Back to London

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(Not my picture, but illustrates the journey fairly well)

It’s funny how you can almost instantly tell once you have crossed the boundary between Scotland and England. All the pretty hills become ironed out into smooth, flat farmland followed by a sign that says “Welcome to England”. England looks rather depressing in comparison. Not that I’m at all sad to be back. I’ve missed my family back in London, especially since I didn’t return for the winter break. I tend to call it “winter break” rather than the Christmas holidays simply because I feel odd calling it that, as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. And yet what others call “spring break”, I still call “Easter holidays”, as senseless as that is. Perhaps because it just sounds too American.

I get to abandon “Henna”, my dancer persona, for a couple of weeks and go back to being nothing but my normal self. I’m writing this from my old room that I grew up in while my family bustle around downstairs, completely ignorant of that persona and the blog that goes with it. I was almost tempted to bring along my favourite pair of dancer shoes, but thought best of it. They are so comfortable and good for an ordinary night out without getting painfully blistered feet my the end of the night like normal high heels do. Plus most of my family couldn’t tell the difference (providing that they aren’t the clear plastic platforms that practically scream “stripper!”).My big sister is also hear for the week and would have questioned those shoes in a heartbeat. Part of me really wishes I could check out the local gentleman’s clubs just to see how they differ to the couple in Scotland that I’ve worked in, but I don’t see that being possible. The risk of wandering into another Somali here in London feels just too high.

It has been wonderful being around everyone from home again and hearing Somali being spoken all over the house. I hadn’t even realised how much I missed Somali music either.My sister feels it necessary to correct my pronunciation every once in a while whenever it sounds slightly too Scottish for her liking. It all sounds straight up English to my ears! I’m sure my Scottish pals would laugh at her for thinking anything I say sounds too Scottish. I also heard my mother speaking to one of her relatives in French and Tamashek the other day, which made a change. My mother’s side of the family is not Somali, but Tuareg. Most of her family still live in West Africa and are difficult to track down for a visit since they live a nomadic lifestyle. As a result, I’ve always felt more connected with Somalis and Brits.

One of my many cousins is getting married next week, so my mother, sister and I will need to have a dirac or guntiino ready. There will be relatives coming from Somalia, Kenya, the USA and New Zealand plus probably many more. They had better stock up on bariis! Needless to say, I’m very excited for the occasion!

I might not be able to update too frequently until I get back to Scotland. My sister is terrible for snooping and I really would rather she didn’t find the blog. I can already imagine her endless lectures if she ever found out about my exotic dancing habit. How funny it would be if I found out she was one. She’d never be able to play Holier than Thou with me again!

In the meantime, Salaam to you all.

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Overheard in the Changing Room

Yesterday night was an interesting one despite being rather quiet to begin with. Mostly due to overhearing some bizarre conversations, some of which I would prefer to unhear.

One was a chat between two girls in the dressing room, one of which had forgotten to bring any sexy knickers. It went something like this:

Tall Girl: Hey, do you have a spare thong I can wear?

Blondie: Yeah, sure.  It hasn’t been washed though, I’ve worn it a few times.

Tall Girl: Hmm….

Blondie: I don’t have any STDs right now.

Tall Girl: Ok, cool (puts on said grubby thong)

I could not imagine wearing anyone’s previously worn, unwashed thong.Still, it probably beats granny pants or nothing at all. I’ll make a note to always have a couple of spare outfits in my locker.

 

Another charming discussion I overheard went along the lines of:

Chrystal ” Mah fanny always smells funny after I have sex with my guy and he cums inside ah me.” Said as she sniffs her pants.

Dallas “Lemme smell.” As she grabs the undies from stripper I.

Dallas ” Yeah you’re right, it does smell funny.”

Me thinking: What the frick? Ok then, I’m guessing this is a regular thing.

Perhaps it has something to to with getting naked for a living. You become much less shy after a while and TMI becomes practically non existent.

 

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Pole Misadventures with Jessie Pinkman

For those of you who have read my previous pole-related post, you’ll know that my first attempt on a club pole was not the most graceful. In fact I still cringe when I remember how Vanessa stormed away from me to sulk on a far away sofa, believing I wasn’t taking her teaching efforts seriously. Sadly, I really was trying. I was just doing an appalling job.

