Go ahead. Laugh. Prove yourself one of the mindless majority that clings to dated notions of strippers (hereupon known as "exotic dancers") as uneducated sluts and drug bimbos. Then brace yourself for the naked truth: In the gospel according to Jewels, exotic dancing isn't cheap and it isn't dirty; it's just entertainment and even art--art practiced by an increasing number of goal-oriented single parents, college students and other assorted dreamers of brighter futures.
What, then, to make of Jewels' Exotic Dancing Guidebook, this magnum opus, this almanac of the bare-all recently accepted for publication and destined to join the ranks of character-instilling tomes on acting, writing and life itself?
"I'm really hoping I'll make a mark with this book," Jewels says.
Her testament covers the same ground she has uncovered in her work as an image consultant for fellow dancers--business technique, sales strategies, customer relations, what to cart around in one's tote bag. There are chapters on stage makeup, club contracts, people who go to adult establishments, time management, dance positions, how to avoid burnout and the weighty "Understanding How Liquor Regulations Affect Adult Nightclubs and Exotic Employees."
"Research," she writes without elaborating, "shows you have only seven seconds to make your first impression!"
So, a little bit about Jewels: According to her resum, her first impressions are 36/24/36, or at least they were before recent enhancement surgery. Born in Reno, Nevada, she has doffed costumes in Las Vegas, Southern California, Phoenix and Tucson, where she attended Catalina High School. She is coy about her age, but suffice it to say she does not remember John F. Kennedy's assassination. She lives in Tucson with her 10-year-old, high-achieving daughter Gabriella, with whom she participates in many community functions.
"We've done so much volunteer work and been involved in so many good things," she says. "And basically, it's all been funded through table dances."
That same goodwill was behind her decision to pen this book, the terms of which she is still hammering out with Noble House of Baltimore ("A division of American Literary Press, Inc."). Jewels means to educate her undulating sisters who otherwise would be left alone in this competitive business, as she was, to blindly learn the ropes, or other props of their choosing. (In Chapter 3, she lists such options as honey, chocolate syrup, fluorescent body paint, jungle scenery, fire shows and water-filled kiddy pools.)
But also she wants to share with you, the American public, what she has learned, to break down long-held taboos about the craft, to question societal repression of sexuality. She went to a writers convention, she says, and her manuscript was never put down--it got passed around and around, like a joint. It is for men who want to understand the exotic dancer's point of view (and to find out whether it's illustrated); it is for women who want to try it at home.
"Actually," Jewels says, "it's a book for everybody to read."
Jewels teaches that the exotic face is bold, self-assured and richly groomed. She recommends the use of a Loofah sponge as a body-washing treat. In her dancer's guidelines, she admonishes: "In case of an error in the music, do not, for any reason, stop dancing onstage to make a comment or complaint to the DJ."
And in Chapter 10, "Methods to Use on the Job for Success," she advises: "Sit with customers. When you sit with customers for more than a song or two, however, they do not need to buy a dance from you. So while you are sitting there free, you are wasting your marketing time on the floor. This is not income-producing, which is the very essence for your being there."
From the lexicon:
For me, erotic dancing is the scent of an oil fragrance, it is shamelessly enjoying running my fingers through my soft, satin-textured hair. It is a shade of lipstick gliding smoothly across my lips, the look of a picked wildflower wilting in my hand, the feel of water trickling about my feet as I stand in a river bed ...
Our attitude empowers us to guide audiences toward wanton behavior. Exotic dancers sway, bend, tilt and kneel in front of a viewer, seductively and rhythmically moving to the beat of a song with the same unhurried but determined manner while unfastening the tightly hooked silk bra and gently releasing the fabric away from the breast, while knees, ankles, bellies, backs and butts remain bare. The viewer ... believes there is no greater beauty than the exhibition with a certain state of nakedness ...
A certain state of nakedness! No greater beauty! Ankles and bellies and butts, oh, my! But of course! With a few delicate strokes, she probes to the heart of the matter, past the two-drink minimums and lunch specials, past the stiletto heels and dark, mercantile corners: Appreciation of the female form, that's all it is. Forget those images you have of lonely guys on business trips, giddy college geeks and city councilmen supposedly on research expeditions. See them instead as art connoisseurs.
