Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Take It Off!

I’m always slightly amused by pole dancing studios that insist on stating that there is NO STRIPPING involved in their classes.  As if somehow this assertion will insure that no one will confuse what they do with what strippers do.  As if what distinguishes stripping and pole dance classes is the removal of clothing. 
            I actually strip in my dance classes.  I strip down to a thong and a bra.  Not in every class, and when I do strip, not every layer always comes off.   But I take my clothes off.  You see, I think the act of stripping off layers is important for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s an art form.  Getting out of your clothes gracefully while dancing a mastering the art of the tease takes tremendous talent and practice.
            According to Lucinda Jarrett, stripping is actually a uniquely American art form and it was here that the art of striptease was first recognized as a craft.  Back in the forties, strippers dubbed themselves “ecdysiasts” and schools for teaching the art of walking, posing and peeling sprung up everywhere.  Once these parts were mastered, and the women gained sufficient confidence, they would bring their own personalities into the act, including costumes.  How much one could reveal or suggest through the tease without baring it all was the name of the game .  In our current culture, where baring it all has become the norm, there is something to be said for the sensual art of revealing one's self slowly and deliberately.
            Secondly, there is an emotional component to stripping that is extraordinarily enticing to me.  There is something so freeing about shedding your clothing, layer by layer.  I love pulling at the hem of my shirt while I swing around the pole or feeling my ankles get tangled up in a miniskirt that has found it's way down my legs.  I take real pleasure in revealing myself to my classmates, layer by layer.  That pleasure comes from the understanding that my vulnerability and my power are inextricably mixed up in this process.  In revealing myself, I make myself vulnerable.  But the act of revealing myself holds my audience captive and mesmerized, which feels powerful. 
             In the play "The Why Factor" (sponsored by S factor studios - click here to read my review) a group of women who decide to take a pole dancing class are challenged by their teacher to "peel off the layers".  The metaphor for taking off one's clothes, in this case, is to take off the layers of bandages that we put over our emotional wounds.  During her monologue,  Pele, who is the teacher, begins to take her own layers off:

            Now we’re getting somewhere.  Peel it off Verne.  Peel off the layers.  Maybe
            then you will be able to figure out why you said yes.  Maybe then you will be
            able to feel something.  (PELE has begun to circle the room, continuing to peel                          layers off her clothing. The goddess is beginning to get angry)  Would that be so bad?  
Would opening your legs lead to opening your heart?  What if it did and
            what spilled out what dirty, rank sewer water?   Could you let that wash over
            you if it meant ridding yourselves of it once and for all?  Or do you want it to
            stay inside and fester?  To pus over and harden, so you can carry it around for                   everybody to share?  Is that what all of you want?  (she strips off more clothing) 
            Is that what you’re afraid of?  Your truth?

This monologue reflects some of what I find so powerful about the process of peeling away clothing from our bodies: it’s about revealing our sexuality deliberately and slowly, about exposing our most vulnerable selves.  There can be something very emotionally potent about the act of stripping.  As Catherine Roach says so eloquently in her book “Stripping, Sex and Popular Culture”, stripping can become a metaphor for taking off inhibitions, such as shame, guilt, fear and ignorance.  It can become a way of stripping off narrow definitions of beauty and sexiness, and of the oppression of those who enjoy sexual pleasure outside of the norm.
            There is a common misperception that stripping is about exposure and overexposure.  I disagree.  When I remove my clothes, I am choosing to reveal parts or even all of my body to another.  I am stripping away my inhibitions and shame over my body.  I’m defying the demand that society makes of me to keep it under wraps, to cover it up, to restrict my appetite.  I am reveling in the pleasure of offering something delicious to another.  I am enjoying the tease.  So the next time you are swinging around that pole or rolling around on the floor, put on an extra layer or two first, and slowly, sensually, deliberately take it off!