. That’s the thing about people, whether they’re family or not. You eventually realize that they are just human beings, and we are all struggling in our way through this thing called life. We had differences yes, but we could still love and accept each other.
I think the first time I realized the ballet world was no longer fulfilling for me was the summer of my sophomore year when I attended the Atlanta Ballet Summer dance intensive. I was so excited, I had received a full scholarship for the intensive from my performing arts high school and felt honored to be representing our little community. Sadly the girls at Atlanta Ballet were very stuck-up and the culture wore on me. I was standing at a bar spot getting warmed up for class when out of nowhere this girl walks up to me and says: “excuse me, that’s my barre spot.” Now if this had been today’s world I would have snapped right back like: “I believe I was here first.” But I was young and fragile and I simply looked at her half scared/ half shocked that such a person exists and said: “oh okay, I’m sorry I’ll move.” I walked away feeling incredibly humiliated. Also, the simple fact that commuting hours back and forth every day and dancing non stop took its toll on my body. I was so beyond tired that I would often take naps during our lunch break. One day I even lied about having a migraine just so I could sleep for a little while longer.
At the time I had one pair of tights and maybe two leotards that I had to wash every single day when I got home (as a ballet dancer you go through dance clothes like crazy). I remember feeling so embarrassed that all I had to wear to class were jazz shoes for the first week because I had to wait for my dad to order me some more dance supplies. It’s so funny that I seemed to have nothing to wear then because I have a ridiculous amount of dancewear now. (HAHA!) The point of all this was that I just didn’t feel up to par with the rest and it held me back. No one in my classes or any of my teachers knew a thing about me. One of the teachers even pulled me aside in class one day to tell me that I had all the talent in the world but I wasn’t as dedicated as the others, but how could I be? I did not feel like I was welcome or truly a part of that community. I even skipped weekend rehearsals sometimes because I felt like I just needed a break. They assumed I was the stand off, quiet girl who didn’t care as much as the others; it was brutal. I was so spoiled with the nurturing environment of my high school that I never realized how cruel the real world could be. And that was just a taste...
Now lets get to the heart of it all, when you’ll soon realize how much of this blog was inspired by men, as much as I wish it wasn’t. Trust me I’d rather it be about all my girlfriends and our empowering friendships, but nothing would impact my self evolution greater than the men in my life.
I distinctly remember various occasions when something someone said to me as a child really stuck. I was walking through Costco with my Dad and little sister as we often did as a strange family bonding experience. My Dad literally loved that place, buying in bulk was his thing. I mainly went for the giant cinnamon rolls he promised us at the end. Oh and disclosure I considered my Step Dad my father and I always called him “Dad” because he was the man who raised me and even after the divorce he loved me as if I were his own. Yes, technically I have two fathers in my life, and no I don’t have “daddy issues.” Matter of fact I was blessed with two dads and three sets of grandparents and I think any child would have been happy with that. ANYWAY- I don’t remember exactly how old I was but I was probably somewhere between seven and nine. We were in the check out line and I was laughing at something and being silly and my Dad looked at me, smiled and said “Chrissy you’re gonna be a heartbreaker one day, you know that?” Now some people may read this and think that’s a strange thing to say to your child that isn’t even technically yours, but my dad has always been complimentary of me and my two sisters and I never found it strange. As a matter of fact your father is the one who sets an example of how a man should view you and treat you, or at least its nice to think so. But what my Dad had failed to mention that day was how men would also break my heart, shatter my trust, crush my spirit and scale me down to merely an object. My childish faith in honest romance and happy endings would soon receive a few too many wake up calls as well.
Let’s start with my first sort of real boyfriend Bryce; we were fifteen. He played football at a normal high school close by in an area where my best friend Samantha lived. I was always with Sam, we met through the dance studio and also went to school together; we were quite inseparable. He had a best friend named Peter and they were inseparable too. Sam started dating Peter and I started dating Bryce. Everything was super cute and innocent. I only ever kissed him, but for the first time in my life I felt butterflies in my stomach and a strong infatuation for another human being. I had only ever read about relationships and what love was supposedly like. I remember reading Twilight and thinking no one could ever be as loving or perfect as Edward, that people like this couldn’t possibly exist. Of course Edward was a vampire, but the point was romance and love as it was always displayed in movies and books seemed somewhat exaggerated from real life. We dated for what seemed like awhile until he finally decided to call it quits. Maybe because I just wasn’t ready to move further, I mean I was only fifteen what did he expect? Though he never pressured me and was actually a good first boyfriend experience, he gave me my first taste of what heartbreak and rejection felt like. Obviously as you get older in life you realize that was puppy love and did not prepare you AT ALL for the real stuff.