I first had the chance to do a public pole dance about two weeks later. By public, I mean in front of a group of customers. It was an unusually slow night. If it hadn’t been, I’m sure a more experienced girl would have nabbed the stage and therefore their attention before I had the chance. There were only four other girls working that night , two of which were away eating/smoking. Eventually, a group of five young Swiss lads came in giggling like Spongebob and Patrick in a toy shop. I was quite thrilled to find that one of them looked like a slightly shorter version of Breaking Bad’s Jessie, only a fair bit more educated. This night was turning out to be not so bad after all!

jesse-pinkman

Basically, like this guy

I warmly introduced myself and began chatting happily to them. They all seemed rather sweet and innocent, a group of uni lads on getaway together. Quite a contrast to the meth cook Jessie Pinkman. Remembering an early scene from the series where Jessie and his two buddies nick the thousands of dollars Walt gave him to buy an RV with to spend on a crazy night with champagne and strippers, I can’t help but think “If only!”

Combo-Rodney-Rus-Jesse-Aaron-Paul-and-Friend-in-MAS

This episode

After a good long chat, they ask about prices for dances. Understandably, they’re a bit hesitant to spend a full £10 on a quick 3 minute private dance without knowing anything about how I dance (they’re hard up students after all, believe me I get that). And so, they ask how much it would be to have me on the pole first. We’re usually expected to do stage dances for free as part of rotation, but no one enforces that on quiet nights like this.  I was quite happy at the idea of being paid to go on the pole. At the same time, I was unhappy that my private dance potential was going to be judged by my pole dancing. I’m not ashamed to say that my private dances are top notch. My stage dancing, on the other hand, was still pretty shit.Still, it was definitely worth a try right? Especially one where I got paid.

I turned to them,”Tell you what, I’ll go on stage for you lot if one of you gives a £5 tip.”

Jessie’s eyes widened “You mean I give you £5 and you dance for all of us?” he asked incredulously, gesturing towards his mates.

I nodded “Yes, a £5 tip and I’ll dance for all of you on the stage” I emphasized. They had better not be thinking they were all getting a private dance while only paying a fiver!

The boys seemed overjoyed by the idea and could barely contain their excitement. After tossing me a fiver they huddled over to the stage next to the bar, fidgeting in anticipation. I shook my head and headed over to Neil, the barman/DJ. And people say I’m too innocent for this place! I thought, looking over towards the lads.

Neil and Sophie, the only other girl on the floor, had been deep in conversation when I approached and explained the situation.

“Nice! How much are they paying?” Sophie asked me.

“Just a fiver, but I’m not complaining.”

“A fiver! Naw, ah wouldnae complain either. Ah usually have tae go on the stage fer free!”

Neil nodded in agreement. “Good thing on a night like this too. So what’s your pole song?”

“Uh…I don’t have one yet.” I replied meekly. “What’s easy to dance to?”

“Use mine if you like. It’s nice and slow and real easy. Don’t nick it though! This is only for tonight, then you need to pick your own alright? I’m sick of bitches nicking my songs!” Sophie then began a short rant on how Vanessa always likes to nick all her pole songs, which was true.

“Thank you! I promise I won’t. What song is it?”

Apparently it was Skin by Rihanna. I can see why Vanessa pinched it. It began slow with sensual lyrics which gradually sped up. I hopped on stage ready to go. Should I wear my shoes or not? I knew I would dance much better without them, but it’s hard to look like a stripper barefoot. I decided to keep my fabulous 7 inchers on.

The lads all looked dizzily delighted now that the show had finally begun. I tried to hide how terrified I was and find the rhythm to the music. I kept the moves simple, mostly dancing sexily around the pole without any impressive tricks or spins. It was going well. I was well into the beat and the lads looked as happy as ever. Bless them. By near the end of the song, I was well into it and fully enjoying myself. I thought I would end with a spin. After all, why not? It couldn’t be going better and I knew how to do several spins really well from fitness classes. It would be pure cowardliness not to try one. And so I decided to finish off with simple backwards spin. I swung back with full force. This was sure to impress them! Then I heard a loud clang, a yelp and a smash. My right foot suddenly felt far lighter than it had a mere second ago. I had forgotten that the zips on the back of my shoes were both broken from when I over zealously pulled on them off to do them up after a dance the other night. My right shoe had been sent flying from my foot and skidded across the length of the bar past Neil and Sophie and knocked over a beer bottle on its way through. Neil looked around himself in a state of shock. “Don’t tell me I have to start wearing a helmet to work here now!  I have enough of that in the day (he does construction work doing daylight hours).

