I didn’t need a stripper persona when I first started dancing. The bikini bars I worked at were tame, the customers were well-behaved, and the girls were relatively friendly.
When I switched to my second club, I changed my stage name to Belle. Carmen didn’t fit me and I had enough customers at the first place [rightfully] laugh when I introduced myself by a name meant for a hot Latina.
Up to that point, my stripper attire was pretty typical. I was still winging it when it came to figuring out what was sexy and ended up wearing a lot of themed costumes. School girl. Cop. Nurse. Maid. Etc. These costumes didn’t feel sexy to me…frankly, they felt pretty stupid. But I found myself emulating other girls because I didn’t have a style of my own.
One day, I decided to switch it up and wear a corset and thigh highs. The outfit was elegant and over the top for a hole-in-the-wall bikini club… but something about it made me feel… powerful. People were responding differently to me… and I was acting differently. Less cutesy (which never worked for me anyways) and more demure. The outfit made me feel less contrived – like less of an impostor. A little more natural.
Maybe I was on to something.
For my next shift, I decided to push the look a little further and bought a long black, strapless gown. It was simple – plain black with ruching that clung to my curves. A long slit down the side. I’d never seen any of the dancers at that club wear a gown. When I changed into it, a few of them questioned my choice.
“You’re going to wear that?”
“You’re not going to make any money all covered up.”
“This isn’t a ‘gown club’, Belle.”
I wore it anyway – and I made more money than I ever had in a single night.
I caused a stir and at first I thought it was just because I was dressed differently from the other girls. But as the night went on, I realized it had less to do with the dress and more to do with who I was in the dress. I could feel myself walking differently. I made direct eye contact without feeling uncomfortable. I spoke more boldly, more directly. I felt more confident working the room and approaching customers (which, up to that point, had been a struggle for an introvert).
By this time I had learned to dance on stage but was still imitating other dancers’ moves. Beginner pole tricks, crawling on the stage, booty shaking. But like the stupid outfits I had been wearing, my dancing felt cheap and fake.
However, the night I slipped into that black gown, I seemed to magically pick up my own style. I was smooth and graceful. Customers gathered at the stage and sat quietly, seemingly mesmerized by whatever… whoever… I had transformed into. Nobody shouted for my attention or waved dollar bills at me. They just sat there, hoping I’d come up to the tip rail to take their money.
Normally, I’d rush up when a customer came to stage… smile, dance in front of him… try to make a connection that I could later use to sell dances. But I wasn’t doing any of that now. I was caught up in the performance and my indifference was driving them crazy.
And just like that, Belle was born.
Belle was a dichotomy: part classic beauty, part dominatrix. She was opposite of me in some ways, embodying the traits I felt I was lacking… or maybe, traits I always had but never felt comfortable expressing. She was confident, sultry, and elegant. Her presence commanded attention and demanded respect. She had zero tolerance for bullshit and a magnificent sense of self-worth.
Belle was like a warrior goddess. Beautiful, feminine… and fierce as a f—.
The transformation into Belle was physical and ritualistic. My make-up was dramatic: smoky eyes, false lashes, a painted lip. I had waist-length blonde hair that I always wore down. From that point on, I always wore gowns, often paired with long satin gloves, a thick rhinestone choker, matching bracelets and earrings. It was completely over the top and I loved it. I’d spritz on Poison by Christian Dior – a bold scent I felt embodied Belle’s essence.
Belle was basically me, but with fire. She highlighted the things I loved most about myself and exuded the qualities I wanted to develop more.
She was also a shield. I had moved on to a topless club and the game was different. It was a nice club – huge, with multiple stages, champagne rooms, a sky box, and two massive bars. There were a lot of girls on night shift so the competition was steep and the guys were less behaved. If I was dealing with an asshole… it wasn’t really me who was dealing. It was Belle, and she was unaffected by schmucks. One of her specialties was to deliver short, biting quips as she elegantly glided away. When I pulled on those long gowns and strapped my feet into 7-inch platform heels, it was as if I were donning armor.
Belle’s Coming Out
Over time, I became more adept at transforming into Belle for work. The process was now natural and effortless. She even started to show up in my life outside of the club. For example, I had to give a presentation in one of my classes and felt nervous. I always spoke well in front of groups, but I’d get nervous and my neck and chest would break out in red splotchy marks. My face would burn. My physical reaction to my nerves made me feel weak. It gave me away… and I hated it.