My second boyfriend’s name was Gabriel whom I met my senior year of high school. Gabe didn’t believe in labels, which I would later realize was bullshit. But all his friends called me his girlfriend so I figured that’s what I was. He had one serious girlfriend for years and I was the only person he had really dated after. I met him at a party actually; there was a brief period of my life where I had discovered parties and drinking my latter high school years when I became more social. I went to a performing arts school where girls severely outnumbered the boys and most of the boys were gay or just hadn’t come out yet. I guess I wanted to feel like a normal teen, or what I thought was normal. I was eighteen and still a virgin and I thought to myself that I would definitely lose my virginity to this one, he seemed promising.
Everyone fantasizes about their first time and how awesome it should be, but that was not the case for me. It was so wrong in so many ways. First of all it happened during spring break, the least romantic occasion of the year. I went above and beyond to make this happen. I lied to my mother and used one of my personal financial bonds my biological Father had saved for me to rent an entire condo for the whole week with a few of my friends who never ended up paying me back. All so I could be there with Gabe and all his friends for spring break. I had never had a “crazy” spring break before, but I knew more or less what went down and I didn’t trust him to go alone. (That should have been the first red flag). Though I soon learned it wouldn’t have mattered. Him and all his guy friends stayed in a house and me and all my girlfriends stayed in my condo.
This spring break was madness. There were various house parties every night, cops patrolling the areas and kids getting busted for underage drinking and marijuana. I hardly drank I was so afraid of getting in trouble and I always liked to be in control anyway. The curse of this was that I noticed everything. Gabe would seem to disappear from time to time but I always figured he was with his friends and I didn’t want to pry. The night that it happened was no special occasion... He had been day drinking on the beach and then showed up at my place later on. Little did I know he had been making out with various random girls throughout the week. When girls would come up to him and say hi to him as if they had met him somewhere earlier my better instinct knew he was a scum bag, but I let him fuck me anyway. Though it was hardly considered a fuck, it lasted a whole of maybe three seconds until he came, rolled over and passed out. (I think it’s safe to say no cherry was popped that evening). In the end he wound up making some lame excuse as to why we couldn’t date anymore, when he couldn’t just be straight up with me in the first place.
His own friend had to tell me that the girl he had a crush on for years finally showed interest in him. He dropped me like a bag of old toys you no longer enjoyed playing with because he had gotten a new shiny toy he had been eyeing in the store for awhile. It wouldn’t have hurt as bad if he hadn’t of denied all the lies and had been honest with me like I always was with him. Looking back on it now I laugh that it mattered so much, but at the time it made me feel incredibly inferior and thus I slowly began to lose my trust in people. My first feeling of what I thought was love turned out to be sour with a bad after taste.
4. A BLOSSOMING TRANSITION
I was obsessed with the idea of being a “mature” lady one day. I tried to model myself off of ladies in movies like Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” and Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music.” I loved how classy, kind and graceful they appeared to be. My rather strict German grandmother also tried to instill in me how a lady should act according to her. She attempted to teach me manners and behaviors, yet I always had a rather goofy side that I think she quite disagreed with. Later in life you learn that a lady can certainly be a multitude of things and deep down I knew I was bound to break social barriers and standards at some point.
I always thought I was rather awkward looking when I was younger, I had big ears and a disproportionate body. Though I think everyone goes through that awkward phase, like the ugly duckling before it becomes a swan. I was constantly dancing so I figured my body would remain the stick figure that it had always been. Then one day, BAM, like magic, I began filling out my clothes and I started to form real womanly curves. I even had to start wearing real bras. I was quite excited to be honest, kids used to make fun of me for how flat chested I was. I even tried to stuff my bras with tissue in an attempt to make my chest look larger. My mother had very large breasts so I had only hoped that it would happen one day, and it did! My new womanly figure would prove to be both a blessing and a curse.
