Calling Forth My Own Dancer Alter Ego, and Other Thoughts on Women and Dancers and Bodies and Men…

Last night I went to the monthly Writers’ Room member readings at Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village (in which I’ll be reading at some point in the not-too-distant-future). Reading were Susan Buttenwieser, a Pushcart Prize finalist, Lara Tupper, a lounge singer-turned novelist whose debut novel, “A Thousand and One Nights” has just been published (how jealous am I?!?!), and last but not least, Signe Hammer, who, because of her bio, I was very interested in hearing. The funny host, playwright Stan Richardson, whom I personally like (though I’m not sure that sentiment is universal amongst the WR crew) always asks the readers what, from the bio they provide him, they are most proud of (still have no damn clue what I am going to say when it comes my turn…) Susan said hers was being nominated for the prize, Lara said hers was being a member of the Barry Manilow fan club (hehehe), and Signe said her short-lived career as a dance / performance artist with Meredith Monk‘s original dance group, The House, was her proudest moment! Immediately everyone clapped loudly; all the writers and their friends knew already of Monk with no further explanation. So, Yay For Dance!! She gave some brief little humorous tidbits about her work with Monk, saying they founded site-specific “Dance Theater” (performing at the Guggenheim and Judson Playhouse before obtaining their own space), as opposed to “Dance Dance” which is what she termed Twyla Tharp’s main enterprize, after trying and failing at Dance Theater. Tharp, she said with humor, realized the genre wasn’t for her after her first effort, which Monk remembered as being a piece where bodies hurled through the air as if propelled by a canon, one after the other, and … that was it. After labeling her and Monk as “Downtown,” Stan asked her if she considered herself “downtown” in terms of her writing, and she snapped, “no, downtown is dead!” Because there is no derriere-garde anymore, she proclaimed, there is no avant-garde either. Hmmmm.

Anyway, the readings were interesting, but maybe it’s just that I’ve seen so much dance lately (and, I guess contemporary Dance Theater), that, I kinda think, uh, the art of simply reading from some pieces of paper requires somewhat of a performance artist. I mean, lying down on your futon with your legs hanging over the back of the frame with a book open in your face — how I read anyway — that’s just the way words were meant to be taken in– by visualizing them on the page. Hearing them spoken just doesn’t allow them to penetrate my brain the same way. Usually. Except when spoken by Ann Liv Young and Laurel Dugan and Forsythe’s dancers. Hmmm, maybe I should ask Laurel to help me, to be my dancer alter ego! Ha ha. No, stage is far too small, and Stan would freak. I’ll have to call forth my own dancer alter ego :)

Anyway, in the audience, I met this lady:

Her name is Alice Denham and she was all excited about her new book, whose full title is “Sleeping With Bad Boys: Literary New York in the 1950s and 1960s,” being reviewed in the New York Times. I looked her up and she’s been reviewed all over the place! She gave me a little flyer showing the front and back covers of the book. Back cover reads “Denham’s lusty memoir is a juicy tell-all about a time when male writers were gods and an aspiring and gorgeous female novelist tries to win respect… Caught between the sheets are James Dean, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth… The steam rises page by page as Denham — the only Playboy Playmate to have her fiction published in the same issue as her centerfold — chases her dream of writing as a young, oversexed beauty in the literary swirl of 1950s Greenwich Village…” The Denham I met seemed interesting, intelligent, quirky, and opinionated, as she rolled her eyes at some of our host’s jokes and wasn’t shy about yelling out, “that’s the ONLY funny one of the night” at the one that actually made her laugh (and she’s of course a lot older now than in her picture as shown above)… but she didn’t seem so ‘oversexed’ to me. I guess she read my thoughts because she said, “Oh, they sexed it up, you know,” rolling her eyes. “It’s really a feminist account of a woman in the 50s trying to be taken seriously as a writer.” Looks good, and I do think I’ll check it out. And Susan Brownmiller of “Our Bodies Our Selves” gave it a thumbs up!

One thing though: feminism and the whole (false) mind / body binarism has captured my interest of late, and Denham’s back cover made me think of it again. As dancers, our bodies are all important, and in a way, I guess we are our bodies. But we are also obviously intellectual beings. It’s just upsetting when someone — a man, doesn’t want to accept that, who thinks that because you’re a dancer he can treat you a certain way, disrespect you, say certain things, look at you a certain way — all things that can even be a bit threatening. I’m a lawyer, I’m not used to this. And it’s definitely not all men — definitely not even most; most men are totally cool; it’s just some who ruin it. Do a lot of female dancers get this treatment? What about “sexy” female writers like Denham? Or Candace Bushnell? Ann Liv Young said she got some suggestions about ways she could make her piece “sexier” by men who didn’t understand her work; she just rolled her eyes inwardly and thanked them. Very Dorothy Parker. I love her. Someone asked for Santoro’s phone number, I think she said as well. I wonder how Santoro reacted.

Anyway, on a more positive thought, regarding feminism: there are some really cool things going on in the city this weekend. There’s a “Global Feminisms” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum on feminist art, and “Indwelling” — a combination of photography exhibits on women’s bodies by female artists, screenings of shorts films such as the movie “A Girl Like Me” which I saw at TriBeCa film festival and blogged about earlier — awesome awesome AWESOME short film by a high-schooler about young African-American girls’ self-perceptions — and some play readings such as The Vagina Monologues. The theme is women’s body images, and it celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute and takes place at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. Sounds excellent.

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