Your Reaction is Not About Me
| by Haley Robertson |
I became a stripper late in life, according to club standards. I was about to turn 30 and had been doing burlesque fairly regularly for a couple years when I decided it was finally time to strap on a pair of clear heels and do some lap dances. I did my research, bought a few skimpy outfits and nervously drove to the carefully chosen club, where I thought I would be the best fit, during audition hours.
The process was fairly simple. I filled out an application, picked a stage name, and showed all my id’s to prove I was over 18. After all the paperwork, I was told to go change into my outfit and take the stage, but when I emerged from the dressing room I was met with a confused scowl from the door manager and quickly shuffled into the club manager’s office.
He looked me up and down and sighed.
“I am sure you are a nice girl with a good head on her shoulders…”
(I like to think so and yes.)
“But you are too heavily tattooed to work here. The owner likes to keep the girls more ‘traditional’ looking. He would be concerned you would draw in a biker crowd.”
(I was only about half as tattooed as I am currently and hilariously enough, I am now a biker crowd favorite – he was on to something.)
I thanked the manager and asked what club would be a good match for me. He gave me his recommendation and when I arrived there that evening I was hired on the spot and have become a successful stripper who loves her job. The job provides me with enough money to live more than comfortably, gives me valuable stage time, and has taught me a metric shit ton of life lessons – the most important being “it’s not about you.”
“It’s not about me” – I am met with rejection every day in the club, including my first failed audition. A general appearance rule was not a personal attack against me, it was simply a club’s preference to curate an environment filled with non-tattooed dancers. The rejection just meant I would not be a good fit to the overall aesthetic. Same goes for every shift I work – I am not a performer for everyone, but that never means I am not good enough. It just means I am not what they are looking for at the moment.
This (hard) reality has actually become something that has freed me to be more myself in my burlesque performances. “It’s not about me” has allowed me to let go of comparing myself to other performers and to instead LEARN from them and give myself some artistic breathing room. If I do not get accepted into a show or festival or for a private gig it does not indicate I am somehow less than – I am continually trying to improve, but maybe I am not yet performing at the skill level the producer is looking for, and that is their right as a producer. And just for sake of clarity I am only referring to professional rejection. Body shaming/discrimination/racism is never anyone’s right and should never be tolerated. But, honestly, every event is not looking for a heavily tattooed, bald showgirl who dances to “Stranglehold.” So work harder and keep trying. It is not about you, people are creating a vision and you may not be a good representation of that vision. But, you may be something they are looking for in the future. Or maybe you won’t be. It is not about you.
In a more abstract way “it’s not about me” has made me a better burlesque performer in helping me direct my intention. An audience does not pay good money to see a performer work through their personal problems or put some self-congratulatory, circle jerk on stage. They come to get transported away from their day jobs, early mornings, and business casual attire. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from the show “Carnivale.” A fortune teller is explaining the mystique of the circus to a new recruit – “You know, the people in these towns, they’re asleep. All day, at work, at home. They’re sleepwalkers. We wake them up.” Audiences deserve a magical experience. They deserve to see a fantasy not a therapy session or a half assed pageant. They deserve to “wake up” in a beautiful dream. It is not about you. It is about them and how much you respect their attention and time, while creating a lovely spectacle for them. When you are in front of them, your bad day/broken nail/4 hours of sleep do not matter. It is not about you. It is about the experience you create in their honor that is bigger than you.
All this said, I never want a performer to misinterpret this lesson on self as a mantra of unimportance. All my hours in a loud, musty club have taught me quite the opposite. What any performer does is important. But in these dark cabarets and VIP rooms people are not seeking me out for my sense of self, accomplishments, or titles – it is not about me. They come to me because of how I make them feel. Or sometimes reject me for the same reason. People want to share an atmosphere or an emotion and sometimes I am not what they need. Producers want an artist to help create a feeling or experience and sometimes I am the conduit they need. But knowing that my success or confidence does not lie just in their opinions is the true essence of “it’s not about me.” Knowing that I can work hard and honor my art and audience the best way I know how and have the freedom to realize I cannot control other people’s opinions of me is the most honest lesson I relearn through daily rejections. Because it is not about me.