How I Became a Dancer


In the spring of 1975 I quit my job as an administrative assistant to a group of Baltimore architects and gave myself an extended vacation in Maine. I was divorced and very frustrated with the dating scene in Baltimore which seemed oriented around married older career men and young, hopeful, not very smart women. My best friend who had hired me for the position was having an extended relationship with our married boss, which I saw as revolting. She got very excited about the “black pearls” he gave her and the vacations they took where he could show off her gorgeous youthful body and his hideous elderly one at sun-drenched locations.

I myself had an unhappy relationship with the unmarried art director (we actually lived together for awhile) which was obviously going nowhere and I was drinking too much. He got fired (not sure why) and his subsequent meltdown gave me a good excuse to get out of there.

My parents had just bought a house on Round the Mountain Road, Vinalhaven Island, that they hoped would allow them to live on the island year-round, our property on the shore being more of a “camp”. This house had water access, a boathouse, and a fantastic greenhouse off the dining room filled with spectacular camellias. Just after my parents bought it my father was surprised to be offered a job by Pennsylvania’s governor Milton Shapp to manage the finances of his presidential campaign. My parents rushed down to Washington where the action was and rented an amazing two bedroom, two bathroom apartment on the sixteenth floor of Veazey Towers overlooking Rock Creek Park.

Dad offered to pay me to winter in the Round the Mountain Road house and keep the camellias alive (which I successfully did, in spite of having no gardening aptitude whatsoever.) I set up my office in the greenhouse and wrote my first novel, Devlyn, surrounded by all the Victorian novels I had ever admired. I wanted to cash in on the trend and write a “gothic” novel, but the fun for me was, could I write a real Victorian novel? It was a treat to try. I had a great idea in the fact that one of my favorite authors Thomas Love Peacock, friend of Shelley and author of Nightmare Abbey, had actually adopted an impoverished village girl and treated her like a daughter. The question was, why? And what happened next?

I spent the winter writing it out and getting an agent. I had an abortive relationship with an unmarried local realtor who turned out to have extremely primitive relationship ideas (ugh) and I was offered a serious relationship by the handsomest man on the island, a real sweetie of a fisherman. But to stay, permanently on Vinalhaven Island! To be a fisherman’s wife! Couldn’t imagine it. Turned him down gracefully (we hadn’t even dated) and he went on to marry the prettiest and worst-behaved girl on the island who led him a nightmare dance of several years until their subsequent divorce and he’s now happily married to a career-woman divorcee (with children) who can’t believe her good fortune. This hothouse trap is what islands are like and I knew to stay away. One of my previous colleague architects (whom I really knew only in passing) drove all the way up from Baltimore and suffered an hour ferry ride to the island to visit me with romance on his mind. But he was married! So by spring I was more than ready to trade houses with Mom and Dad and move down to their apartment in Washington, D.C. and see if I could scare up an interesting job. (They had to leave when Milt Shapp’s finances went under investigation by the FBI.) My sister Avril left Wilmington College in Ohio for the summer and joined me.

I certainly knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be office handmaid to a group of professional men offering low salaries and zero vacation. I considered working for an environmental group, selling art on commission in a gallery, and I tried out an employment agency whose offered jobs were never what they said they were. When I found a classified ad
for go-go dancers I was intrigued. After all, I did have a background in dance, having studied at Martha Graham in NYC and the Philadelphia Academy of Dance and I loved dancing at clubs. Avril and I went to the agency to “audition” and met Deedee, its proprietor. The job was wearing bikinis and go-go boots and dancing for the troops at military installations around Washington. There were a lot of venues! Two “gigs” were possible a day – afternoon and evening – and they would be only an hour to two hours, shared with another dancer. Bet of all, you only worked when you wanted to! Avril couldn’t stomach the idea, (she took a job dispatching messengers) but I was willing to try it.

It certainly was an interesting experience! I drove everywhere, to bases, Navy Yards, officers’ clubs, hospitals and air stations. The men were extremely polite and sometimes tipped. I learned to navigate the Washington DC area, and even briefly dated a naval lieutenant I met at an officer’s club in Virginia. My free-wheeling Quaker/artistic/peacenik background clashed horribly with his career plans, however.

Most interesting were the other dancers. All of them were career dancers who combined occasional gigs for Deedee’s agency with dancing in local clubs. I soon discovered the clubs in Virginia were considered the best because the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms vigilantes enforced audience distance from the dancers, who stayed in the dressing room when not on stage. Stockings, pasties and g-string were the required outfit, and the money was better than anything Deedee could pay. Three dancers worked per hour, so a set was twenty minutes. Less driving, more money, and a physical workout. It sounded good to me! My sister and I rented a three bedroom house in Chevy Chase, I auditioned for the Ad Lib in Alexandria, Virginia and was hired by Gentleman Jim, the manager. That’s how I got started dancing.

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