Thursday, August 18, 2011

Teaching Rose

Okay, so this blog was not meant to honor friends who have passed, but I did just lose another and there is a short story already written from when we met many years ago.

Rose lead a long full eccentric life. I met her because she wanted me to teach her how to strip. She was 71 at the time. I learned so much from her and lost touch with her in recent years, but just got the email. This story is one of my favorite ones and was published in a few different anthologies so I figured I'd post it in honor of the Beautiful Rose.

Teaching Rose by Jill Morley

She met me at the door in a black sequined thong bikini and white feather boa. Not what I expected. Don't get me wrong, I knew she wanted to learn erotic dance, but at seventy-one, you'd think she'd want to take it slow. Not Rose.

She had approached me after one of my theatre performances. Said she liked the way I danced and asked if I taught stripping. She had been fascinated with it after going to a strip club with a male friend a few years before, and had been looking for a teacher ever since. She was just now getting the courage to do it. A little late in life, she admitted, but figured she could still dance for women, since men "probably wouldn't want to see an old bag like me", dance erotically. Even though she was in good shape and looked about forty-five, she knew men liked their beer cold and their women young. But she wanted to make a statement. And she wanted to do it topless.

I never taught stripping before. The concept seemed counter-intuitive. I even told her the moves basically came from a feeling and it was a matter of connecting to that feeling. Not hours of learning endless choreography. In a way, I felt deceitful agreeing to teach her this trade for forty dollars an hour. For me and most strippers it is strictly on-the-job training. Connecting to the female instinct, right there on the playing field. My definition of erotic dancing would be: The ability to generate a magnetic sexual pull with one's hips.

The thought crossed my mind that she could be an old lesbian having her kinky little way with me, but I figured it wouldn't be too bad. Another notch in my G-String. Besides I wanted to ask her what "fascinated" her about it. At twenty-eight, I quit actual go-go dancing two years ago and I'm over it. The novelty played itself out. I do an autobiographical performance piece using this dance, but I always look forward to the end when I can put my jeans and T-shirt back on. How could this woman of seventy-one get all giddy over getting naked in public the way I did at twenty-three?

Rose had watched my show attentively in the front row, hands folded on her lap. Dressed in a black silk button down blouse and slacks, she looked like she could have been one of my Mom's neighbors in suburban New Jersey. She had dark wiry hair and wore big eyeglasses that took up much of her face. Despite her age, she was rapt in a gaze, like a small child studying a bug on a flower.

I was a little nervous riding my bike to her apartment on the day of our first lesson, but also laughed to myself. I had no idea what I would teach her. Just figured I would turn the music on and take it from there. For comfort, I wore sweats, sneakers, and put my hair in a ponytail. Yes, I dress for comfort now. I paused just before knocking on the door.

She opened the door wide exposing much of her body to any neighbor who might have been passing in the hall. Hi Jill, is this okay to work in?" she asked. Her choice of weaponry was a black sequined bikini with fishnets.

"Uh, yeah, sure." I actually got a little self conscious and hoped she didn't expect me to really strip down the way she was. I totally thought she'd be in workout clothes, but God bless her. There she was.

"I got it at Patricia Fields on sale," she said proudly as she flipped her boa over her shoulder. Pat Fields was where all the strippers shopped. We even got discounts just for being strippers. I could tell Rose was working on being an insider.

Her body was surprisingly shapely and strong. She told me she had been doing yoga, weight lifting, and taking a Pilates class to increase her strength and flexibility. Her back and arms were strong, her legs shapely, and her figure hourglass. There was barely any sort of varicose vein action happening, or loose skin. She told me she just had her breasts done six months before so they would look firm again for topless dancing. Her surgeon asked why she was getting them done at her age. When she told him, he thought she was nuts, but wished her luck. One of her young gay male friends, Daryl, nursed her while she was in recovery. The breasts did look firm, but each had a scar going from the nipple to just under the curve of the breast. She planned on getting tattoos to cover up the scars. Maybe roses.

