Memories of being a table dancer, a war between strippers and a Yiddish theatre

This morning, I received an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She lives on a boat in Vancouver. She used to be a stripper. Her sister is a priest.

This is what her e-mail said…


The ever interesting Anna Smith

The ever interesting Anna Smith

GOD… It’s taking me forever to get Skype.

I tried to install it myself.

Maybe I have already… It says it’s not working at the moment or something equally annoying.

My priestly sister said she could help me. She is super competent. She can Skype, do funerals and drive like a Mexican. She said it would take two seconds, but sometimes it takes me two weeks to find her. She is going to Colombia next week on a three week pilgrimage walking uphill following some nun around the jungle.

I go on a pilgrimage every second day, to get off of my boat. Yesterday, I went to the drop-in center for street girls to get some technical support from a young lady named Kay.

But Kay was busy leading a tarot card session for a small group of older women who needed cheering up. Kay retrieved the main fortune-telling card and read aloud the message: “You will go somewhere you have never been before, somewhere no-one else has been either.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s gonna be a hard place to find.” They laughed.

I had a coffee and chatted with the receptionist who was a French lady from Quebec. Somehow we got on the subject of strippers. I told her that the only club I worked at in Quebec was Le Folichon, which was the best strip club in Canada. She gasped and said: “I don’t believe it! – I used to work there too!”

Le Folichon club in Quebec

Some shared memories of Le Folichon club in Quebec, Canada

I told her: “Wow! – That was a good club…  It was so good that they fired me on the third day because I wasn’t fancy enough… It was the only time I was ever sent home… It was at Hallowe’en and they had some great acts. The star was a guy who entered the stage like a wicked witch, a drag witch. He had a broom and a cauldron with dry ice. He made all these scary gestures and explosions till the stage was blanketed in fog. When the fog cleared there was a four poster bed and Sleeping Beauty was in it. And he was Sleeping Beauty and he woke up!”

Chantelle, the French lady, sighed: “Yes, that was a nice club all right – all pink and white… and it had lace curtains. That place had class. I was a house girl there for years. I was the owner’s girlfriend.”

“Wow!” I said. ” That’s incredible.”

“Not really,” Chantelle told me. “He dated all the girls who worked there.”

“Oh,” I said, “maybe that’s why he sent me home…”

“He was a nice guy though,” she told me. “When he went to Europe he used to send me jewelry and roses every day. He was like that. His father used to be the mayor of Quebec a long time ago. His dad had wanted him to be a lawyer, but he had wanted something different… And then I was one of the first table dancers to work in Ontario. They sent a group of us out.”

“Oh! We hated the French girls,” I told her. “They ruined the business. Undercutting everyone.”

“For sure,” Chantelle agreed. “The English dancers didn’t like it. There was a war on.”

“I know,” I said. “I was in it!”

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna Smith remembers when girls kicked out the light bulbs

“The English girls didn’t know how to table dance,” she continued. “They just ripped their clothes off on the first song. You have to drag it out to make your money.”

“Table dancing destroyed stripping,” I said. “I hated it.”

“You did it then?”

“Only when there was no choice. When it first started, before they started doing blow jobs in the corners. Then the girls used to kick out the light bulbs.”

I waited around the reception area, sipping my coffee and, when the place closed, I walked with Chantelle for  a few blocks.

“I can’t believe you were at the Folichon,” she told me. “You really made my day.”

Then I went into a community cafeteria where it is pretty rough but they serve really good food. My tray was loaded with what seemed like an impossibly huge pile of vegan stuff. I found a small round table to sit at. A volunteer helped an elderly lady to get from her walker to a chair, asking: “Is it OK if she sits here?”

Anna in the dressing room at The Flamingo Motor Inn on August 3 2014 Ian Breslin generously allowed me to dance to his music in order to raise money for children of dancers orphaned by cancer

Anna in the dressing room at The Flamingo Motor Inn, Vancouver, on 3rd August 2014

“Sure,” I said, putting away my phone and rearranging my bags a bit.

The other lady only had a soup and a cookie.

I started into my meal and, after a while, we started talking. She looked elderly and odd, with frizzy black hair and theatrically painted eyeliner. She started talking about her walker. She had only started using it recently. She had had a fall in September and another before Christmas.

“It’s strange that I fell,” she told me. “I’m normally pretty limber.”

She gave a little laugh, which made her pretty for a moment.

I don’t remember what I said next but, somehow, it came up that she too had been a dancer.

“What kind of a dancer?” I asked.

“A stripper,” she said quietly.

“Really?”

“Well, I was a ballet dancer and I learned jazz.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “You’re the second stripper I’ve met in the last hour. Did you work in Toronto?”

“Yes. At Starvin’ Marvin’s,” she said.

Starving’ Marvin’s club in Toronto

“Places she’d danced & girls she knew. She was 72 years old.”

“That’s unbelievable,” I told her. “I was just writing about that place.”

I grilled her about the places she’d danced and the girls she knew.

She was 72 years old, so she had worked at some famous theaters that had closed just before I started.

She had worked at the Zanzibar, Le Strip and The Victory, a theater which had been North America’s first purpose-built Yiddish Theater – before it became a burlesque palace.

She knew some of the dancers I had worked with. It was hit and miss. Her name was Nina and she had to apologise because she sometimes forgot what she was talking about.

“Did you know Fantasia?” I asked.

“She was beautiful,” said Nina. “But then she couldn’t work. Her boyfriend.”

“What about Mary Lou?” I asked.

“She was a go-getter. She opened a store.”

“I used to do a nurse show,” I told her. “Nurse Annie.”

“Nurse Annie!” said Nina. “She had a good act.”

She smiled at the memory, forgetting it was me who had said it.

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Filed under Canada, Nostalgia, Sex

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