I foreswore dancing in protest on the day in June, 1983, when the Embarrassment broke up. The Embarrassment was my favorite band, and if they weren't going to play music anymore then I sure as hell wasn't going to dance. Although I no doubt informed the Embarrassment guys of my decision, they somehow failed to understand the enormous burden of pressure they were enduring as a result of it, and my protest did not, in the end, cause a reconciliation among them.
That was 24 years ago now, and for about 23 of them I stuck to my guns. I hoped that people would see me as being unimaginably committed when, after asking me to dance, I responded by saying, "No, I'm sorry but I've given up dancing as a protest against the Embarrassment's disbanding." Increasingly, however, toward the end of those twenty-three years, the likelihood that the person I was speaking to understood any part of what I was saying precipitously declined; and I admit, too, to the possibility that I feel silly dancing and may have begun to use the whole Embarrassment thing as an excuse — I admit only to the possibility of this.
Maybe it was the Embarrassment's reunion shows last summer at Roadhouse Blues, but just lately I find that that's all changed. In the last two months alone, I've danced twice: I've been transformed into a dancing machine. Some readers may recall that in December I was humiliated for an hour or more at the hands of Ballet Wichita artistic director Jill Landrith, who endeavored to teach me even the tiniest little thing about ballet to no avail. And now, just last weekend, I spent two nights in the company of a bachelorette party in Kansas City; I can proudly report that I have been trained in a new dance discipline in which I'm at least as naturally gifted as I was at ballet.
A Brute Coupling Foretold
But first, it's likely that some of you are wondering how it was that I attended a bachelorette party in the first place. Let's answer that question by saying that I'm the type of guy around whom women are unlikely to feel threatened, and that this was not the first bachelorette party I've attended. (Once, in fact, I was a bridesmaid, an arrangement that caused the groomsman with whom I walked down the aisle — he was the older, more conservative brother of the groom — an unlimited amount of stress.) Knowing this, some of you may automatically envision Bachelorette Prime, the bride-to-be, as the type of woman — possibly not even a young woman — who is typically sad, fights a weight problem, and mostly hangs out at J's Lounge.
Well, you're hilariously wrong. Bachelorette Prime, who wishes to keep her job and thus asked that pseudonyms be used for all present last weekend, is a knockout in her twenties whom we'll call Pussycat and who causes all the other guys I know to say, "Who's your friend?" I'm not bragging when I report that in fact all of the bachelorettes — save perhaps Ambrose and Byron, two male "roommates" who, like me, make women feel magically at ease — are of the type capable of causing the Monday Night Football crowd to suddenly mute the TV and show an artificial interest in any topic the bachelorette might choose to discuss: What accent color would be best for the soffit? What kind of figure does an empire waist really need?
Because I know that the suspense is killing you, I'll skip a recap of the first night's activities — a sleepover in which I was obliged to wear a pink feather boa and a cardboard tiara, and at which Pussycat opened gifts that included tiny scraps of cloth billed as panties and a board game called What the Fuck? — and the full text of the poem I was ordered to write, in half an hour, by a certain Petunia and which included a line, imposed on it by the need to rhyme something with "gazelle," that read, "Do your quivering haunches some brute coupling foretell?"
The main event commenced the following afternoon, when eleven of us bachelorettes, many still reeling from the near-toxic alcohol intake levels of the night before, arrived at a studio situated amid empty-looking warehouses and low-hanging power lines in a weirdly abandoned part of Kansas City (if you're familiar with Kansas City and are looking for this studio, I can tell you that you pass an illuminated plastic cow atop a twenty-foot pillar to get there). This studio is in fact a business known as Pole Worx. The eleven of us would train to become pole dancers there.
Already I can hear some narrow-minded readers complaining that pole dancing is only for women, that men aren't "cut out" for it in the same way that women are allegedly unable to adapt to trench warfare. Well, according to a sign I found after climbing to the second-floor entrance of Pole Worx, which is located in converted warehouse space, and which seems a lot less mob-run once you're inside, you reactionaries possibly have a completely valid point. "Pole Worx is an all-women facility," this sign said.
In practical terms, I later found out, what that mostly means is that there is no men's restroom, and that Ambrose, Byron, and I were compelled to stand at the doorway yelling, "Hello! Hello! I'm coming in," before availing ourselves of the only facilities. But at first I took in the waiting room with its inflatable man whose shorts read PETER PECKER on the waistband, and who sported a sixteen-inch hard-on (inflated), and its rack of Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, and wondered. Was I, in fact, not cut out for pole dancing?
Trixie, our Kansas City hostess, had brought an enormous amount of liquor along, and it seemed to me at the time that if your goal is to conquer stereotypes, liquor is a powerful and important tool. I pondered the ways in which history might have turned out differently had Mahatma Gandhi been an intractable drunk as Pussycat opened yet more gifts. She donned the pink tank top, panties, garter, and glitter heart pasties immediately (her Split Lip Rayfield tee-shirt now showed only IP RAYF under the tank top), and then strapped herself into a pair of white, ten-inch high heels. I'm not sure that it's possible for men to understand all that that figure — ten inches — connotes in heels; I do know that just seeing them left me kind of shaky and that Pussycat was now dressed like a crazy woman and walked, in these heels, as though badly disoriented.
