(About a 10 minute read)
The first thing I noticed about Elle was that she seemed mysteriously out of place. She was sitting alone at a table in Shotgun Willies’, watching a young woman dance on one of the stages, and smoking a cigarette.
Because Elle was fully dressed in street clothes, I wasn’t sure what she was doing there? Was she an erotic dancer? Then why the clothes? But if she wasn’t a dancer, what was she doing in an erotic dance club? I spent no little time wondering about her like that before she rose, crossed over to the other side of the room, and strolled through the dressing room door.
When she came out again, Elle was wearing nothing but a g-string. Not an attractive one, in my opinion I recall, but at least it was settled what she was there for.
Don and I were sitting at a side stage, which happened to be the one she took. Elle was about average height, and neither thin nor fat. She had the reasonably rounded figure popular in the 70s. That is, she was unmistakably a woman, but obviously fit as an athlete.
Her shoulder-length hair was moderate blonde, her face was pretty, a bit more angular than round, and she had generous — but not overly-generous — breasts. Pink nipples, and blue eyes. I didn’t like her g-string because I thought its dull purple looked dowdy, more like an unimaginative housewife’s than an erotic dancer.
She gave off a feral vibe.
So far as I could see, every woman in the club that night was a dancer, and a dancer in her late teens or early twenties — except Elle. After a very few dance moves, Elle sank to her spread knees facing Don and me, took our measure apparently, and decided to strike up a conversation rather dance any further.
“Are you gentlemen brothers?”
“Just comrades”, Don said.
“I swear you look like brothers. Do you work together?”
“We’re from out of town. Colorado Springs. And we build house decks together.” I said.
“How do you like your jobs?”
“They’re jobs.” Don replied, perhaps trying to sound more upbeat than he felt after a day bending over to screw down decking.
“I like mine. I have no important responsibilities except to annoy the boss.” I said, perhaps sounding less optimistic than I felt after a day annoying the boss. “He’s the boss, by the way.”
Elle found that funny, and seemed to relax. “I’m Elle. I’ll be your hostess for as long as you like.”
We offered her our names, and asked her about a lap dance. “Twenty dollars for 20 minutes.”
“Don and I are short tonight. Can we just buy one dance, and you split the time — ten minutes for him, ten for me?”
I guess there was something in the request that charmed her because, after a moment of thinking about it, she replied, “That’s the first time in the two years I’ve worked here anyone has asked me to split a dance. But I like that you’re willing to share. Sure, I’ll do it. Meet me in the corner over there where the couches are. I’ll be along in a moment.”
Elle danced for Don first — for thirty minutes, rather than ten. Then she danced another 45 minutes with me, seeming to lose track of her time. She put her hands one on each of my knees, and then “danced” by slowly moving towards me and back, over and over again.
She was full of conversational questions. “Was I born in Colorado?” “Had I gone to university?” “What had I studied?” “Had I seen any big fires after I’d joined the fire department to put myself through school?” “Was I enjoying her performance?”
After a bit, she seemed satisfied with me, and began volunteering things about herself. She worked as a nurse six days a week at a local hospital. She danced Tuesdays and Thursdays in the evenings until nine o’clock, never later than that. “So you will need to come early if you want to visit me.”
Beyond that, Elle explained that she danced for the attention she craved from people, but never got as a nurse. Here at Willies’ she was for a few hours the center of the earth. She was 33 that year, and her boyfriend was a jewel. He was totally committed to supporting her in her job, and never complained about it or showed any lack of trust in her faithfulness to him.
Every few minutes, Elle broke the local laws by briefly gliding one or the other of her nipples into my mouth — just enough I could taste their warmth and electrically soft flesh.
It was the only thing truly erotic about her dance, and she seemed conscious of doing it in the spirit of a gift. Since it was in violation of the law, I felt it as sharing a secret with her.
Although her dance wasn’t especially erotic, Elle herself was. Quite erotic, actually.
Sexually, she was a free spirit and her own woman. Self-confidence seemed to waft from her like her perfume — which was distinctively more womanly than light and floral. Along with her confidence, Elle seemed notably easy-going about her sexuality, wearing it like a comfortable pair of favorite jeans.
She was not in the least subservient, but came across as an equal and peer. And she gave the impression she accepted and loved men and their sexuality as they are — would never dream of trying to change us.
There was not a hint about her of being maladjusted to life, or in any way being dysfunctional. In short, she was the type of woman some men are intimidated by and fear, while others are lucky to marry — and if not able to marry, then simply to love.
She was intrigued to learn I was voluntarily celibate, but she gave me no indication — as some women do — that she saw it as some kind of challenge, and consequently thought about “conquering” me in order to earn a notch for her bedpost.
