By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. This article absolutely requires a musical background, and I have just the piece for it: “You gotta get a gimmick.” It’s a song from one of the best Broadway shows ever, “Gypsy”, which opened in 1959. Many great ladies of the theatre have headlined as Rose, the ultimate stage mother, including Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, Angela Lansbury.
“Gypsy”, of course, is the story of perhaps America’s best known stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. The song “You gotta get a gimmick” is a clever number where the experienced strippers advise Gypsy on how to succeed in burlesque. It’s bold, brassy, and belted out by the strippers who know a thing or two about their craft and exuberantly impart this intelligence to Gypsy, the ingenue.
You can find this song in any search engine. Go now. Then lock yourself in a room that’s sound proof. Man, woman, or lubricious teen-age boy, this tune will get you up and into your own bump and grind. Trust me.
Full disclosure of your author’s knowledge of strippers.
I first became aware of exotic dancers (which is what strippers now call themselves, the better to get the respect and professional treatment they today insist upon) from a story about my grandfather, Walt. It seems he made a particular point of attending the great Chicago exhibition of 1933, called A Century of Progress International Exposition. Reason? The most prominent exotic dancer of her era, Sally Rand (1904- 1979), was performing de’nude’ and every red-blooded American male wanted to see if she did indeed cover the subject with her massive ostrich plumes — and nothing else. How they longed for indiscretion and a glimpse of flesh… but Sally was a pro, expert in teasing, the consummate flirt, capable of admonishing any over-eager hand with a slap carefully calibrated to the infraction.
Grandpa Walt had, of course, spent his hard-earned money on Sally Rand souvenirs, including a viewfinder with the most provocative pictures the traffic (and Chicago’s lax rules) would allow. All the boys in the family had seen these venerable artifacts; it was part of our “masculine” education. The girls were sternly warned away least they see an unacceptable vocation.
Grandpa Walt was as much teased on the matter of Sally Rand as Grandma Victoria was on the matter of her “Two Rudys,” Valentino and Vallee. This teasing, these stories, and the arch looks the grandparents shot us never lost their flare or hilarity.
My maternal uncles went to Chicago on carefully planned excursions to the best burlesque (always called bur-lee-que by the aunts) house in the Windy City. Whatever the women of the family may have thought (and none was reticent) it was accepted that “boys will be boys” especially after they had fought their way across Europe in World War II.
What they did at the house of burlesque was never officially acknowledged, but the high secrets always leaked and became the more lurid with each telling.
As for me, I didn’t see a stripper in the full glory of her embonpoint until Christmas vacation, 1967. It was my very first day in Paris. I was 21, I was free of teachers, rules and parents, I was in a city that was a byword for indulgence, decadence, and SEX. And I meant to live!
Thus we ended up on the Rue Pigalle at the Follies Bergere, home of plunging necklines, garish colors and oceans of feathers and beads. We must have been drinking, that too was a sure portent of liberation. And no doubt made too much noise as we stood in the back of the theatre. We were living and unmercifully scrutinizing les dames de Pigalle was a necessary part of our travels.
But all of a sudden, one of the ladies literally jumped off the stage and marched purposefully towards — us. The general tenor of her remarks, delivered in high octane French, was, “Just what do you cockroaches think you’re laughing at?” whereupon she dropped her feathers and stood before the titillated, reeling, astonished boys in all her natural allure.
Wow! Abashed and chagrined though we were, we all knew This Was Life. I haven’t been back to the Rue Pigalle or the Follies Bergere, either.
Dark, furtive, pathetic, sad.
Whether it was from television or films (but not from actual visits) I picked up a firm impression about the milieux where the exotic dancers sport and preen. I thought of them, if I thought of them at all, as places not of excitement but of lonely people adrift, where simulated joy could not cover the fact there was no joy at all, and where men desert wives, families and pressing bills to shove dollar bills into g-strings, pathetic.
Into this equation,the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the person of Essex Superior Court Justice Maynard Kirpalani has now entered his finding, viz that four former exotic dancers at a Salisbury, Massachusetts establishment called Ten’s Show Club were employees, not independent contractors. As such they are entitled to minimum wage and other benefits.
As a result of this ruling each of the aging and not quite so nimble Salomes — Katherine Sandoval, Noel Van Wagner, Bonnie Griffin, and Amy Bloodgood — are entitled to more than $40,000 in back pay… and not a moment too soon.
In 2009, Van Wagner told the (Boston) Globe that when she began dancing about 17 years ago, she typically received a modest wage or no salary at all. But she earned so much in tips, $300 to $800 per shift, that she did not mind paying the club between $10-$20 to dance each night.
But the economy severely cut into her tips in recent years. Coupled with higher performance fees and other charges, she said, dancers sometimes earned barely enough to make a shift worthwhile. After she and her colleagues filed suit in 2009, they either quit or were fired. The ladies, however, had been wronged…
Judge Kirpalani wrote in his ruling, “First, aside from keeping their regular customers informed of their performance schedules, there is no evidence that the plaintiffs engaged in any type of private marketing. (They) did not have personal websites, business cards, or professional photographs… They were required to comply with numerous rules and policies established by the club.”
But the news for the ladies who now have rights once stripped from them, gets even better. Kirpalani separately granted class certification status to the plaintiffs. This means about 80 current and former dancers can claim damages.
Where will the money come from to pay these damages? I suggest the owners buy jock straps, learn to pose, posture, and work that pole. If they get a good gimmick, they might just pull it off.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also a historian and author of 18 best-selling business books.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone
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