3 ways my failure as a go-go dancer will help you succeed

(This was a speech I gave today for my Downtown Toastmasters club.)

I was a failure. As a go-go dancer.

It was 1994 in San Francisco. I’ll tell you my story and you’ll learn to

  • Know your context
  • Bring your audience
  • Recognize the value of failure

These were the days before the internet. We found out about rooms for rent, music shows and go-go dance contests through colored flyers stapled to telephone poles.

The flyer said, Go-go dance contest: dance for a minute. Winner gets $50 prize!

$50 in a minute! I worked in a dog kennel under a freeway overpass making $7 an hour. I could work brushing dogs, brushing dogs’ teeth and hosing dog poop for 7 hours and not make $50.

I thought, “Perfect! I have the outfit!”

IMG_20160114_102642I owned authentic 1970s white vinyl go-go dance boots and a 1970s orange mini dress. I got them both at the Bargain Barn in Santa Cruz, California, where people stood outside in a clump until a bell rang. Then we all rushed in. Stuff was dumped willy-nilly on tables. In my mind, it defines the word frenzy. When I found the white vinyl go-go boots in my size, I felt it was destiny.

You know how they say, “Dress the part,” or “Clothes make the man” or “Fake it til you make it”? These clichés don’t apply to go-go dancing. You can look like a go-go dancer and not be able to do it. Case in point.

I have fast eyes. I am a speed reader. I have fast enough hands. I type 60 words per minute. I have slow legs. I walk a 20-minute mile.

I had taken my slow legs to a single dance class in 1992. It was hip hop. I stood at the back of the room and watched everyone do quick stylish moves.

You would think that remembering my failure in the back of the room as a dance class would have dissuaded me from dancing on a stage in a spotlight…but no.

The night of the contest I went to the bar. It was a place that was campy and chic without looking like it was trying too hard. If people were drinking American mainstream beer, it was because they were doing it to be ironic. Today I would call the bar hipster.

I gathered with the other women and one man in drag. The DJ told us the rules. One minute each and applause would decide the winner.

Immediately I stuck out. Everyone else except for the man in drag was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt or tank top. I was the only one in white vinyl go-go boots.

The music started and the first contestant took the stage. She did some slow gyrations to a popular love song at the time.

I was in trouble. I had imagined 1970s upbeat go-go music, not 7th grade slow dance music.

My turn came. I flailed my arms and stomped in place in an attempt to combine my personal awkwardness, my severe self-consciousness, my single class of hip hop dance training and my love for the retro 1970s into one spectacular dance routine against a slow sexy 1990s song as the soundtrack.

My minute was over.

The audience stared at me. The DJ grimaced as she looked at me and goaded the audience, “C’mon people, clap for the poor thing!”

Three or four people clapped out of deference to her rather than praise of my skills.

So I didn’t win.

The next day I was cleaning kennels with my coworker and I told her about my humiliating failure. She said, “F- that. You gotta bring your own crowd with you. I would have clapped for you. Anyone who knows you would have clapped for you. Next time you want to go-go dance, you call me and I will be there for you.”

How lucky am I? All my life I have had people around me who will holler for me. The line between adventurous and foolish is thin. But I’ve always had encouragement to try new adventures.

Now you’ve learned that you need to

  • Know your context
  • Bring your audience

moments_D430CC90-ECEB-4331-9414-185AC833F72AMy last lesson is to recognize the value in failure. It’s true I’m an awful go-go dancer: untrained and uncomfortable in thrift store 1970s white vinyl go-go boots. I stood alone while a DJ pressured people for pity claps, but I got something out of it. This experience in the 1990s is material for my speech today, my tenth advanced speech that earns me an Advanced Communicator Bronze award.

In closing, learn from me and

  • Know your context
  • Bring your audience
  • Recognize the value of failure

Keep in mind that I’m your friend. When you enter your next go-go dance contest, I will holler and whoop and clap for you.

I know what it’s like. I’ve been there.


7 thoughts on “3 ways my failure as a go-go dancer will help you succeed

  1. Wait! Let me sit down! I’m dizzy! Serious time warp, visions of go-go boots, shag carpet and leisure suits. I’m done for, finished, whooped. Where is my Rubber Soul vinyl album? Escaping in a Yellow Submarine now and I mean it!

  2. I loved this! I will always be a member of your fan club, Gen. You can count on me to clap and cheer for you at any time! Such a great reminder for all of us . . .

  3. First let me say, you totally rocked that outfit! This story was fun to read, but I would have thought the same thing as you; 1970s upbeat go-go music. It was a go-go dancing contest, after all. At least you were brave enough to enter. Congratulations on your new award!

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