Haute Dish The Arts & Literature Magazine of Metropolitan State University red flower
Summer 2005




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dancing through the darkness
Alice Lundy Blum

Sometimes I think I’ve taken off my clothes for every man in Phoenix. I see them at the grocery store, movies, shopping, even on dates. They see me, but don’t recognize me with my clothes on in broad daylight. I wonder is it because I look so different or because they never looked at my face? I’ve looked most of them right in the eyes.

I hardly take my eyes off theirs during the entire song. I’m supposed to be dancing, but I’m searching. With a power so deep within me, I cling to the purest point of my sinking soul. Maybe out of fear of becoming the object he expects me to be, the object he pays for and purchases with cash. Cash I take but refuse to be bought with.

The girls in the back talk about the compliments: “You’re so beautiful.” “Are you a model?” “Do you work out?” Blah, blah, blah… No one ever talks about the compliment I hear night after night, the one I actually crave. The men say, “You’re mesmerizing.”

That’s when I know I touched their soul. I had a hand in that. While a three-minute song played and women became topless, I silently reminded a man that God loves him. For some period of time, during those three minutes, maybe only for a millisecond, but for some amount of time, he felt it.

He didn’t know what it was, but it was powerful and undeniable. He thought it was me. Yet there was nothing sexual about it, and he so expected sexual. This was more sensual, limitless. It was chemical, intellectual, and spiritual. But that was beyond his comprehension in that particular moment, in that particular place. Yet, they all used the same word, “mesmerizing,” even the ones for whom that word seemed beyond the style of their vocabulary.

When I had seen these men as they were, just men, I was fine. At some point I made a shift in my opinion of them. They were no longer men; they were customers. That’s when I began to treat them differently. I stopped caring about them and started caring if I got a dance. Each man became a number on my goal for the night. I acted nice to make money and they could tell. Night after night would go by without me looking even one man in the eye. I didn’t want our souls to meet. I didn’t want to remind him that God loved him. I wasn’t sure if God loved me anymore. I had started to question the one thing I never questioned, the very thing I had been trying to communicate: “God loves you.”

I cowered at the thought. How could God love me? I was misusing a beautiful gift He had given me. It was mine, my body. I could do with it whatever I wanted, but God never intended for me to get ten dollars a dance with it. It wasn’t so much that it was wrong, but it was like choosing a postcard of the beach rather than walking on it.

Could God love me when I neglected half of the talents He had given me, and abused the other half? Could God love me when I was too busy for him? When I questioned His every plan for my life, acting as if I knew better, trying to control and do it my way, and then cried, “Why?! Why?!” when it all blew up in my face? Could God love me when I had begged unceasingly for answers, and then denied them when He delivered? Could God love me when I invited Him into my life, and locked the door just as He began to enter? Could God love me when He answered my prayers, and I tried to give back or exchange the gifts He’d given, the very ones I had asked for?

Yes, God could love me through it all. However, if I didn’t get out of that darkness, I wouldn’t be able to feel His love, and I wouldn’t be able to love myself.

People congratulated me when they found out I was quitting dancing. They acted like I was breaking out of prostitution. “I’m so proud of you,” they said. “You’re getting out of the life.” That scared me. It was a life for so many. I never wanted to be a dancer. I just wanted to make some money and buy some time. If you get on stage night after night and pretend to be a dancer, you start to become one, even if you swore you’d never be.

I corrected people in the beginning; “I’m not a dancer. I’m a girl who dances. There’s a big difference.” But, I started hearing it so often it wasn’t worth the battle of declaration. After all, I told myself, “I don’t care who they think I am.” I let them think I was a dancer and call me a dancer. For shock value I told people in public, “I’m a dancer” just to get their reaction. I learned to field ridiculous questions so well none of it was shocking anymore.

When I walked into my first topless bar, I was shocked at how pretty the girls were. Now, a year and a half, hundreds of dances and thousands of dollars later, the only shocking thing is that nothing shocks me. Nothing a man says or does. Not seeing naked women, or drugs, or hearing about how their boyfriends beat them up, or how they made a thousand dollars off one customer, or how they just paid cash for a new Lexus, or how they’re getting another boob job, or how they slept with another woman… with her husband… nothing.

What I once could not comprehend I had become. I always had a pretty good body. I don’t have the boobs, but I am beautiful. Now, sometimes my face in the mirror looks like a dancer’s, devoid of feeling, empty, blank, like a slate to be filled in by somebody else.

In the past, I got the thrill of danger and excitement through my relationships with men who lived on the edge in one way or another. They were married, or had addictions, or problems with the law. Maybe it was the shock appeal I always craved.

Not anymore, I’m all shocked out. Maybe that’s what happens to men who live in the fast lane for so long and then turn out to be committed husbands and fathers. Maybe there is such a thing as “sowing your wild oats.”

Is that what I was doing, at age thirty-two, dancing in a topless bar? Getting garbage out of my system through some self-appointed therapy? My therapy’s paid for and my oats are no longer wild. Oh, I want the joys and thrills of life, but I surrender to the day-to-day serenity. I no longer long for that red Ferrari or brag that I’ll bungy jump. I’ve ridden the roller coaster through the haunted house. Maturity comes in stages, and I guess, sometimes, on stages, too.

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