From Ballerina to Rocking the Pole

Something that provokes curiosity in both the other girls and customers alike is how does someone go from being a good Muslim girl to a stripper in the first place? While I can’t speak for the few other Muslim dancers I have heard about, I can attempt to explain my own story and a bit of Anushka’s since she was the one who lead me into it. Truth be told, it was a slow process. I’ll start with our first transition from classical dancer/non-dancer to a rather modern type.

When I was little, I used to do ballet. I was fairly good at it and moved up grades with relative speed. I often got a lead role in the end of term show and even won some competitions back in the day. This was put to an end when hit puberty at around twelve and I began to develop hips, a bum and a hint of bosom. Several of my aunts began hinting to my parents that perhaps I was a bit old to be doing this type of dancing as I had to wear such form fitting gear. My parents eventually agreed and forbid me to carry on dancing. I loved ballet and was deeply saddened by this.  I now know that it is in fact possible to pursue ballet while wearing more appropriate clothing. A quick Google on “Muslim dancer” or “Muslim ballerina” can show you.

 

 

Once I was in my first year at university, I had a quick look through all the different sports and activities offered at the Sports Union. Seeing that they did ballet classes, I immediately knew which I wanted to do. No one could stop me from dancing now!

I told Anushka, one of my flatmates, that I had decided to take up ballet again and how excited I was by it. Her eyes lit up and she suggested we do some type of dancing together. Since she had never done ballet before, we decided to choose something we were both beginners at so we could be in the same class.

The Sports Union at uni didn’t have a suitable ballet class for me since they were all aimed at beginners. Anushka and I then started to search for a local dance center where I could find a good ballet class and where we could find a class that the two of us liked. We found one and began to search through all the differnt kinds of lessons they offered. Salsa? Nah. Ballroom? Nope. Tap and jazz? Meh. Then Anushka caught sight of something that made her almost squeal. “Oh look Henna, they do pole dancing! How cool it that!” I eyed her suspiciously, nope sure if she was being sarcastic or was genuinely intrigued by the pole dancing classes. “Seriously, pole dancing? No offence, but I think you’s make a really funny pole dancer. In fact. so would I.”

This made her grin more. “Exactly! Let’s do it for a laugh! Look, it’s an all girls’ class, so no harm in doing it. And besides, I hear it’s really good exercise. Pole is probably much better at toning all your muscles than ballet.”

She had a point. Plus, it would be funny to see the look on people’s faces whenever we told them we did pole dancing. It was decided. Plus, it turns out you can also do pole dancing while modestly dressed. It’s just much harder to grip onto the pole.

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Pole dancing is great fun and really is fantastic for the body. I also know a few blokes who take pole dancing just to tone up and increase their overall strength. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your average Muslimah taking pole lessons. Most of the girls we took the classes with had never seen the inside of a strip club, let alone worked in one. It is essentially a form of vertical gymnastics that takes years of training to perfect. There were other factors that played a part in Anushka and I turning from vertical gymnasts to fully fledged strippers.

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“You know you’re a stripper when…”

Salaam all.

So, I was having a discussion with some of the other girls while we were getting changed back into our regular clothes. As you may have guessed, we were trying to think up circumstances “when you know you’re a stripper”. Most of the other girls have been in this business a fair bit longer than I have, so they had some fairly interesting ones. While I’m not usually into “listy” posts I feel that this would be a good way to summarise it all.

 

“You know you’re a stripper when…”

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  1. You absent mindedly shove pound notes/dollar bills/ euros into your bra for safe keeping (of course, I also know many non-strippers who do this).
  2. Someone random calls out your stage name and you immediately turn around to it. Even though you’re not working and it isn’t your real name.
  3. You have to think for a moment before introducing yourself to someone or signing your name paperwork.
  4. You know all the local restaurants that are still open past 3am.
  5. You have a full wardrobe for your “normal” self and a separate one for your stripper self.
  6. Your stripper wardrobe could probably complete with a drag queen’s.
  7. You always have new bruises popping up as a result from pole work.
  8. When you can glace at someone’s boobs and can tell whether they’ve had a boob job.
  9. You hear a good song on the radio and immediately think about how you could make it work on stage.
  10. Particular songs remind you of specific clubs you have worked at.
  11. You’re out dancing with friends at a normal club and you have difficulty in not going into “stripper” mode.
  12. You find yourself trying out pole tricks on public signs.
  13. you consider coming home with £200 cash a bad night.
  14. Other people being naked around you seems fairly normal.
  15. Having a stop on your bum is worse than having one on your face.
  16. Jumping  and swinging around in 6-8 inch heels is no longer much of a challenge.