“Sorry!” I shouted over to him meekly. It hadn’t quite been the grand finale I’d had in mind. I began to slink off stage to retrieve my shoe. What a way to end! Once my shoe was back in place, Jessie came up to me. Apparently he had still enjoyed my performance despite my major fuck up. “You are amazing! We all want a private dance.” He looked more than ever like an over-excited schoolboy.

I looked at him slightly bewildered for a second. “Sure! Wait all five of you?”

“Yeah,” he nodded enthusiastically. “How much?”

“It’s £10 per person, per song. Five is a lot in one go though. How about we all do a double dance with Sophie? It costs you the same and  you get to see two girls.”

He looked over towards Sophie. “Okay, if she’s as good as you.” Well yes, I thought. When she dances, her shoes don’t become an airborne hazard.

I went over to Sophie excitedly and told her that we’d both scored danced on this dreary night. “Nice. Wait are they doin’ VIP or just normal dances?” She slouched back down again after hearing that they weren’t up for VIP. “Nah, ah think am alright hen. If they’re no doin’ VIP I cannae be bothered. Ahm just gonna sit here with Neil and ma wine. Thanks though, really.” I was disappointed. It felt like a good way to give back after she had let me borrow her song for my own profit.

Feeling slightly  despondent, I went back over to Jessie and his lads and told them we were on our own. “That’s fine. So all of us together is £10 each, yes? So £50.”

“Indeed it is. So how would you like to do it? Two guys together and one on their own?”

They gave one another a quick glance. “Can’t we all go in? We want to be together.” I explained to them that there’s only so much one girl can do in only three minutes when there are five guys at once. They seemed unfazed and insisted in going together as a group.”Well, okay.” I shrugged. “It’s your party. Let me see which booth has the most room.”

And so I then had the challenge of pleasing five customers at once in a three minute time frame. What had been an incredibly slow night had quickly become a rather eventful one. I did the best I could to evenly split the time to each of the boys, seating two on one side and three on the other where all could see me. Thankfully, they were all really pleased. Not that they seemed a particularly hard lot to please. “Une autre!” called out one and then three of them decided to go for another song. Fine by me. When I had finished with their second song, I went out to chat with them again. It didn’t matter to me if I did any more dances that night. I had already earned by far the most in the club that night. Jessie reached into his backpack and pulled out another £20. “Can you dance for just me now?” he beamed. “Sure!” was what I told him. Internally, I was jumping for joy that I was going to get to do a private dance with a Swiss version of Jessie Pinkman. This was a fantastic night! After the £20 had run out, he then bought another two dances. In less than an hour, I had made £125 on a lonely Monday night.

When Jessie and I finally returned to the club floor, April and Summer, the two girls who had been eating/smoking that entire time came up to me. “Did you just dance for all five of those guys at once?”

“Yeah,” I shrugged. They didn’t want to go in separately. I asked Sophie to do a double with me, but she wasn’t feeling it.”

“Right”, said Summer. “Well don’t do that again. It’s against club rules. No more than two customers at once per girl unless it’s a stag party in the VIP room. Otherwise it’s not fair on the rest of us if you’re the only one making money.” And with that they went off back to hang out in the dressing room.

Sophie came up to me shaking her head. “Did they seriously just bitch at you because they’re not getting the work when you’re the one on the floor and they’re sitting on their far arses? Don’t you worry pal, you did great. If they want paid, they have to learn that they have to work for it like the rest of us!”

I wasn’t at all bothered. I was incredibly merry for the rest of the week after that. The only thing that bothered me was not getting a picture with my Jessie Pinkman lookalike to show all my pals at uni to.