Sitting at my desk, I could feel my nerves kicking up as I realized I was next to present. My face starting to burn. Shit, I thought. Here we go again.
And then it dawned on me that maybe this was something Belle could help with.
I closed my eyes and imagined myself as her – confident, graceful, and fierce. When my turn came, I confidently took the podium. I skimmed the room as I presented, making eye contact with every single person. I didn’t stumble. I had the attention of everyone in the room. My heart wasn’t beating fast.
And for the first time ever, I didn’t turn red and splotchy from public speaking.
I realized that Belle’s utility might extend far beyond the strip club.
Belle took over when I was negotiating the purchase of a new Camaro in 2014. To this day, I am still shocked by the deal I got on that car. She’s negotiated pay raises. She’s helped me overcome the discomfort of talking about money and contracts when those topics inevitably come up with clients. She’s pushed me to raise my rates, to command what I’m worth.
Over the years, I slowly adopted many of Belle’s traits. It wasn’t a conscious effort… it just sort of happened. I had practiced and emulated confidence so much that soon, I just was confident. I didn’t need to consciously try anymore. I had practiced the no-nonsense, go-after-what-you-want attitude enough through Belle that it just became ingrained in the fabric of me. Really, these traits were there all along, but Belle helped pull them out.
Does this all sound nuts? Perhaps a little schizophrenic? Sure. But does it work?
In the 10 years since I danced, Belle comes around less. I’ve noticed this a lot in the last couple of years, especially. I feel like I’ve lost some of that fire, that boldness.
It’s about more than an alter ego…
I recently came across a piece I wrote for a women’s studies class I took in grad school, back in 2010. It was an narrative piece about going to a strip club after retiring (well, one of the five or so times I “retired” from stripping). I ran into a girl I used to dance with and we caught up on life in the couple years that had passed. I bought some dances from her and we shared a drink. Actually, I’d like to share the whole piece in another post. Anyways, the most relevant piece to this post was the last paragraph. I wrote:
There is an unspoken bond that exists between dancers – they communicate about topics that the rest of society would never discuss. There is an openness about it all, a lack of censorship, which I find very refreshing. Strippers, at least within the walls of the strip club, are often bold, outspoken women – and these are the types of women I most identify with. Perhaps that socialization and camaraderie is the part of dancing that I find myself longing for. More likely, I think it is my own boldness, which has faded drastically since retiring, that I am really missing.
It occurred to me that what I miss is more than just my alter ego of Belle – it’s the community of women I used to regularly interact with as a dancer. I miss having a group of women around me who were straight-shooting, no fluff, speak-your-mind strong. Women who embraced their sexiness and femininity without it undermining their strength… ladies who actually used their femininity to bolster their strength.
In the last few years, I’ve found myself longing for that community of… how do I describe this…goddess power. I came across a documentary a couple days ago called “The Goddess Project” and I was totally stoked about it. It was about these two women in a renovated school bus who drove across the country collecting women’s stories. Sounds right up my alley, right?
Well, not really.
It ended up being strongly colored by third and fourth wave feminism. The type of feminism that makes me think of a commune of women living in a big tent, bashing men and celebrating their periods like it’s some sort of gift from the gods. Crying about the media and pushing back against beauty norms by swearing off makeup and proclaiming that high heels are a tool designed by men to keep women down.
And that works for a some women, but it’s definitely not for me.
The other type of “empowerment” movement I see among women is this contrived, wannabe entrepreneurial, “boss bitch” thing. It’s this fluffy cotton candy crap full of rah rah girl power with no real substance.
Or even worse, the group of women who bond with one another by sharing their stories of tragedy and triumph. The problem isn’t the sharing of these stories, it’s the clinging to them – identifying with and holding onto times in their lives when they felt victimized and powerless. It’s those women who love to talk about being bullied in high school and excluded from the group of popular girls… or being hit on by their bosses… or losing a career promotion to a man. This type of group seems to demonize both men and women (women who are outsiders to the group).
Again, not for me.
I want a community of Belles… and women who desire to become that type of fierce and feminine strong. I know they’re out there. Maybe they’re just waiting for someone to start that community… to create a new movement… one for women like me (and maybe, you?).
And that sort of takes me full circle to an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for the last several months… that maybe it’s time to breathe life into.
This post sure took a turn I wasn’t expecting. I was planning to just write about my stripper alter ego. The things that happen when I let myself muse.