Lily Burana accepts a marriage proposal - but first decides to strip her way from Florida to Alaska before settling down. An eighteen-year-old dropout when she first entered the world of exotic dancing, Lily, now a successful journalist, looks at stripping with a writer's perspective, open to the paradoxes and challenges that face exotic dancers. She takes the stage name of Barbie Faust and strips her way across the country. Her funny but hard-edged memoir describes funky clubs and off-beat characters, the exhilaration that ...
Lily Burana accepts a marriage proposal - but first decides to strip her way from Florida to Alaska before settling down. An eighteen-year-old dropout when she first entered the world of exotic dancing, Lily, now a successful journalist, looks at stripping with a writer's perspective, open to the paradoxes and challenges that face exotic dancers. She takes the stage name of Barbie Faust and strips her way across the country. Her funny but hard-edged memoir describes funky clubs and off-beat characters, the exhilaration that overtakes a dancer on stage - and the darker realities that assail her when she's out of the spotlight.
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There is little or nothing more fascinating than human sexuality, especially when the sexuality involved is on the edge. In the past few years, a number of highly literate women have written books describing in substantial detail their experiences in various aspects of what is called the sex industry. Among the best of these books is Lily Burana's "Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America." (2001). Lily Burana (b. 1968) has become a well-known essayist, and she the author of a recent novel, "Try". But her memoir of her life as a stripper established her fame.
Burana grew up in New Jersey as a rebellious daughter of highly-educated parents. She dropped out of high school and ran off to New York City where she was determined to establish her independence and her own character. In order to support herself she began to work at Times Square's notorious "Peepland", dancing nude for men in the grimiest atmosphere behing a two-way mirror. She gradually becomes involved in the industry and moves to San Francisco where she works as a nude dancer for two major clubs, the "Lusty Lady" and "Mitchell Brothers" for five years. During this time, she was teaching herself to write and finding a market for her writing. She spearheaded a lawsuit against Mitchell Brothers for which she worked trying to secure the status of "employee" rather than "independent contractor" for the dancers and better pay and working conditions.
When the book opens, Burana has been away from stripping for several years and is supporting herself as a writer. On assignment in Wyoming she meets and falls in love with Randy, a rodeo worker and cowboy who is comfortable with her past. Before settling down with Randy, Burana finds she needs to get stripping out of her system. She takes up dancing again in a variety of clubs across the country. This new period of life as a stripper differs from the first in that Burana determines to dance topless rather than nude. She discusses at length the differences in exposure both the dancers and their customers see between nude dancing and dancing with even the tiniest g-string.
The book moves back and forth in Burana's life from her childhood, to her first experiences as a dancer, to her decision to go back to the business and then again to give it up, apparently for good. The book offers a picture of the externalities of a life of a stripper in its pictures of countless clubs and of the endless details of buying costumes, hustling customers, and trying to maintain one's physical and sexual allure. Burana has also done research on her topic and offers portrayals of the Pure Talent School of Dance, a school for strippers that Burana attended at the outset of her second tour in the profession, and the Exotic World Museum in California, among other places.
A great deal of the book is internal, as Burana attempts to describe the complex factors that led her into stripping, and the factors that led her to leave it. Burana discusses her relationship with her parents and their reactions to her career and with her sister who had taken a different path in life and become a minister. Many of the best moments of the book involve Burana's relationship with other women in the profession. Burana obviously feels close kinship to many of these women as they are joined in a life that they perceive as beyond the accepted pale for the expression of female sexuality.
Burana remains deeply ambivalent about stripping. Clearly, she enjoyed the money and, unlike many women, had the prudence to save wisely. She also found a rewarding relationship with a man (She doesn't much describe her personal romantic life before meeting Randy.) and a permanent career as a writer. She also seems to enjoy dance, the sexual allure of her profession, and the feeling of power she received from knowing men's attentions and desires were riveted on her when she was, ultimately, unattainable. But Burana also realizes that stripping is a difficult, dangerous, and emotionally-damaging business, as she is wrung-out from her nightly dancing, incessant sexual come-ons, disrespect, rejections, and mutual objectification, of herself and of the men. Burana remains attracted to the business and does not advocate its elimination. But she becomes open to those who criticize and who ask her if she made the best choice in pursuing it. In short she becomes less defensive and more aware of the pitfalls of the life she had led for many years. She made her second tour as a stripper and presumably wrote her memoir as a sort of catharsis to get the profession out of her system for good. She herself realizes that she only partly succeeds.
"Strip City" is a well-written, thoughtful, and I think, largely candid account of Burana's experiences as a stripper and of her responses to these experiences. It teaches a great deal about the sex industry and about what Burana calls the sexual underside of life in the United States -- and probably in most other highly-developed nations, at the least, as well.
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