A patron asked me this at the show last night.
I couldn't tell how she meant the question. Discomfort in her eyes. Perhaps she was trying to square what she'd seen in my performance with her own personal paradigm of sexuality. Perhaps she was trying to submit a gentle complaint, to police my behavior in a subtle way. Perhaps she was merely curious about what I do at home.
"I dance for everyone," I said, sharing her unease.
I get asked this question a lot, more frequently by new students than anyone else. Always women, never men. Sometimes it's a related question: "Can you teach me how to dance for my husband?" Sometimes it's another variation: "Can you dance for my husband?" ("I'll pay you." "It's his birthday.")
They've been asking me this for years but I never get used to it.
I won't pretend I don't understand what they're seeing: a girl (although I may not qualify as such for much longer), scantily clad, moving her hips and chest around in rhythmic patterns. I get it. It reads, for them, as an unsubtle display of female sexuality.
I am not offended by their perception of what I am doing and why. It may not mesh with my intent, but so what? If I made my intent for each performance completely transparent, it would stop being interesting, and I think it might very well stop being art. Art, to me, exists in the vast space between the intent of the creator and the perception of the audience. It's negotiated.
What bothers me is always the tone. Let's put your dance in an acceptable context, shall we? You are doing this for a man. And he is your husband.
I won't go on about my motivations for dancing because putting them to words would mutilate them. But let's suppose I intended for my audience to take everything on face value alone: girl in lots of makeup and a (sort of) revealing costume, shaking it. Let's say my intention was really just to titillate.
I will do this for whoever the fuck I want, thank you. And I don't care what you think of that. If you want to read me as a sex object, go ahead. Just don't try to cram the patriarchy down my throat. I know you can see a wedding ring on my finger, but don't pretend you understand my relationship with my husband, and don't you dare try to enforce what you think it should be on me.
I will dance for the enjoyment of everyone in the audience, male or female, young or old. To be honest I am more concerned with my female audience members. I want them to see me feeling happy and comfortable with myself, my body, my spirit. I want them to know they can feel the same way. Maybe not by being a dancing girl live on stage, but through whatever medium, in whatever venue they choose.
I want these girls and women to go out into the world and be themselves for everyone, not just their husbands.
By asking me this question I can see these women are not getting that. And it makes me sad.