When I graduated from Arizona State in 2006 with my degree in Choreography, there was never a bigger “What the hell do I do now?” moment for me. From the time I was born, there was always a next step, or the next big obstacle I would tackle. From kindergarten to high school to college, I always knew what I was “supposed” to do next. Despite what you might think, no one seems to think a choreography degree qualifies you to do a whole lot in the professional world; at least it’s not laid out in a neat plan like a doctor or something. I dabbled in various professional avenues for a few months. I was very close to a Pilates certification while I was a personal assistant to a prominent Pilates business owner in AZ. She was slightly on the nutty side, the kind of woman who reminded me constantly how lucky I was to be her assistant. I usually cleaned Pilates equipment and toilets more than I learned anything. (This was the one and ONLY time I regretted not going to Brigham Young University to major in Political Science in 2002. That is how bad this job was.) I considered the possibility of going into management at the Macaroni Grill, the restaurant where I worked throughout college. (Desperate, desperate times.) So, when my old dance teacher was leaving her position at Peoria High School and contacted ME to take over the program, it was like a dream come true! Thank you, God! Something to do!
I loved teaching. Everything about it was great. It was challenging, I was teaching a subject I loved, and I got to mold young people into slightly more tolerable adults. However, there is something, eh, constricting about driving to the same school, walking into the same classroom, and teaching the same subject for the next 30 years. I was 22! This was frightening! I was getting packets at faculty meetings about my retirement fund and 401K’s and yadda yadda. In fact, it began to feel like I was slowly being strangled. They might as well have handed out coffin catalogues and cemetery plot options. That’s what it felt like and I should’ve taken this as a bad sign, but I didn’t know what else to do. Sure, the world was at my finger-tips, but I had NO direction. I loved the job, but it felt so permanent and I wasn’t done being young yet. To compensate for this feeling of doom, I was always looking for performance opportunities in dance, musicals, plays, etc around Phoenix. I had been dancing for Scorpius Dance Theatre, a professional contemporary company in Phoenix, for a few years at this point and that was great, but the restrictiveness and conservativeness of my teaching position had me looking for something more exciting, more edgy, and slightly rebellious. I danced and searched for a couple of years and then, I was cast in a musical called Reefer Madness in 2008. Oh man, it was awesome. I could never tell my co-workers (very, very conservative employees at this school) and I could NEVER tell my students (because I was a high school teacher in a dirty play about weed.) This was so exciting to me. People would ask, “Aren’t you concerned your students or their parents might come see the show?” And though I was slightly worried, Peoria was its own little bubble. Most of its residents didn’t often venture out of the town limits. Though downtown Phoenix and Peoria are only about 11 miles apart, they were like two different worlds. My worlds. My fun world and my work world. You would think that singing about Marijuana in my free-time would satisfy my rebellious tendencies, but I had no idea what, even more rebellious and salacious opportunity lay ahead….
Scandalesque was an up and coming Burlesque troupe in Phoenix. They were the whole tassel twirling, scantily clad, acrobatic, singing and dancing deal! They had won awards and dabbled in reality television talent competitions. The show was so fun and the girls were gorgeous! I had seen a show and knew of couple of the dancers through mutual friends as the dance world is small, and particularly small in Phoenix. I thought they were incredible in that “I could never do that because I’m not pretty enough and my body isn’t that great and they are so beautiful, I would look like a troll in comparison” kind of way. I just always thought performing in a burlesque show would be fun. Besides, I was a high school teacher. I could never get away with it, right? On the closing night of Reefer Madness, I heard three of the Scandalesque performers were in the audience and wanted to meet me after the show. This made me so nervous! What could they possibly want with me?!? It was like the cool, pretty, and popular group of girls in high school had asked me to sit at their lunch table. I would surely screw this up somehow by saying something weird or offensive. They wanted to tell me I was great in the show and that they were having auditions in a couple of weeks and that I should come. THIS was an unprecedented occurrence! These girls thought I was worthy of possibly dancing alongside on stage! I know deep down the opinion of others isn’t supposed to matter but this validation was through the roof. I had decided I was obligated to at least try. I owed it to myself. I owed it to the insecure 15 year old in me who no one wanted to talk to let alone see me twirl sparkly fabric with my B cups! Ha HA! It would be a great experience and I probably wouldn’t make it anyway. So, the audition date came and I performed a strip tease to a sultry rendition of Three Dog Night’s “One.” It was a Saturday in Tempe, AZ and there were lots of eager ladies there. The AZ Republic, Arizona’s largest newspaper was even there doing a story about the auditions. The attention whore in me thought, ‘Neat,’ but the teacher in me thought, ‘Oh no! Evidence!’ I worried about the possible news story some, but not a lot. There were several girls there. The reporter asked everyone’s name and took several pictures. She asked me a couple of questions, but she asked everyone the same questions. There were several girls there prettier than I, more picture worthy. Chances seemed pretty low I would even appear in any pictures, let alone be worth mentioning by name in the article. After I nailed the dance portion of the audition and performed my solo. I left feeling pretty, pretty good. I later found out that I had made it! I was so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone, I wasn’t really sure if I was ACTUALLY going to accept the spot in the company, but it felt SO good knowing I had accomplished something I never thought I could. (Andrea’s secret to success: Keep your expectations of yourself low, and you’ll continue to impress yourself every time you surpass them. Write that down.) Now, I’m a firm believer that there is nothing wrong with burlesque dancing. To me, it represents the importance of women owning their sexuality and feeling good about themselves while having a little fun. But to most, and especially to conservatives, I might as well be doing porn. I understood the risk, but I celebrated my victory all weekend and soon forgot all about the AZ Republic….. UNTIL Monday morning.