Already, she was experimenting with stick-on tattoos. Today, she had a dragon on her thigh and black nail polish on her toenails. No piercings, but the lady was hardcore. Beat up combat boots stood in a corner of her living room. Most of her boyfriends, she said, were a lot younger than her, sometimes half her age. The men her age usually sat on park benches outside her building feeding pigeons. She couldn't exactly relate to that. The blacksheep of her family, she was always known for doing her own thing. Her family accepted her, but thought Rose eccentric.

All her life, she said, she had a good body and would get catcalls when she walked down the street. She loved that. "Lived off" that. A natural exhibitionist, she likened herself to a peacock. Rose wanted to prove that it was never too late to learn something new, even if it was a senior citizen taking up erotic dancing.

A real estate broker, Rose also ran a bed and breakfast out of her apartment. She charged seventy-five dollars a night.

"I thought we could work in the guest room because one of the walls is mirrored," she said, as her high heels plunged into the carpet with each step.

"Are these heels high enough?" Rose asked.

"They'll do," I said encouragingly, "Besides we'll worry about costuming you later. Let's just get to the dancing."

Rose beamed as she pressed play on the box, giving us some Toni Braxton tunes. She told me how sexy Daryl was when he danced to this CD. He had made her a tape of it. We had to play it loudly because the battery on her hearing aid was getting weak. Standing on the sparse, blue-carpeted room facing the mirror, I started the gyrations first. Shifting my weight from side to side in faded grey sweats, I showed her how to move her hips in figure eights, a staple move. She was a little off at first, but eventually picked up the rythym, arms dangling at her sides. I told her we'd get to arms later and not to feel odd about touching her body. Watching me in the mirror, she copied my every move. Once in a while, her heels would get stuck in the carpet.

Then we did another one she calls "the wave" where you isolate your body much like a cobra. We did both of those moves in repertory for about an hour. She started to get the hang of it before I left and she thanked me for my time. She said she was glad she could learn it that way instead of embarrassing herself somewhere. Then she showed me her breasts up close, and told me of her tattoo endeavors.

As our once-a-week lessons continued, Rose got a lot better, started using her arms more, and yes, we even got into floorwork. At one point, both of us were lying on our backs facing the mirror, legs spread eagle, my feet clad in sneakers, hers in heels. She was loving it. She told me she was really into raunch. That this other woman had taught her burlesque moves but it didn't satisfy her. Spreading her legs in a thong bikini in front of her guest room mirror seemed to do the trick. She started experimenting with costumes- red evening gowns, pink spandex, and feather boas. She became expertly skilled at taking off her top and tossing it effortlessly into the air revealing her newly firm breasts. She'd smirk and a little spark in her eyes would go off whenever she did this maneuver, making it even more of an event.

After four months, the time had come. I told Rose I was throwing a party and would like her to dance there. Other people were go-going and she was definitely ready. I knew my friends would love her. Flattered that I would ask, she asked all kinds of questions, like what should she wear? Should she show up in costume or change when she got there? How many sets should she do? Was she to strip completely naked? Would people be tipping? All sensible stripper questions.

The affair was a glamorous one at a small club in Soho. A designer friend made metallic dresses for some of my girlfriends to wear. Some of the boys were wearing vinyl pants or suits. Many ladies arrived wearing boas, including Rose. She came with Daryl, who was there to cheer her on. Girls were already on the platforms dancing when she arrived. She picked a seat on a red velvet couch right next to the bikini clad dancing girls and deliberately studied their moves.

"You can get changed in the back when you're ready," I said. An hour later after careful observation, she changed into this black lace catsuit with a black bra and thong underneath it. She looked hot. When she came out, a lot of men were staring at her. Not in a who-does-that-old-broad-think-she-is? way, but in a who-is-she? way.

I guided Rose to the platform and helped her up. Once she was there, she squinted at the colored lights for a millisecond before her exhibitionism kicked in, and then gyrated like nobody's business. Blue and red lights showered her body as she danced. Running her hands over her black lace catsuit, she did the wave. Then, slithering sensuously, she held the wall and stuck her ass out, a move I never taught her, but was a classic. Several people gathered around to watch. She definitely looked like an older woman, but she was so sexy that it made me wish I had an army of older strippers dancing on platforms around the room surround sounding us in experience and sensuality. A few men and women went up to tip her.