 

Only the last one was my own input. It’ll be interesting to hear if the others come up with any funny ones.

The Highs and Lows of Being Hijabi

There are many reasons why Muslim women and girls choose to wear or not wear a hijab. Each has their own very personal story behind it. Many feel that it gives them respect. That instead of focusing on their beauty or (lack of), people must appreciate them for their intelligence, wit and personality and find wearing the hijab to be liberating. Others do it because they wish to feel closer to Allah and that by wearing one they show their loyalness to him. Some wear it simply because they think it looks good. For me it was partly because I feel culturally connected to the piece, but for the most part because I wanted to show the world that I’m Muslim and not afraid to let everyone know.

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When you wear the hijab, it becomes a part of your identity. Much like being British, female or Muslim. When you pass another hijabi in the street, you acknowledge one another with that knowing smile and an “Assalamu alaikum”. Even if you have never seen this person before in all your life. It’s kind of like a part of a secret sisterhood. Only of course, it isn’t at all secret. Anyone can spot someone wearing hijab miles off. It’s also kind of similar to when you see another person who’s also wearing a t-shirt by your favourite YouTuber, in my case Markiplier, and you give them a high-fiving and complement them on their fantastic taste in TouTube channels (this actually happened once). On a slightly different level of course, but you catch my drift.

The hijab is also great on a superficial level. Don’t feel like styling your hair today? No problem; shove a scarf over it. Don’t feel like washing your hair just yet? Hide it under a brightly coloured scarf. Having one of those days when your hair resembles a troll doll and nothing you do can tame it? You know the answer. Have a hideous pulsing growth on the back of your neck? You should probably get that checked out by a doctor. But in the meantime, shove a scarf over that mofo! Not to mention, there is a near endless possibilities with different colours, patterns and styles. It’s so much easier that cutting and dying your hair all the time. Alternatively, if you DO feel like dying your hair and do a really shitty job like I did once (it was an awful orangey pink) and want no one to see the disaster area on your head, wearing the hijab is also a great way to conceal that.

Having said that, it isn’t always easy wearing one in public in Western countries. I rarely have any trouble here in Scotland. Most people seem to be fairly used to seeing hijabis in my adopted city and I’m treated as normally as I would if I had been wearing a hat. The same goes for London in general. The center is so diverse that you can wear almost any garment from anywhere in the world and still blend in. The part of London I grew up in has a more suburban feel to it with not all that many people who don’t look “native” so to speak. I was never harassed or made to feel unwelcome, but I did attract a lot of stares on a regular basis when I first started wearing my hijab. Then again, that may have been because people were used to seeing me without it.

The the places where I DO get hassled tend to be either in the small villagers where people tend to be naturally insular, the US, Korea and continental Europe.  For example, when I was in Orlando, Florida last year, I had several people come up to me and say along the lines of “Honey, you know you don’t have to wear that anymore? You’re in America!” Why yes! I did know exactly which country I was in. Good for me. I don’t feel badly towards the few who said that. They may have been grossly misinformed, but they were just trying to be helpful. Perhaps I should have let them know that they didn’t have to show their hair if they didn’t want to either. Others were less friendly and told me the usual “Go back to your own country, terrorist!” Unsettling, but again, not too bad.

One of the worst experiences I’ve had while wearing a headscarf in public was on a street in Spain. I was on holiday with several mates and wee were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat at(i.e. minding our own business). I was the only one of us wearing a scarf. We stood chatting for a moment trying to decide whether to pick a restaurant on close by or keep trying to find this particular place for tapas. I noticed a woman staring at me intently slightly further up the road. I figured she was just another starer, so ignored her. We eventually decided on a place and continued to walk up the road, the woman’s eyes still locked onto me. As we were about to pass she called out in Spanish “Why do you wear that? This is Spain, not a place for barbarians. Take that rag off your head!” We then started to move more quickly. She called out again “I said take it off!” and just as I was passing her she lunged forward and grabbed a hold of my hijab, yanking it hard. I yelped in pain a surprise and felt myself flying towards her. She then proceeded to tug at my scarf and hair, chocking me in the process. My friends all tried to bat her off and shouted threats towards her. She became maddened and started to scratch me and bite my ear. In the end I was able to throw her off, knocking the air out of her and we all made a run for it. Needless to say, my pals and I were all in a state of shock straight afterwards.

