It seems only fitting after posting the interview with Donna George Storey about her story “To Dance at the Fair” from Dirty Girls and Sally Rand to offer up an excerpt. This is the start of her story and the rest of it just gets (much) hotter from there…
Whenever I stand up to speak before an audienceæbe it a ballroom full of steely-eyed colleagues or the semester’s first class of yawning kidsæI think of Sally and I feel strong.
You might say I have it backwards, that I’m supposed to imagine my audience naked to give myself courage, not the other way around. Because of course, Sally Rand, the sensation of Chicago’s Century-of-Progress Exposition during the dark Depression years of 1933 and 1934, stepped onto the stage wearing nothing but two ostrich feather fans and a dusting of pure white powder. As the dance progressed she would swirl her fans, teasing the audience with a flash of nipple or a glimpse of buttock, until, at long last, she would spread her wings to reveal everything. And then, in a flash of light, she was gone, before anyone could really knowæhad they really seen Sally nude or was it all an illusion?
This afternoon it was especially fitting to conjure Sally’s ghost as I took the podium. I was giving a paper on her and her sister performers entitled, “’Enough Nudity for Anyone’s 15 Cents’: Sally Rand, the Crystal Lassies, and the Roots of Internet Porn at the Century-of-Progress Expositions.” I brought plenty of slides, and the ballroom was packed. Sally has been dead for more than twenty years, but she still knows how to pull them in.
Novice that I was to burlesque, I was lucky not to be facing my audience alone. On my left was a dark and very handsome man named Mario Carbone. He had written a paper on “primitive cultures” exhibits and fantasies of empire specifically to join me on this panel. The lean, fair-haired man to my right with the intriguing air of melancholy was Christopher Hansen. For my benefit, he had tweaked his customary focus on FDR into a discussion of the perfect marriage of corporate capitalism and the New Deal at the interwar fairs.
Although we now teach in different parts of the country, the three of us have been best friends since the first week of grad school. Our professors dubbed us the inseparable threesome, and the other students openly laid bets on who got to be in the middle during our all-night fuck fests.
Mario, Chris and I laughed it off because we were sure our bond was purely platonic, founded on mutual intellectual admiration. We wouldn’t be honest enough with ourselves to go to bed together for another fifteen years.