You could ask: Why strippers? (Shame on you.) Why not guidebooks for other jobs, such as convenience-store clerks, or those silly bathroom attendants in yuppie bars? Are these not also people in search of direction, worker bees longing to be butterflies?
You could ask, but then you would miss the point. There is a larger power at work here, the fulfillment of a role, something more meaningful than the sale of Twinkies or the swift provision of a paper towel--it is the very interlocking of biological forces.
So says Jewels.
"It's a basic instinct. For men, the first appeal is sight. A man has to come up and say hello to a woman before she'll notice. It's a basic human, man-woman thing. So the reversal is, a man actually enjoys a woman coming up to him and saying, 'Would you like a dance?' He likes being able to say yes or no."
This is something she learned on her first night in a club, which came about after she saw her husband's car parked outside one during the separation that would lead to their divorce. At the time, she was modeling and doing bit parts in commercials while operating an elderly care home, a real go-go-getter.
"I had no idea these places even existed," she says, and if her tongue is in cheek, it is not apparent over the phone. "I came from a Christian background; I'd be the last person you'd think would be in there. But I said to myself, 'What do these girls have that I don't have?'"
So she went into one and found out. She was startled at first, but as she sat and watched, the manager explained to her both the primal and capitalistic forces at work.
"I realized these girls were businesswomen just like me," she says. "I didn't see them as doing something wrong, because if they're doing something wrong, then the men must really be doing something wrong, and they weren't doing anything wrong, because it was legal."
On top of that, you could make a lot of money and, golly, once you've modeled in revealing clothes and played a bit part in a low-budget William Baldwin movie, it's really not that big of a stretch to bare your breasts for strangers, when in fact a lot of them weren't strange at all.
Her dad said: What if a friend sees you?
She said: Dad, everybody goes in there.
"Everywhere I looked, it was like, 'Don't I know you from somewhere?' The neighbors from down the street, the clerk from Walgreens."
She had married into a jewelry business, and so she adopted the name Jewels.
"My role is to entertain," Jewels says. "Not to seduce, not to play head games, not to promise anything more than a table dance. ... It's not a dating service.
"And when I come home, I'm a good role model to my daughter."
From "The Flame," a poem by Jewels:
I am the fire, I create the flame ... he sits ... he watches me 'til dawn, and he will never be the same.
This, his fantasy ... his spark in the night ... and I ... the creator of the flame. We will never be the same.
For a while, Jewels' oldest sister had a problem with Jewels' newfound profession, but Jewels explained that she was merely the leather-and-lace continuation of centuries of tradition. She recounts bits of body-flashing history in the concluding chapter of her book--bordellos in Italy, public bathing in France. And if you check the Old Testament, she says, the kings had their dancers, and there were belly dancers in Egypt.
"I took Bible history when I was in high school," Jewels says. "That was one of the things we learned about."
But you don't have to be a king to get intoher show--heck, any guy with a $10 bill canimagine himself, if only for the length of a ZZ Top tune, to be a modern-day Nebuchadnezzar, hangin' with the babes in Babylon.
Jewels plans to display the results of her recent operation for only another year or two, by which time she expects her book to be a success. Then she will be strictly a consultant, a faucet of wisdom. And of course there will be, who knows, book tours, signings, a sequel, the movie starring Sherilyn Fenn, the calendar, the "music inspired by" CD collection--the possibilities are just endless.
In the meantime, a busy slate can't bump aside one's priorities.
"No matter how tight your schedule," she writes, "it is important to live up to your beauty potential. Eyes smolder darkly, the mouth is molded into a lush point, eyebrows arch divinely, fingernails glitter, and the total image is a vision of loveliness."
People think exotic dancers take a risk in displaying their bodies, but the real risk, she says in her book, is developing one's sexual image and self-concept. "It is a journey," she writes, "a process of learning to release one's self."
Once her book hits the shelves, she will share that journey with us all.