We found our way to the restaurant and tried to look as composed as possible when the waiter appeared and lead us to our seats. He clearly noticed something was up. He kept glancing at us nervously and asked if we were okay. Once we had all sat down and the dazed feeling started to fade and I felt a sharp pain in my right ear where the mad woman had bitten me. Before long, much to my embarrassment, I started to cry like a little girl. The waiter returned and asked what was wrong and so we (or rather my pals since I was still blubbering like a baby) told him what had just happened outside. He was absolutely wonderful. Not only did he have lots of comforting words and offer to fetch the police, but he organised for my meal to be on the house. I left him a massive tip.

I suppose what it boils down to is that there are both ugly and generous people wherever you go. Nevertheless, it is definitely a different experience when you wear a hijab and when you don’t. It’s a shame how wearing one can bring out the worst in some people. What I find strange is that the same piece of clothing provokes such different reactions depending on whether you wear a scarf over your hair or around your neck. Whether you do or whether you don’t wear it, it is a personal choice to make. Be sure it is for the reasons you feel rather than fear of those around you. The choice is yours and yours alone.

Stripping and Islam

 

 

 

One question I hear fairly regularly is “How can you be both Muslim and a stripper? Is that even possible?” In short, yes. You might not be a very good Muslim of course, but that is up for debate. For many, their idea of a Muslim girl is at most covered by a burqa, at least in a hijab. In other words, very covered! For the most part that is me also. When I’m not “Henna” in my local gentleman’s club, I dress and (for the most part) act like most other Muslim girls. I doubt anyone at uni apart from Anushka would even believe me if I came clean about my night job. Not that I have any such plans to do so.

I think we can all agree that the act of getting your bangers out in exchange for cash is indisputably haraam or forbidden where Islam is concerned. However, I highly doubt it would be enough to send someone to hell on its own. There are many, many different ways in which we can all sin. My guess would be that rape and murder would be somewhere at the top of that list and other acts that cause grievous harm to others. There is a reason why being a stripper is legal in many countries (not many Islamic ones I will admit) and being a rapist or a murderer is not. While exotic dancing is considered amoral by many for various reasons, it does not inflict harm on anyone. It is simply a guilty pleasure, on my part and for my customers. It is something that makes me feel alive in the most bizarre way.

Nowhere in the holy Quran (or Bible for that matter) does is explicitly state that stripping itself is bad. It does however state that women should cover their all but their face and hands, so in that context stripping is indeed bad considering most remove all but their shoes. As far as I can see, this is the only so called crime being committed when someone takes part in public nudity.  I’m sure that must be fairly low on the list of Things that may get one sent to hell. Premarital sex is clearly a no-no and yet many Muslims of the younger generation (especially boys) are guilty of that on numerous occasions. Assuming that there are no “extras” going on in the club, stripping does not actually include sexual acts of any kind.  Sex is certainly implied, that is the nature of the business, but the point is that there is no actual sexual activity going on. Or at least of course there shouldn’t be. I myself haven’t shagged anyone yet and so am in the clear on that one issue.  And yes, being a virgin and a stripper is a very odd combination. The other girls often ask what the hell I’m doing here. And no wonder.

Engaging in sexual acts for money, at a strip club or elsewhere, makes that person a prostitute. Not that I have any issue with prostitutes, so long as they do what they do willingly. It’s just not my cup of tea. You find people in that profession all over the world, including all over the Islamic world. While what they do in considered sinful, I certainly do not believe they should suffer for all eternity for it. After all, a fair exchange is no one’s loss.

There is one particular thing I find confusing.Despite being incredibly modestly dressed nuns are often widely sexualised in pop culture (for the record, I’m a fan of the sexy nun outfit).  Not only is their dress is much the same as modestly dressed Muslim women, but their reasons (i.e. religion) are more or less the same too. Now, I realise that nuns are made sexy simply because it was considered ironic. They are meant to be celibate after all. Yet Muslim women are for the most part are seen as being completely sexless beings, despite the fact that it is certainly easier to find sexy Muslim girls than you would nuns. I find it funny how such a similar dress code has such polar results.

