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David Rutherford

'76 was a great year.
I went to America for the first time; a country that captivates me as much now, as it did then. It was a record-breaking summer in the UK which led to a drought and water rationing. I remember the front pages of the newspapers carried small boxes containing the days since last rain fell. '76 was also the first year I became aware of girls, courtesy of Miss Richardson my form teacher, her bikini and a summer term spent by the school pool basking in the sun of that golden summer. Of course my interest in Miss Richardson was totally innocent and unknown to her, being only nine I wasn't exactly sure what I was feeling but that was the summer I realised that when I got older I wanted to have a Miss Richardson of my own.

It was returning back to school after that summer that I started to run a bit slower whilst being pursued by the kiss-chasers at lunchtime. It was my secret; I don't think any of the others in my gang wanted to be caught by the girls. If I recall I don't think many of the girls actually wanted to catch us anyway, this was confirmed one lunch, when I was 'caught' and offering little resistance confronted by the horrified cries of "ugh, he wants to be kissed". It was an uncomfortable moment for everyone and lasted for what seemed an eternity until one of the chasers pecked my cheek (thank you Katie) thereby releasing the whole bunch to swiftly run off as fast as they could looking for prey that would provide a sterner challenge.

It's funny what memories the mind chooses to bring forth at times. Implanting the past to block out the present. Why these memories should come to me whilst Arabella was writhing naked on my lap I am uncertain, no doubt discovering she was a qualified primary school teacher had something to do with it. I hadn't remembered Miss Richardson for years, yet she had obviously been locked somewhere deep inside my mind , now released by Arabella, some 22 years later! The power of the mind never ceases to amaze, not only did Miss Richardson reappear in my mind, she came complete with her two piece yellow bikini and the smell of chlorine.

Actually Arabella is part of a growing phenomenon, a qualified teacher, who has turned her back on teaching. Educated, articulate, confident and personable, she has rejected what she has learned and the skills she has been taught in favour of what she inherited - her looks. Perhaps I am wrong when I say she has rejected what she has learned along with the skills she has acquired, rather she has chosen to put them to another use. Arabella is a dancer, a dancer for money, clearing anywhere between 2-5k a week. In a good month she can make the annual salary of her former occupation. Arabella is not some hapless woman fallen on hard times, devoid of options, somehow lured into table-dancing - undoubtedly some are, but not her, nor many others like her. No she is one of many 'career' women who are quite literally capitalizing on a growing trend. She is an Australian taking advantage of the temporary work visa system that exists between the UK and Australia, who has chosen to dance rather than collect minimum wage for bar work or waiting tables or even dare I say it work in a primary school. She has even planned the next leg of her trip and signed up for a two-month stint at a similar club in New York. Where she will no doubt entertain the workers of Wall Street as royally as she has catered for the bonus boys from London's Square mile.
With prudent planning she will be sitting pretty(no pun intended) when she eventually returns down under. With the current exchange rate at over AUS$2 to the pound, she could easily end up with $100,000.00 dollars for her endeavors, maybe double that. Not bad for a primary school teacher, four years qualified! Frankly if a similar opportunity had been available during my gap-year, I would have been very tempted. For the price of getting naked - no more, she will be truly independent and able to follow whatever path she chooses.

Quite by chance whilst driving over Easter I happened on one of the many phone-in programmes that are so popular on radio these days. The topic as synchronicity would have it was "Table-dancing - a good or a bad thing"? The general consensus which undoubtedly has changed over recent years was that it wasn't quite the evil it has been portrayed to be, especially given the rewards on offer (no doubt largely untaxed I suspect). Most of the woman callers were surprisingly quite gung-ho about it, as one woman put it most succinctly " I don't think its really that seedy, especially when it's a reputable club and the girls are well protected - good luck to them. If you want to look for abused women, try the women working from home stuffing envelopes for a £1.00 an hour". Quite!

Table dancing seems to have become very corporate, which has in effect forced the industry to clean up its act and even dare one say, gain a degree of legitimacy. I was staggered to read in 'The Observer' on Sunday February 11 2001 the following. "Although table dancing has become fashionable in recent months, with top clubs reporting a huge rise in the number of women punters, the industry's core clientele remains the business community during the week and stag parties at weekends. One night last Christmas, a London club, Venus, cashed in £18,000 worth of dance vouchers handed out by grateful companies to their employees".

The club I visited last week seemed to confirm the details of that report. I was surprised at the number of female patrons, who were happily enjoying champagne/dinner with colleagues and quite happy to have the girls dance just for them, quite apart from the women there exclusively for the girls themselves. I've only been table-dancing three or four times over the years, all as part of the stag night ritual, but even I can see the transformation that has occurred from the very dark and quite seedy rooms to the now bright and colourful almost brassiere type establishment that now exists. The whole market is now pitching itself at the well heeled and expense account-wielding fraternity. Apparently Birmingham will soon have a club capable of hosting 10,000 people a night. A venue of that size would suggest that table dancing is rapidly approaching a mainstream activity. Any professional Rugby club treasurer would be in seventh heaven if he could draw a similar crowd on any given weekend!

I once wrote that the average girl had nothing to fear from such establishments, however I now wonder if they won't in fact become the next great meeting place, with their heady concoction of beautiful women and well to do patrons. The truth is had I met Arabella in a pub or at a party I would have asked to see her again, she of course may have a differing view. Of course she was attractive but it was her other qualities, the ones that would have made her a great teacher that I was drawn to, her intellect, her wit, her compassion, her confidence and her ability to communicate that linger as long in the mind. In many ways clubs such as these empathise the great role reversal going on in wider society. Without a doubt it was an exciting experience, but the excitement wasn't merely seeing Arabella dance. It was entwined with meeting an educated, articulate, traveled and confident person, all attributes woman have traditionally sought in men, but attributes that men are now seeking in women. More than that she controlled the experience, she had the power, had it been a tango club I am certain she would have attempted to lead off. Society and particularly women who have broken through the glass barrier,like to paint these establishments as tawdry, but go to any number of West End shows and you'll more than likely to find a similar offering feted by society. Nicole Kidman, Jerry Hall, Kathleen Turner and others have revealed all in the name of art and are embraced by upper society. Dress it anyway you please but we all know the reason why the 'Blue Room' was the hottest ticket in town.

Irrespective of the route travelled perhaps both the women who have pursed 'mainstream' careers and those who have chosen to dance, both are seeking the same end goal, financial independence, self-reliance and ultimately the empowerment to dictate how they chose to live their lives. In many ways history may come to view the greatest achievement of the last century as the emancipation of women - well certainly those in the West. As we close in on the endgame of the women's lib' movement, we have witnessed the progression from the suffragette women to a woman holding the Office of Prime Minister. Perhaps it's ironic therefore that the movement which was once self-defined through the act bra burning, now finds a woman simply needs to remove her bra to get ahead.

© DR 2001

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