Among the nominees at the 80th Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards ceremony in Hollywood, guess whose former profession was mentioned? Diablo Cody’s. Jon Stewart, holding forth as show host, referred to 29 year-old Cody (real name: Bro0ok Busey) as a former exotic dancer who became a screen writer. Stewart said he was sorry she had to take a pay cut. Cody won the coveted gold statute Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay (“Juno”). The media referred to her as having “once worked as a stripper,” “a former stripper,” a “retired stripper.” Commenting about her dress, the question was “what would you expect from a stripper?” and “she should have saved more dollar bills and bought a better dress.”
[Here is the official trailer from Juno]
Why is being an exotic dancer relevant? Sensationalism. Exotic dancing, the preferred term for stripping since the advent of the upscale gentlemen’s clubs, is stigmatized and has an unfounded reputation for leading to prostitution, drugs and other crime and decreases property values. Recent social science has disproved all of this. Rooted in an American tradition of parody, namely, American burlesque, and Middle Eastern belly dance, exotic dance is a form of dance, theater art and adult entertainment. By definition it’s supposed to be somewhat “risqué” or “naughty” adult play. It is a fanciful teasing that is expected to transgress social decorum and dress codes in an ambience ranging from sedate to carnival-like. Exotic dance is erotic fantasy with disclosure of more skin and display of different movements than are usually seen in public. Performed in signature four to six inch stiletto heels, exotic dance incorporates jazz-like improvisatory movements in choreographed routines.
Perhaps exotic dance does have something to do with screen-writing? Like many other dancers, Cody went from stage to page and wrote a book about her experience. She went on to team with producer Steven Spielberg on a dark-comedy pilot for Showtime called “The United States of Tara,” and filming has begun on “Jennifer’s Body,” a horror flick based on Cody’s original screenplay. (Parade 3-3-08, p. 2) Many dancers have gone on to graduate school and become lawyers, business people, doctors and professors. Yet the media do not consider how Cody’s stripping background helped to shape her now acclaimed aesthetic.
[Here is a little clip from the movie Juno]
Skills learned or enhanced in exotic dancing include memory of movement vocabulary and discipline of the preparation to perform — scheduling, grooming, attire, make-up and choreography. Creativity is rewarded by patron tips and purchase of dances. Learning to adapt to the unpredictable is essential. Exotic dancers sharpen their sensitivity to human behavior – getting along with co-workers (dancers to dj, manager, bar tender, doorman) and diverse patrons. Successful dancers become acute observers of verbal and nonverbal communication in order to sell a fantasy of themselves and to create the patron’s fantasy. Dancers commonly gain self-esteem and self-confidence appearing nude before strangers. Listening skills capture dialog, stories and patron interests. Business and money management leads dancers to complete education, start businesses and support families.
Katherine Frank, one of numerous exotic dancers who earned doctorates (in anthropology, criminology, social work, sociology, theater arts and women’s studies), and became university professors said, “Dancing helped me learn how to handle the inevitable rejections one comes across in any kind of sales position. If you stick with it, eventually someone says yes. It taught me not to take it personally if someone said no at first–it probably had nothing to do with me but with my timing. I also learned to create illusions of authenticity, scarcity and value — useful in many different kinds of careers.”
Maybe the critical and commercial success of “Juno” would not have evolved if Cody had not been an exotic dancer. Did she try out different characters and snappy, smart, funny, captivating dialog in the club? She is one of many performers who prove that exotic dancers are more than sexual objects.
Judith Lynne Hanna, Ph.D., is an expert witness in the area of exotic dance, and has testified on behalf of adult clubs in cases across the country. Hanna has been conducting research on exotic dance sine 1995. For more information, visit www.judithhanna.com.
Reprinted by permission of the author; originally published in Exotic Dancer’s Club Bulletin, May 2008, p. 56