 

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In any case, I do wish that there was less stigma associated with the stripping industry no matter what one’s religious beliefs. Ultimately, strippers (not so much the boys mind) and others in similar positions get a disproportionate amount of crap for what they do. There are some places where a woman who likes being nude in public (causes no harm) would cause far more outrage than someone who beats their partner (does cause harm) or mutates babies’ genitals for a living (causes a lot of harm) for no logical reasons whatsoever. Women have been fired from their respectable professional positions after being found out that they used to be exotic dancers, despite it having no effect on that position (see Diary of an Angry Stripper by Sarah Tressler). It’s not as if she had been partaking in illegal activities such as drug dealing her way through college.

Regardless of any morality issues, it’s certainly a job that will be staying off my C.V.

 

From Halaal to Haraam

 

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It’s weird, I never thought I would ever be associated with the word “stripper”. If you had come up to me, let’s say four months ago, and told me I was going to be an exotic dancer now I would probably have laughed in your face. Mind you, many of the other girls around here say the same thing. No one imagines themselves being a stripper growing up. Imagine the outrage if there were children’s toys available to show them it was a career option! Still, it’s definitely not a permanent career option for me. This is my way of having some wild times in uni before returning to the real world once I graduate. I study structural engineering so hopefully I’ll get paid to build stuff afterwards. My parents keep suggesting that I find work in Dubai (Somali parents all seem to be obsessed with Dubai. If you want to get something from them, just tell them it will help you move to Dubai), but I’m keen to help rebuild Mogadishu or Laascaanood in Somalia once I finish.

Anyway, you may be wondering how a good little Muslim girl found her way into this type of business. To be honest, my story is similar to many others. I’m sure you have all heard those stories about good Catholic girls and Mormon girls who grew up in a strictly religious environment and want to find their rebellious side? And those who were a bit nerdy in high school who are looking to prove that they have a dark side? I’m really just another cliché only no one ever seems to think that Muslim girls can be sexy too. We’re just like everyone else.

My friend Anushka was the one who talked me into it. She is Saudi, but spent her a fair chunk of her childhood in the UK as her dad spent years earning various degrees courtesy of the Saudi government. She had a hard time fitting back into life in Saudi Arabia when they eventually moved back. The lifestyle is entirely different as is the weather. I’m not surprised she decided to pursue her studies here to experience the life some more now that she’s older. And without parental supervision. I thought that by keeping close to other Muslim girls at uni, I would stay away from haraam things that typical Scottish students like to do (i.e. excessive drinking), but it seems to have lead me in the opposite direction. Well, the other girls I know are all fairly well behaved. It’s just Anushka who’s going to be the end of me. In fact I would hate to think what any of the others might say if they found out! That is partially why I thought I should start this blog. There are so few people I can tell about the things I’ve been up to recently without getting myself into trouble. It doesn’t particularly matter to me if no one reads it. The fact that I have somewhere to publicly vent helps ease my mind.

I am very keen to keep Anushka’s identity under wraps (Anushka is her stage name), so I’ll be very selective in what information about her I give. She goes back to Saudi Arabia once her studies are done and it would be unsafe for her to return if her current activities got out. Honour killings are no are occurrence there and while I doubt either of her parents would do such a thing, there is always the risk of extended family. Not to mention girls have been killed for much less than being a stripper. One woman was killed by her father for chatting to a guy on Facebook* for crying out loud! There is no doubt that being an exotic dancer has it’s own risks when you are a part of a highly religious family. However, I would like to make it clear that I do not believe that these so called “honour” killings have any part in Islam. It is a disturbing cultural issue much like FGM is in the Somali community. Girls have been murdered by their families for all sorts in all parts of the world to families of various religions.

Nevertheless, I would love to share with you as much as I possibly can. Anushka and I have our fair share of stories to tell and it has only been a few months since we first started. I hope you will enjoy reading some of them as I sure as hell won’t be able to share them with anyone else.

*Saudi Woman murdered for chatting on Facebook: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1583420/Saudi-woman-killed-for-chatting-on-Facebook.html