"A ladies-only night of pole-dancing and burlesque," reads the
invitation to Sweet Dreams, a new monthly evening dedicated to the
art of pole-dancing, burlesque and the female form. My mind is a
car crash of conflicting thoughts, and whether it's curiosity or a
random whim that compels me to accept the invitation to Sweet Dreams; I will
Upon arriving, I enter the darkened salon and am met with the
indulgent pop and fizz of champagne. The venue, Secrets, is more
glamorous than I had imagined. The kind of place I imagine Mad
Men's Don Draper would feel at home. Corset-clad women strut round
the cabaret-style tables and secluded booths in their stilettos. At
the centre of the room is a lit stage on which a phallic pole has
Any lingering feminist reservations are promptly extinguished in
a five minute chat to a dancer, Phoenix. It's a job, she says. It's
fun. She feels in control. She never feels threatened. She feels
empowered. It's her choice. I nod, convinced. Fantastic. I have no
reason to feel guilty or exploitative. What's more there's a
refreshing range of body types - OK so none of them are over 40 -
but the women's bodies range from slender to super-curvy and
there's women of varied ethnicities. Interestingly, all the
women are feminine and gorgeous but I rather fancy the idea of a
butch or androgynous dancer. Oh well, one can dream!
And then a strange thing happens: I don't know where to look. I
don't know how to have a normal conversation. I simply can't chill
out. I'm struggling to feel or even see the erotic thrill of
thonged women swing sensuously round a pole. It's turning me on but
I am scared of being aroused by it. I'm terrified that people will
witness my lust in the low-lit club. I am consumed with
embarrassment and shame.
This is despite the fact that the pole-dancing is punctuated by
breathtaking burlesque performers including a
peacock-feather-brandishing beauty named Beatrix Von Bourbon and a
wonderfully queer and elegant tattooed Middle Eastern dancer, Luna
Rosa. Both acts are erotic but in an understated way.
Then Alicia who says she's a graphic designer by day comes to
chat to us. She tells us we're going to love her pole-dancing act.
She knows how to engage with the audience, she says and when she
takes to the stage, throwing herself up and down the pole, winking
at us and doing her thing with such attitude and a sense of humour,
its not long before women are hopping off their seats and rushing
to stuff ten pound notes in her g-string.
All around me women are whooping and cheering, applauding her as
they do with all the acts, but not in a sleazy way. There's
something celebratory about it.
The truth is that I'm excited to experience the spectacle of a
bunch of women together who are obviously turned on by the dancers,
many of whom we are told are lesbian or bisexual themselves. But on
the other hand I'm feeling guilty. After all women aren't
encouraged to feel comfortable in these environments which are
usually the preserve of men. And it makes me feel slightly
This, I suspect, is a religious hangover. I was brought up in a
Muslim family which instilled the notion that my lust is base and
wrong. Growing up, my body was strictly policed - "You can't wear
that, it's too short, too tight, too transparent. Be modest. You
don't want to attract undue attention. Cover up."
So all through my teens, I did. I was the awkward kid who had to
wear tracksuit bottoms when all the other girls were wearing
netball skirts, and I never, ever dated. I was taught to believe
that flaunting my body or embracing my sexuality was shameful.
Eventually I grew out of this. I left home, divorced religion,
discovered feminism, wore what I liked, and had a sexual revolution
of my own. It's been many years now and I truly feel that my body
belongs to me. I have learnt to embrace and become more confident
with my sexuality.
But back to Sweet Dreams. When I eventually leave the club, I'm
stunned by my own prudishness and shocked at how powerful the
residual effects of sexual repression can be. I can only conclude
that change in the form of women's sexual liberation takes a long,
long time. It requires an entire social, cultural and psychological
This is definitely a change that we need to fight for. Much like
feminist Susie Bright, I firmly believe that the sexual
liberation of women is a marker of a free and progressive society.
And it's a battle fought not by dictating female sexuality, but by
This means enabling women to express their sexuality as they
wish. It means promoting the idea that sex and sexuality are
nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It means reclaiming
the word "slut" which is so often used in a pejorative sense. It
means supporting a woman's individual right to wear a burqa just as
strongly as you'd support her right to wear a bikini. It means
marching on Slut
Walk in London this Saturday. It means resisting the
belligerent and oppressive powers that tell women how to look, how
to dress, how to act, how to love, how to speak and how to
And it means becoming a regular at Sweet Dreams ladies' night.
Catch you there next month.