And now we met our instructor, a bombshell named Natalie (she and her husband Brian own and operate Pole Worx). After signing waivers dismissing Pole Worx, its employees, Kansas City itself, Jackson County, the highway department for some reason, and even the highway department's contractors and subcontractors from any culpability in the event of our injury or wrongful death, including but not limited to heart attack, muscle strains, sprains, pulls, tears, broken bones, shin splints, heat exhaustions, injury to knee, back, or foot, and any other illness, soreness, or injury, and acknowledging that the waiver applies in all states and countries and that none of us was under any physical or emotional duress to sign, we were ready to begin.
"Are you drinking?" I asked Pussycat.
"A lot," she said.
No one is going to believe me, but Natalie herself later told me that I actually showed some potential as a pole dancer. I'm still mulling that over: I'm in my forties now, and pole dancing isn't the career track I'd envisioned for myself, should a career at some point get underway.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, Natalie flipped through a book titled The Art of Pole Dancing: A Spin-by-Spin Guide until a bachelorette yelled "Stop!"; she then instructed that bachelorette on the move she (or he) had chosen. Pussycat naturally went first, doing a "see-saw," which was really more of a stance than a dance, but a cause of horror for Pussycat just the same.
Next it was my turn; I was a "party animal." In step one of my dance I sat on the floor with my legs apart and the pole in between them. If the book is to be believed, I then put my arms behind me and "pushed out my flirtatious assets." In step two I curled my right leg, fairly seductively I imagine, around the pole. In step three I lifted one leg up alongside the pole and then "stroked the inside of [my] leg from the ankle right up to the inside of the thigh. Grrrr!"
The "grrr" tells me that the animal in this "party animal" is probably a big-game member of the feline family, perhaps a tiger, but I find that the less I think about this part of the weekend the better. Ambrose went next — my heart went out to him — doing a "head roller"; my notes on this move say, "I can't describe this," and nothing more. Mrs. Magnificence (bachelorettes were allowed to choose their own pseudonyms) went next, executing a "peek-a-boo to you" — "a cheeky little move that will show off your legs." Trixie next did a "tiger crawl," causing one of the bachelorettes to cry out, "Trixie is a natural at the fucking tiger crawl!" Marmalade did a "squeeze to please," a move that Ambrose, Byron, and I could not have performed since it required merely that Marmalade stand behind the pole and squeeze her boobs around it. An especially athletic "slide show" was then carried out by Byron, followed by Petunia's "caress" ("Hers has a lot of boobs and a lot of legs with her arms up above her head on the pole, which she slides down," I noted. "Right on"). Pinkie concluded this part of the lesson with a "check me out"; my notes here refer to "ass," "shaking ass," and "yet more shaking ass."
Now that, as one bachelorette put it, our inner strippers had been awakened, Natalie positioned us each at a pole (there were six, so we shared) and instructed us in advanced pole dancing moves. I was by no means the best of the bachelorettes — Trixie learned so easily and went at it with such vigor that you began to wonder if her drug rep job was merely a cover — but soon I was spinning around the pole airborne and landing with my legs alluringly tucked away to the side and hanging upside down with my ankle hooked around the pole. When a delayed bachelorette named Lulu arrived (this woman would later that night insist that we had been thrown out of a seedy downtown nightclub because I was such a homophobe) I surrendered my pole to her and took a break.
By the following night I wouldn't be able to lift my arms over my head, but I didn't know that yet. In the main room the freestyle hour had begun, which meant that the overhead lights went off and a kind of dual disco ball was illuminated. Prince blared. More drinks were poured. It was like Our Fantasy, only with an even floor and fewer DUIs per patron. In the waiting room I perused a display of tanning lotions (there were apparently tanning beds somewhere) that included Extreme Dare ("with a tingle power of T10"), Sinful (a tingle power of only T 7), and Unforgiven.
Now I was summoned back for the awards ceremony. At the beginning of our pole dancing session, Marmalade and Mrs. Magnificence had given each bachelorette fake currency on which the presidential portrait had been replaced by that of a stripper. We tipped one another during the lesson, and now the two bachelorettes with the most money were given trophies Marmalade and Mrs. Magnificence had made on which otherwise wholesome-looking dolls had been strapped to chrome poles.
After a period of nearly unbearable suspense, it was determined that Trixie had won second place. She celebrated with an acceptance routine during which she repeated the tiger crawl that she had mastered so easily earlier and then performed a perhaps unnecessarily complicated move that resulted in her hanging upside down from the pole. I don't believe that this sequence had a name, per se, although it did occur to me as I watched it that few of us bachelorettes were still sober. It was now six and none of us would sleep before four the following morning, although I didn't know that yet, either.
First place was now announced by Marmalade and Mrs. Magnificence, and can you believe it? Pussycat had won! She teetered to the front in her heels and accepted her trophy, then perhaps fought back tears as she thanked Pepper for having given her the courage to pole dance. (I've checked a thousand times and I have no Pepper listed anywhere in my notes.) More of us were then thanked, seemingly at random, before the bride-to-be approached the pole, still in her ten-inch heels, for her victory dance. This dance began with Pussycat grabbing the pole and failing at a move that had been unrecognizable to begin with; she then could be seen to decide on abandoning any further plans she had, and just stood shaking her butt — in the middle of which a triangle of pink panty danced like a target — instead.
Now Pussycat sat down, exhausted maybe and definitely drunk, and Trixie, as in a heterosexual male fantasy, provided her with an intimate lap dance as a tribute. It must have been incredibly moving, or something, because I still find it painful to write about today.