The texts and messages started in the middle of my first class. “Hey, did you know you’re in the newspaper?” “Hey! Saw you on AZcentral.com! Awesome!” ‘Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!’ I rushed the students out after the bell rang so I could check out the article online. http://www.azcentral.com/ent/nightlife/articles/2008/07/31/20080731scandalesque0802.html
O.... M…. G…. I sat back in my office chair, stunned. There I was, in all my glory, in just a bra, panties, heels, and a smile. The whole first half of the article was about me! Again, the attention whore in me thought ‘Neat’ but the teacher in me thought ‘Fuuuuuuuuuuuu….ddddgggge.’ I sweat through three layers of dance teacher clothes in my next class, just waiting for one of the little teenage rug rats to whip out their phone with a smug smile and blackmail me for a solo in the dance concert. They’re smarter than they look. No student said a word. Strange. Did Peoria not have the internet yet? That was probably it. Peoria residents could definitely read, so I rushed to the nearest gas station to buy a copy of the AZ Republic to see the real damage. It was on the FRONT page! It was on the FRONT page of the entertainment section. It must’ve been a REALLY slow news week in entertainment because there I was, shakin’ it with all my might, for all of Peoria high school and Arizona to see. I was sure I was going to be fired. I was going to come back from lunch and be escorted out by security and not be allowed around children again. I would surely end up on the local news just like those white trash floozies who strip while teaching kindergarten or post vagina pics of themselves on Myspace. I would be shamed, have no job, and I didn’t even know at this point if I was even going to accept the spot with Scandalesque! If I did, it would surely not be worth all of this humiliation!
When I got back to school, there was no one with handcuffs waiting for me, so I taught the rest of the day. I really tried to enjoy those last 2 afternoon classes, for surely they would be my last. After the last bell rang, I walked up to the front office with shame to make copies and get my mail, fully expecting to the get the index finger invitation into the principal’s office. No one said a word. Those who usually smiled at me, smiled and those who usually ignored me, ignored me. Was Peoria really Arizona’s blackhole of news and art and where dreams went to die like I always joked it was? How could no one in the entire school have heard about this story? Not even a student? When I was in high school, I would have killed to find out something like this about one of my teachers. Nothing happened. Days went by with no mention, so I thought it might be safe (and fun) to try it. I was going to moonlight as a Burlesque dancer!
I twirled my tassels for the entire school year. THE WHOLE YEAR and no one found out. Practically topless and a high school teacher. I was a bad ass. Deep down I knew it was just a quarter-life crisis, women’s libber- phase I was going through. I felt sexy and I was telling everyone else they were sexy. I thought sexy could cure cancer. (In fact, a part of me still thinks the confidence that accompanies sexy can heal many, many wounds, both physical and emotional, but I’ll save that for another day.) Though some may not agree with what I was doing, Burlesque inspired me as a teacher. More often than I taught pirouettes, I was a disciplinarian/life-coach, trying to mold these youngsters into confident, successful adults. I launched my own personal campaign to try to make each of my students feel really great about themselves. Everything seemed to be going well until one day, my principal asked to meet me in her office after school. I didn’t think too much of it. It was probably something about grades or funding. I respected our principal. She held a doctorate, raised several children, some that were not her own, and was a great boss. Best of all, she loved me. However, if you were on her bad side, she could be downright frightening. This is a good quality in a principle. As I walked into her office, she greeted me somberly, asked me to have a seat, and shut the door behind me. ‘Shit.’ She sat down at her desk and pulled out a large, red envelope and set it on her desk right in front of me. “Do you know what this is?” She asked.
“No.” I said. This was weird and I started to panic slightly.
“It is called a red-line envelope. The red-line is a line of communication in our district that bypasses the normal hierarchy of Department Head, Assistant Principle, Principle, etc and goes straight to the school board.” She said.
“Okay.” Hopefully she was just educating me on a subject imperative to my knowledge as a teacher in the Peoria District. Yeah. That was all this was. (Relentless optimism is a side effect of feeling sexy, apparently.)
“A teacher on campus had some great concerns about you and sent….”
“Who?!?” I interrupted.
