Besides That Non-Go-Go Dancing People Don?t Generally Like Go-Go Dancers
60s style Go-go dancing may evoke a girl in tall white boots and a day-glo mini dress; but it evolved into something completely different by the time the 90s rolled around.
I haven?t written a ton about go-go dancing my way through school, because for a long time, I was kind of embarrassed about it.
But I worked as a real deal New Jersey go-go dancer from about 1996 to 2001.
Here I am, age 18.
I was 18 years old when I ventured out to L.A. to meet my dad, who I didn?t grow up with and hadn?t seen for a few years, and visit the West Coast for the first time.
It was kind of a disaster and a very lonely chapter in my life.
Photos taken around this time show me looking how I felt.
I quickly ran low on money and with what I had left, bought a decrepit but sturdy Volvo and drove back to my old familiar East Coast to be with my mom and go to college, with her help.
?Rosie?, one of my favorite early cars.
When I got home, I was disappointed to find that her financial situation wouldn?t allow for her to help me with college after all, and in fact, she would need me to watch my three younger sisters while she worked to support them.
I sat my sisters for a few months, wondering how college would be a reality for me.
I applied for part-time jobs at restaurants, a book store, hotels and whatever I could find in the local Jersey shore town during the off-season, but I wasn?t a fit anywhere.
Then one day, while perusing the classifieds, I saw an ad that said, ?Make $$$$$$$$$? followed by a phone number.
Always a bright kid, I quickly called, thinking, ?I want $$$$$$$$?.
On the other end was a lady with a raspy voice that sounded like she was simultaneously smoking 1000 cigarettes. I could smell the cats over the phone.
She told me that she would need to meet me in person, and that I could come in for an interview in two days.
I was so nervous to go meet her. What would I bring? What would I say? What would I wear?
I showed up with a few of my finest undies and bras in a bag, my feet in clunky chunky heels, the only pair I had.
Her apartment, as I?d surmised, was a dark, cat-fur covered den of cigarette smoke.
She asked me some questions ? why do you want to do this? I said I needed a job that wouldn?t interfere with babysitting my sisters during my mom?s work hours.
She criticized my stripper attire. She said I?d need to buy a beeper so she could get in touch with me when she needed to. She said I?d need to buy some new outfits for the stage, but that the undies would work for now. She explained that I?d pay her a fee of $10 for every bar she sent me to.
She asked me when I could start. I said ?tonight?.
So she sent me to some black-lighted hovel out in the woods of New Jersey. It was about an hour away from where I was living at the time. My trusty old car got me there to the tunes of Liz Phair?s ?Exile In Guyville?.
Getting on stage for the first time was petrifying and exhilarating in the same moment.
I felt shy, dancing in my skivvies in front of a bunch of strangers, but after a few songs, my confidence began to stabilize.
The men there weren?t hideous and scary, as I had expected them to be. Most of them were younger, jock-y type guys. They all pronounced water like ?wooder? and lived off various Garden State Parkway exits.
That night, I learned my first go-go dancing based lesson ? that I could do anything I had to to survive.
Lessons come in all shapes, sizes and go go bars.
Over the months, my confidence, which had always been rather low, rose on a sharp incline.
Something about getting paid loads of cash money doing something as essentially easy and basic as dancing gave it a much-needed boost.
Also, I got a mental push from the idea that, I was in a jam, financially, and perhaps cosmically, but I could toss my fears aside and do what needed to be done, even something that some considered to be ?taboo?, to make money, if I had to.
The psychological and emotional ramifications of dancing didn?t bother me. I didn?t feel like I was doing anything wrong. I didn?t feel naughty. I didn?t feel bad. I didn?t feel creepy. I felt like a young woman who wanted to go to school, who needed money to do that, who found what seemed to me to be a pretty easy way to make that money to get me to the next chapter of my life.
And money I made.
I learned my second lesson as time went on: that I could use my feminine wiles to easily earn a lot of money.
?If only more women could earn this kind of money doing what would be considered an ?honest job?,? I often contemplated after a long night, a thick stack of 5s, 10s and 20s tucked safely away into my bag.
I imagined I?d need a doctorate to make the kind of money I made go-go dancing, and that kind of education was far away, if possible for me, at all.
To someone like me, a girl from a lower-middle-class family with almost no college graduates in my circle, it seemed like a degree like that just wasn?t a reality.
But to me, dancing felt like a beacon.
Most nights I made a few hundred dollars; anywhere from $300-$500, minus the cat lady?s $10 cut. My record was about $1000 or so in a night.
I never had to do anything ?gross?, like touch anyone or let them touch me, though there were some instances where men got handsier than I would have liked and I was too immature and scared to be more assertive.
Dealing with bold men taught me yet another lesson???that I still had a long way to go before I would have a confident voice, or before I could truly be courageous.
But looking back, I can see how go-go dancing cemented the foundation for me to be the more outspoken and verbally capable person I am today.
As I hustled nightly, I began to make serious money. A drawer in my dresser became my bank. It was heaped full of tall piles of ones, fives, tens, twenties, fifties and hundreds.
It made me feel good to open it up and look inside.
It felt too easy.
I even got a steady gig working a few shifts a week at one of the clubs I?d been stationed at by cat lady.
Around this time, my mom began to become suspicious.
I hadn?t told her about my evening gig, because I didn?t want to upset her or get into trouble.
I told her I was bartending.
?Bartending, huh??, she asked. I stupidly told her the name of the club I was ?bartending? at: Kitty?s in Trenton.
One night, she called in to check in on me. ?Is Jessica there?? she inquired. ?Jessica? Hm. Nope. No Jessica here. Oh, wait???You mean Eva??
The gig was up.
When I came in that night around 2 a.m., my mom was waiting. She busted me and I confessed. She responded by kicking me out.
So I took my giant pile of money and I left.
I learned the lesson that night that Moms always know. They always know.
I had enough money at that point to get an apartment near the college I wanted to go to and get enrolled.
I got myself set up in school and began to try to switch gears from a high-paid booty shaker to a full-time art student.
If only I?d had help from someone to direct me to wisely use the many thousands I?d saved, I could have bought property, paid my bills with more responsibility and avoided amassing a large debt.
Lessons learned???We could all use a little guidance, coupled with, I wasn?t as smart or as mature as I thought I was as a teenager. How could I have been?
Instead, feeling confident that I was able to coast on the money I?d saved, I returned to a more chill life of working at jobs that didn?t pay well and going into debt but getting good grades.
When the debt got to be too much, I?d return to go-go dancing to make more money but fall behind in my studies because 2 a.m. nights and 8 a.m. classes don?t mix.
I struggled along like that for months, and found myself falling deeper into debt.
The months and years of go-go dancing were finally beginning to take an emotional and physical toll.
An existential crisis was on the horizon.
End of part 1.
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