I remember specific occasions where I would go over to my friends houses and they would make jokes about how their dads thought I was hot. I was a teenager and these men all had to be in their forties. I found it equally disturbing and equally flattering, mainly because I had always taken a liking to boys who were older than me (but not that much older). It’s amazing what effect the female body has on people and the attention that it brings. I remember when honesty box existed on Facebook. Honesty box was a way to send an anonymous message to people on Facebook. Blue meant it was from a guy and pink from a girl. I used to get anonymous messages from guys saying “fucking you would feel so good” or “I really want to see you naked,” and other many vulgar, distasteful things. Then women would send me messages of slut shaming and profanity just because I got attention from boys and had a lot of male friends because girls were just plain mean. But I didn’t want any of that attention- I never asked for it. I had always wanted people to take me seriously, now I’d always have to wonder in the back of my mind whether they really did.
I once attended a graduation party senior year with one of my oldest friends, Michelle. It was actually a joint party for a few of Gabe’s friends who invited me because even though Gabe and I were no longer an item, I was still very cool with most of his friends. There was a free fortune teller at the party, someone’s father actually. I was wearing what I thought was a very cute outfit. I had larger breasts so yes there was some cleavage. I always liked the notion “if you’ve got it flaunt it” and I shamelessly flaunted it because why the hell not? I was young and proud of my new womanly body. My friend had very small breasts so she naturally looked more conservative in comparison. We had our fortunes read and the first thing he said to me after very obviously looking me up and down was: “Don’t give your goat to the first guy you see.” He then read my friend’s fortune and told her she was this Angel from above, praising her as this amazing human being. What’s funny about this was that she was actually quite promiscuous where I was quite a prude. I’m not slut shaming her by any means, a woman should do whatever the hell she wants, (and for the record she is an amazing human being). But he clearly based his assumptions off of our appearances and that was very wrong.
These are harmful generalizations that affect all people, men and women. A woman should not have to be modest in order to be respected. The way your body looks and sexuality are not mutually exclusive.
5. COLLEGE BOUND
I need you as the reader to understand that not all of my life was harmful or sad. More good things than bad things have happened to me in the long term. But if I’m going to tell my true, honest story, the bad things are what really allowed me to grow the most. I got through every obstacle in my life one way or another without turning into a heartless person, so I’d say I did pretty good for myself. I could have held all the negative things that have happened to me in my life over my head, but I chose to acknowledge them as simply life lessons and to be wiser and better for the future. Of course I’d be lying if I said those insecurities from long ago didn’t slip through now and again but when I went to college everything began to change for me.
My interpersonal connections with people were what set me apart. I could relate and adapt to a diverse group of people while still being me. Later on I would relate this to my current masters studies and why I chose what I chose, but for now it was just a normal part of life.
I found a school close to home with a fairly new dance program, Kennesaw State University. The school was about thirty minutes North of Atlanta with a fast developing surrounding community and the second largest school in Georgia.
The dean of the program of dance at KSU, Ivan Pulinkala would later prove to be one of the most intimidating yet influential people in my life. I would fall in love with the style of movement at that school and I would meet some of the most amazing people who left impressions upon my life. I would not only grow as a performer, but I would be challenged as a human being and an artist. I remember the very first person I met on campus, his name was Christopher. Chris was a theater major who later decided to change his major to dance. He was pretty nerdy when I first met him, sort of reminded me of a much more enthusiastic version of Harry Potter. He, like me, would blossom into his true self while attending KSU. It wasn’t all credited to KSU of course, there would be many factors at play here. He was more closeted then, homosexual but not really open about it. I never asked him about it, I waited for him to be ready to tell me, which he did. He went from shy little theater boy, to owning the dance floor, to becoming an outspoken activist, a real estate agent, and even drag queen from time to time in which he gave himself the name “Agatha Fistie.” He was my brilliant best friend, one of those people who could literally be anything he decided he wanted to be. He was completely necessary in my life and he refused to allow me to ever feel bad for myself. I needed someone like that. He brought out the best in me and I like to think I brought out some good in him too.
Our director Ivan was originally from India. He was accomplished in many things prior to becoming Head of the Department of Dance at KSU. He was highly intelligent and could take a simple concept and create an entire spectacular performance of dance: lighting and imagery, scenery and props, and brilliant costuming. He was a very small man physically but he was always a great presence. It felt like we grew with him as a family and he was our serious father that we all looked up to and aspired to receive his validation. To be recognized and complimented by Ivan was something to be very proud of, because it meant you truly deserved it. I would get my recognition from him, but not until graduation.
TO BE CONTINUED...