 

 

Empowerment v.s. Oppression; Stripping and Hijab

I find it funny how both strippers and hijabis are seen as oppressed by many people. Particularly as I use both to increase my own personal freedom. Many Westerners see Muslim women as an oppressed group as they are “forced by their families cover up everything but their eyes” (not true in most cases) and equally many Muslims see Western women as oppressed as they “have to walk around naked for men to ogle at while the guys are all covered up” (also, nope).

 

I found an article a while back called “Burkas and Bikinis” which explores how both methods of covering women’s bodies and leaving them uncovered can be used for oppression and are essentially “two sides of the same coin”. The author states that both are forms of sexualisation and objectify the women in each scenario. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the link to show you, but I will hopefully find it again soon.  While there are several points in the article that I agree with, I feel that there are several other points to be made. Namely that neither covering nor uncovering has to oppress anyone.

It is true that both a bikini and hijab can be used to oppress women, but it is also true that both can be used for liberation. The main difference which leads to different results is how and why the women are wearing bikinis,  hijab or other types of veil. Are the women themselves choosing how they present themselves or do they simply feel that they have to? If they cover or uncover due to a feeling of obligation and not by choice, I would consider this oppression. This could be pressure from friends and family, bosses, society or even the laws of a particular country. If however, the women are happy choosing what they wear and how they present themselves, I would say that they are not being oppressed.  In fact, just the opposite!

Women who wear hijab do so for a variety of reasons and often not because they feel forced to. The same goes for those who wear the niqab (face veil). For many it’s a barrier between themselves and strange men. They can choose who gets to see how much of their body and hide or reveal however much they choose. Someone who wears a veil often does so because they want others to pay attention to them for their personality and intelligence and not because of their beauty or body. This is partially why I choose to wear hijab when I am not at work. No one can see that part of me when I choose for them not to.

Similarly, those who choose to wear revealing clothing often do so by choice and not because they feel they ought to or have to.  They feel proud of their bodies and comfortable in their own skin and so are not afraid to hide it. Women wear bikinis on the beach because they are comfortable to swim in and let’s be honest; don’t reveal much more skin than the average swimming trunks that men wear. In any case, many women who choose to show off skin are not even doing so to please men. Perhaps it’s just more comfortable to wear less on a hot day and enjoy the feeling of warm sunlight. Perhaps in their society, women’s bodies aren’t sexualised to the extent where they feel they have to cover it up, just in the same way men don’t feel they have to.  Many tribal people, both men and women, don’t see the chest area as being sexual and so little effort to keep it covered. To them, it is seen the same as leaving one’s face uncovered; it’s just another part of them.

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Are either of these Zulu people “oppressed” for baring their chests?

Women who strip also do it for a variety of reasons and often not because they feel that they have to. For some, the extra money gives them that bit more freedom. For others, it’s a chance to express and discover their own sexuality (like me) without doing anything that they don’t feel comfortable with. Of course, there are strippers out there who are oppressed people and this is often due to issues with the management rather than the job itself. This could be because the management frequently rips off the girls, because they pressure girls into doing things which they are uncomfortable with or improperly dealing with bad customers so that the girls don’t feel safe. I’m happy to say that this is not true in my case or any of the other girls working at my club.  The wages are fair, no one expects “extras” and those caught giving them are promptly booted out and likewise, bad customers who try to take advantage in any way are also quickly removed from the premises. We have a very safe, friendly environment where we are free to enjoy and express ourselves as we please.

I feel immensely lucky to have the opportunity to explore such opposites and make the most of them. I love the freedom that I gain from both in a way that so few others do.

Perhaps there is another question we should be asking ourselves. Why is it that both the West and Islamic worlds are so keen to discuss whether women are oppressed by how much or little they wear when no one gives a damn about how much men wear? No one I know of thinks of men as being oppressed when they wear neither swimming trunks nor when they cover themselves from head to toe.

So, which of these guys are oppressed? (a discussion you’re unlikely to find on the internet).

 

As far as I can see, it’s only a big deal when a woman is perceived as wearing too much or not enough. Frankly, who should bloody care anyway? As long as someone is wearing something they feel comfortable in, man or woman, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.