A School For Salomes

••• The Origins of the Modern Striptease

Back to 1996. When Bentley does her dance at the Blue Angel, in black pumps and little else, she notices one man in particular: "His desire burned into my own gaze, showing me with a clarity I had not experienced before the power of my own body," she writes. "I then knew what triumph felt like." This reminded me of all those Madonna bad girls and Camille Paglia and gender studies gurgling with excitement of a real takeover and getting mixed up with subversion as fashion. Around that time in New York, I remember, there was a very attractive former semiotics student who would secretly tell everybody that she was stripping at the Blue Angel. One night, she brought one of her fans, an audience member, to a dinner party and he was this accountant and he lived with his mother in Queens and his glasses were smudgy. Now who would want to hold him in the palm of her hands?

"Poor Unhappy Little Left Breast": Colette casts her spell.
photo: Collection Jouvenel, Musée Colette, from Sisters of Salome
"Poor Unhappy Little Left Breast": Colette casts her spell.

A nude woman onstage has power as long as she initiates the dance, Bentley notes, becoming both the subject and author of her show, embodying the misogynist and feminist as the cultural debate of the time. But when the clothes are off, and the music stops, then what? After all this reading about Salome empowerment, all I can think about is when the strip-club owner in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie says to the girl, "You don't have to jump anymore, sweetheart. Just walk up and down."

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