She looked at me above her glasses and I knew this was not the time to interrupt and which teacher was not the important issue.“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that.” She said. “But, they sent a red-line envelope a few days ago. The school board just informed me. Are you aware there was an article published about you in the Arizona Republic?”
My face collapsed into my hands.
She continued. “Are you also aware that there is an article online where you are pictured in your underwear?” She asked.
‘Well, here it is Andrea. This is where your life ends.’ I was definitely in full panic mode at this point. ‘Just get it over with. Please, just fire me. ‘It was like she was whittling away at me with a butter knife. “Yes, I am aware.” That response was the best I could muster. I was red-hot with embarrassment and that drastically reduces my ability to form sentences.
“Well, the school board will be discussing this situation at their meeting tonight. I’d like you to come to my office first thing in the morning to discuss their decision, so, just as a precaution, I’d like you to prepare sub plans for tomorrow.” She said hesitantly. “This causes me great distress, but we have to be prepared in case the meeting doesn’t go…. well.”
My eyes welled with tears and I said “Okay.” I got up and walked with shame out of her office. I fought back those tears as I walked back to my classroom. Sadness and embarrassment quickly turned to anger as I walked past my fellow teachers on campus. Which one of my “beloved” colleagues had ratted me out?! Not only had they tattled on me, but they went straight to the school board in the strongest attempt to get me fired! I was a performing arts teacher, which was already alienating, but we were also on the opposite side of campus, so, we kind of stuck together. I had only a few good teacher friends, and I sort of thought there were a few stick-in-the-muds that just plain didn’t like me because I was young and taught dance but, I always thought that I was just being overly-sensitive. There were a lot of ‘good ol' boys’ and openly Evangelical/Born Agains that were popular teachers on campus and I definitely don’t mesh well with that crowd. I had already felt a separation from my co-workers and this made it much, much worse. If I ever found out who the sneaky turd was that sent that envelope, why I’d… I’d…. Damn. I’d probably not do anything because I was a mature adult and not a sneaky turd.
I left that day accepting that it was likely my last day. I just didn’t’ see how this would turn out in my favor. Even if the school board just wanted to just suspend me, light of this situation would surely get out to the students and eventually the parents, and when parents complain, you’re really in trouble. Even if none of that happened and I came back from my suspension, I would be working amongst the sneaky turd(s) who wanted me fired. I was officially regretting my “rebellious” streak. Even though, I think Burlesque represents only good, I’m not so liberal that I can’t see how this could make a high school teacher “look” bad. I was depressed. I couldn’t even enjoy my daily Taco Bell or my after school nap, two of my favorite teaching things. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I woke up and debated whether or not I should even bring my dance clothes. I probably wasn’t teaching that day.
I got out of my car in the school parking lot that morning, took a deep breath, and walked toward the administration building to get my verdict. I walked up to the principal’s office expecting a memorial only to find she wasn’t there. ‘How could she not be here?! My job is at stake! How is this not the most important thing on her list of to-do’s this morning?!’ I approached her secretary in a panic, “Where is Dr. Richardson!?”
“Oh! She wanted me to give you a message.” She searched amongst her post-its and finally picked up a hot pink note and read me my message without inflection, “School Board declared your dance thing art. Said, congrats on dancing professionally and thanks for your good work.” She smiled at me, proud she had just accomplished something and looked back down at her computer.
I was speechless. This is not how I expected this to go AT ALL. I was impressed with the progressiveness of this school district. They had “declared it art?” Amazing. I mean, it is of course, art but I didn’t think the school board of a mostly Christian district would think so. (This is why I still try not to underestimate rusty, old conservatives.) I was so shocked. They were fine with a teacher at one of their schools wearing pasties in her free time? Great. I walked out of that building with my head held high. Now that I knew I was keeping my job and that the school board had my back, there was only one matter to take care of. I had some time to kill before class, so I decided to take a walk around campus to make serious eye contact with some teachers to see if any eye’s averted too quickly. You know, so I could catch the sneaky tu… Well, you get it now. There was no suspicious behavior. I would never find out unless I investigated, asking around like a crazy person. Whoever did it is likely a coward anyway and probably wasn’t bragging about it enough that it might get back to me somehow. So, I went back to my classroom with a sense of relief and on the bright side, a renewed inspiration to teach my heart out.
Later, my principal called me on my office phone and recommended I share this with my students if they ask. A few did and I shared. But most did not. No parent ever questioned me and I still have no idea who tattled on me. It ended up being one of my favorite years of teaching.
A couple of months later:
As I sat, I pondered and supposed this was the universe’s idea of a punishment. I had karmically gotten away with dancing in a Burlesque show while I was a high school teacher, knowing it might be slightly risky. I had slighted repercussions at every turn and here it finally was: embarrassment in front of a room full of peers. The universe is funny and smart for she knew EXACTLY how I’d learn my lesson. I smiled to myself at this thought the rest of the meeting. It had all come full circle. It was my first taste of paying the high price of fame. I had never felt so sexy.