Written by Jessie Sage, originally published by the Pittsburgh City Paper.
Take a moment to imagine a go-go dancer. What comes to mind? Tall boots? Short skirts? A cage? New York? Los Angeles? Las Vegas?
This week I got a chance to sit down with Alicia Lynn, a performer who’s making a living as a go-go dancer here in Pittsburgh. Though she started her dancing career as a burlesque performer, she found her home as a go-go dancer when she started working at Cavo Nightclub. And she’s not alone. “Thanks to Cavo, other nightclubs have started incorporating go-go dancers,” she says. “It is more jobs for women, more jobs for dancers who aren’t ballerinas.”
Alicia took ballet as a child, did a couple of years of hip-hop dance in middle school, and performed in musicals and theater in high school and college. She didn’t start dancing professionally until her late 20s when she took up burlesque.
“When I was in my late 20s I remember thinking, ‘Thank God I didn’t do this when I was 25.’” And it wasn’t because she wasn’t good enough, but rather because she had to learn who she was before she could express it in any meaningful way. “I had to address who the fuck I was.”
Alicia sees this process of self-discovery through burlesque as a launching point for the work she does now. “I consider burlesque to be in my arsenal, but I am not passionate about burlesque,” she says. “I am passionate about go-go dancing!”
She first started go-go dancing at Cavo as a fill-in for someone who needed some time off, but she became a more permanent fixture over time. The work has become really meaningful for her. As a go-go dancer, she gets to set the tone for the club, which she describes as a really creative process. “The music is mostly the same, but we have to make it look new. And somehow that becomes the greatest thing you have ever done” She goes on, “You want to be pulling out the stops to give [the patrons of the club] that ‘wow’ moment, that is our job.”
Alicia says the camaraderie among the go-go dancers is really powerful. “The friendships are spectacular. What we go through together, the connections we have, the way we watch out for each other. It is complete soul food.” Part of what binds these friendships is the knowledge that there is some danger in being a woman who does a sexualized job.
“You never know when someone is going to be out there waiting for you, it is part of the reality.” That shared experience fosters their friendships. “We are warriors, we wear our war paint [to work], and you have no idea because we make it look cute.”
To all of the women who are interested in this sort of career, she says, “If you are a showgirl and you want to live in the Steel City, we have it! You don’t have to go to Vegas.”
“I am a showgirl in Pittsburgh; I am living the Flashdance life!”
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).