"She is hot!" my friend Paul said.

"There is no way she is seventy-one," my friend Val said.

"You go girl!" her friend Daryl said.

She slid the catsuit down over her shoulders to her waist. Then she pulled her bra straps over her shoulders, holding the boa over her breasts. She popped the bra and threw it into the cheering crowd, eyes glinting mischief. With much finesse, she lifted the boa up in the air revealing her toplessness and rose tattoos. More cheers, applause, and dollars thrown her way. Rose was a hit.

After her dance, she covered her deflowered breasts and thanked me profusely for the opportunity. I could tell from the sweat on her brow and the glow in her face that she was buzzed from all the excitement. Several people asked her questions and complimented her bravery. When she got dressed, she thanked me again.

She later told me that before she got up on the platform, she was in a state of terror. But made herself do it anyway. A total stripper trait. Only, she did it without drugs or alcohol, unlike my old dancing days. The reaction from the crowd, she said, was unexpected, but inspiring. She went home very satisfied and eager to do it again. She also told me that she had made twelve dollars that night. Unfolded them on her living room couch and stared at them for hours. Rose said she didn't think she could ever spend them. Not in a million years.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Remembering Susan...

Holy Crap. Summer is two thirds passed.

No time to blog what with all the corporate video work, family stuff, little trips here and there and finally.....

I am so close to finishing the film, I can taste it. While it is tasting good, it is a bit daunting to finally put it out there.

It has been five years since I started it and have been blessed with getting extremely talented, dynamic people to be in it as well as to work on it.

I can't wait to showcase the stories of these inspirational women who I have had the honor of training with and getting to know as friends. I know they will be in my life forever and for that, I am grateful.

On the other hand, I am nervous about revealing my own personal story since I "went there" and am being completely honest about some events that happened in my life that most people don't know about. Also, about certain feelings that I have that I am not proud of.

Yes, almost all of my work contains autobiographical elements, but it's still difficult to separate myself from the story enough to put it out there...if that makes any sense. I suppose the amount of time that has passed while putting together the film is helpful in this regard.

My last film, "Stripped," took seven years to make so I suppose I am getting faster as a filmmaker.

I was forced to revisit that film and that time in my life last week. One of the girls in "Stripped" went missing the day after I interviewed her. That was 15 years ago. Her name was Susan Walsh and all of the cop shows, Unsolved Mystery shows and even talk shows did stories on her disappearance.

Susan was a writer who was stripping to pay the bills, support herself and her son who was twelve at the time. She had just lost twelve years of sobriety because she found it too painful to "dance" without the alcohol. She was also bipolar, off her meds and flirting with extremely unsavory characters - drug dealers and people who claimed to be in "the mob." Basically, she was on a downward spiral that ended the way most downward spirals do. The fact that they never found her body has always bothered me.

There is a new show on the Discovery Channel called "Disappeared" and they wanted to do a story on this 15 year old cold case so they called me in for an interview. I have not had to talk about this in a very long time. In one way, it was great to remember my experiences with Susan, how smart she was, what a talented writer she was, and how funny she was. On the other hand, I could feel her pain of having to work as a stripper when she was completely over it. My theory is that you can have your journey with that kind of work. You use it until it uses you. When it starts to use you, you need to get the hell out. Otherwise, bad things happen. In this case, it was a really bad thing.

During the two hour interview, I realized that while time has passed and the pain of losing her has subsided over the years, I could still feel her spirit and remember the way she draped her body over a chair when she sat, how she gingerly lit her cigarettes or laughed shaking her hair out of her eyes. In a strange way, it was kind of like a visit with her.

Documentary films are time capsules filled with people and events. While they suck as a business, real stories keep drawing me in. I don't know what I'll be interested in next. Right now, I still love boxing, female fighters, teaching little girls how to box and getting to know all the personal stories of those involved in the fight biz.

Being attracted to the extreme has its setbacks, but the rewards of getting to know the people in these subversive worlds is priceless.