Have you ever noticed how people who are especially true to themselves and happy seem to possess a sort of contagious energy capable of making you feel better about both yourself and being alive? Elle was doing that for me that night.
In contrast to Elle, most of the dancers I’ve known from Willies’ and other clubs have been in all ways much less self-possessed and confident. Of course, they are younger, and more experienced of male sexuality than most of their peers.
But they are also shier, less certain, and more forced and aloof around men than Elle was. But they don’t always know it.
I was once talking with a 25 year old who I knew well enough to know she was no match for the Elles of the world — or at least not yet. When I brought up how powerful an aphrodisiac Elle’s self-confidence had been, the 25 year old immediately scoffed and raised her voice to assert that she herself had “been self-confident since she was 16!”
I let it rest there. I sensed she would not even begin to understand genuine self-confidence, sexual or otherwise. This is not to put her down, but to put her remark in perspective: To me, her confidence was no more an aphrodisiac than a child’s sexuality.
Despite everything Elle had going for her, she was probably the least popular woman at the club. Whenever Don and I returned on one of the nights she was working, she always seemed to be alone and available — even during her turns on stage.
My hunch was that Elle came up against a fairly common rule of marketing. The high quality products and services are always in less demand than those of moderate quality.
Added to that, it just seems a fact that American sexuality doesn’t often run to preferring the “top of the line”. For instance, if you think of quality as something that can be understated because it has the power to speak for itself, then Elle was quality. She needed no ad campaign to announce that about herself.
But quality — especially when understated — is easily ignored or misunderstood by those who don’t value it in the first place. Willies’ is perhaps the top club not only in Denver, but in the larger region. Its clientele are often enough in suits, and the decor is anything but gaudy by the standards of dance clubs. It’s the sort of place you can bring even a fairly proper individual — at least for their bachelor party.
Even so, America is not Europe nor Japan. A lot of the patrons most certainly possess that curious American guilt for all things sexual that can manifest itself in so many peculiar ways. Sometimes it comes out as hysteria that children might see the half second long exposed nipple on TV of a rock star.
Other times it might take the more benign form of someone nodding along in church while the preacher deplores the impending collapse of civilization due to gay marriage. Still other times it manifests as contempt for sex workers, and a near obsession with seeing them debased.
The average American will swear on his holy books he no longer feels anything so 1950s as sexual guilt — then he’ll go out that night, and treat the dancers like meat, never for a moment understanding himself well enough to see guilt written large as a billboard stretched across his soul.
You see it sometimes in fathers who are both overly-protective of their daughter’s virginity, and assumptive that nearly every boy she meets is out to ruthlessly exploit her for sex alone. Or you see it in the young couple who cannot bring themselves to plan ahead for sex, so instead practice unprotected intercourse. Then again, so much of the anti-abortion movement seems fueled by a desire to punish women for having “illicit” sex.
Often you see it represented in the notion there is a separate and special moral code for sexual relations than for all other relations between people. “All is fair in love and war.”
But to me, one of the most curious — and often the most tragic — ways Americans routinely display their sexual guilt is by thinking they are obliged to marry the first person in their lives that they fuck.
There are so many countries I hear in which that’s unheard of.
The American woman, on average, is of course no better than the men — just that the details sometimes change. America’s sexual guilt seems to come out in a thousand ways, and the great myth about it is this: We got over it back in the 60s.
There was a time not too many years ago when a friend and I — who owned a dance studio — would daydream for hours together about introducing classes in erotic dance to her studio. We were so excited by the idea — not the least because we both believed it would help people overcome their guilt — that we entirely overlooked for several years the question of whether any dancer would have an economic reason to pay to improve her skills.
But why would she? In Colorado, a good dancer can easily make $500 to $1000 a night without knowing much more than to rhythmically part her legs wide. To be sure, a relatively handful of dancers are natural born artists and so instinctively make an art of it. But their number would most likely fail to support a studio’s overhead with a profit on top of that. There just isn’t enough economic incentive for dancers to become super-skilled at their profession.
I have no idea how America will end up dealing with its sexual guilt. Some years ago, I would have cared, but I don’t now — at least not in the main, although I still am a bit concerned about such things as people getting married for no better reason than they’ve had sex.
I often have reflected that Elle could have been a role model for how to handle ones own and other’s sexualities. I could visualize her as a widely syndicated advice columnist, if she had any talent with words at all. And I could at least dream of her doing a lot of good in the world. But I suspect in more realistic moments that “Advice of a Stripper” would be more likely to scandalize than to sell.
Still, I miss her. There was a lot of wisdom in her, if not in her words, then in how she made her sexual wisdom visible in her actions.