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Roll call vs. booty call



If there had been a hidden camera, you would have seen 11 women of various ages and shapes in black leggings and T-shirts vamping toward a mirrored wall, throwing their hands against it, and then wiggling their derrières.

            And if there had been a hidden microphone, you would have heard: "You are all beautiful and strong. That's it, girls, show the world how powerful you are!"

            No, the image feed and the audio feed were not mixed up. They were both from the same exotic dance course. But this was no ordinary exotic dance course. It was billed as a "self-empowerment class."

            "Exotic dance is more than sexy dancing," said the Info-Courses online catalog. "It's learning how to reach deep within yourself to find your inner beauty and grace."

            Now, I know a bargain when I see one. This was a great opportunity to take care of a couple of things high on my To Do list. I could add some hot cha-cha to my marriage and become self-empowered. All in a three-hour class. I signed up and forked over $49.

            Let's fast forward over most of the bump-and-grind footage, shall we? Some of the women, who ranged in ages from the mid-20s to the mid-60s, could really shake their booties. I couldn't. They eagerly followed the teacher's instructions, performing the toe-dragging walk, the come-hither crawl, and the feel-your-body-all-over-as-if-it's-his-hands thing with grace and panache. I prayed I wouldn't trip and fall.

            There was only one time when I really felt like I got it. We were working on a hip roll that involved putting our hands on our knees and rotating our behinds. "Imagine there's a laser beam coming out of your butt," the instructor said helpfully, "and you're drawing a circle on the far wall with it."

            Laser-butts! I could just see it --- a dozen women zooming around the room powered by green lasers shooting out of our bums. Stripper superheroes!

            When she wasn't offering helpful imagery, the instructor conducted a running pep talk about how strong, beautiful, and powerful we were. It's the same nonsense that has embalmed a large portion of the female population --- a light solution of Oprah-style bromides that pours out of magazines, daytime talk shows, and classes. Be good to yourself. Find your inner spirit and soar. Overcome and achieve.

            But then the teacher went a little too far. When we were writhing around on the floor to a Melissa Etheridge song, she actually said, "Wow! You women are going to take over the world."


At the same exact moment, in a parallel universe about a mile-and-a-half away, a report had just been released stating that women are emphatically not going to take over the world. At least not through political channels. At least not any time soon. At least not here.

            Even though we make up more than 50 percent of the state's population, women hold less than 18 percent of the local elected offices, according to the Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester. That means there aren't a whole lot of women in jobs like mayor, county legislator, and city councilmember in New York State.

            And unless thousands and thousands of women sign up for this self-empowering exotic dance class right now, the outlook is kind of bleak for that whole women-taking-over-the-world plan.

            In the meantime, until we can get more women into office, issues that are important to us will languish: domestic violence protection, child protective services, hunting down deadbeat dads, etc. Plus, it can be mighty lonely to be one of only a few women elected officials.

            When I was young and foolish --- before I realized I could become a world ruler through exotic dance --- I considered a career in politics. I got a plum internship with a state representative in Massachusetts right out of high school.

            After spending weeks helping craft new bills or tinkering with old ones, I'd sit in the gallery and watch Rep. Barbara Gray (R-Framingham, now retired) down on the floor of the House moving among the overwhelmingly male crowd, nearly indistinguishable in her navy power suit, trading votes and cutting deals.

            It was disheartening to see the kinds of compromises she had to make to get the guys to vote for even the most common-sense laws --- laws that made it easier for judges to punish rapists and laws that reduced the time juvenile offenders had to wait to see a lawyer.

            I remember thinking that men only care about raising car insurance fees and cutting public transportation to poor neighborhoods. But what if there had been more female movers and shakers out there on the floor of the House of Representatives?

            Maybe that's where I'd be now, instead of being one of the movers and shakers on the floor of the House of Dance, peeling off an oversized shirt to the beat of "You Can Leave Your Hat On."

You can't really blame the exotic dance class for using the premise of self-improvement. Let's be honest. Would I have signed up if the course description had said something like: "Get naked, get nasty"? Would anyone?

            We like to pretend to be prudish, even when we're having fun. This great country was founded by Puritans, after all. And locally, some pretty uptight Rochesterians set the tone for prudishness early on.

            Back in the day, Rochester was ground zero for temperance activity, for example. Way before Mayor Johnson tried to clean up downtown, a fistful of feisty broads tried to rid the city of evil spirits.

            Come to think of it, weren't those the same women who later started the women's movement? By organizing against liquor, those ladies got a little self-empowerment action themselves. They got so self-empowered, in fact, that they went on to change the course of history.

            Wait, wait. Don't tell me.

            If removing booze can lead to women's rights... then maybe removing clothes can lead to women ruling the world?!!

            Shake your booty. Shake your booty.

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