Harvard Student by Day, Go-Go Dancer by Night
She wears a bright red wig, a tight, sequined bodice, and erotically gyrates behind glass bars. To the sweaty crowds of gawking dancers at a local nightclub, she is flashdance in a cage. To the person next to her in class, though, Susan L. Kelly '87 is just another Harvard student.
She concentrates in History and Literature, takes four courses, interns at WFNX, and plays a bit part in the Loeb Mainstage production of "Wuthering Heights."
And tonight, like every Saturday night, the Adams House resident will don a Lurex miniskirt and make $40 as a go-go dancer at the Central Square nightclub, Man Ray.
"I came to Harvard," says Kelly, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., "because I wanted to get out of the South, and because I had this romantic vision of interesting people doing interesting things all the time."
These days, Kelly might very well consider herself one of those interesting people, because go-go dancing is not exactly a run-of-the-mill Harvard extracurricular activity. "I'm not a dancer by calling--it was just a total accident," she says. "I was hanging out in Man Ray one night about a month ago and, well, I was kinda drunk. So I got up and danced in the [ go-go booth ]. When I got down the manager said, `You're great, we love you.' That's how it all happened."
Kelly originally gained access to the booth through a friend who works as a disc jockey at the club. Raised above the floor and surrounded by mirrors on two sides, the booth helps create the nightclub's latest theme, the psychedelic sixties. With Kelly and her dancing partner, an MIT student, the picture is complete.
Bruce Jope, general manager of Man Ray, says, "Susan had the look we wanted--the current image that's hot. She fit the physical description of a '60s go-go dancer. After all, she doesn't talk or anything up there, so it's not her personality. It's her dancing and her blase, mod attitude."
"[Man Ray] is doing a New York '60s theme as opposed to a West Coast one," Jope explains. "It's a little bit harder-edged and more plastic. It's vinyl and chrome versus communes and granola. That girl just looks as if she was meant to be in the go-go booth."
No Man Ray patron can miss seeing her, so Kelly must maintain her poise and self-confidence. "I guess I have a tendency toward exhibitionism," she says.
But sometimes Man Ray customers are just a little too interested in watching the tall thin woman from Chattanooga rather than the other patrons. "One guy asked if he could look up my dress and I told him I would kick him in the teeth if he tried it," says Kelly.
To a parttime go-go dancer, the work can become draining. "It gets kind of nightmarish when I realize that I'm in a cage and I have to dance to the next song when all I want to do is sit down," says Kelly.
She's Got the Beat
While Kelly has balked at telling her father how she earns her pocket money, she says that most of her friends are pretty accepting. Even her mother "thinks the go-go dancing is adorable," she says.
Her father would not be as receptive, Kelly thinks, explaining, "It's the archetypal kind of thing dads don't go for. He's pretty cool, but I don't want to press my luck."
"The most common reaction among friends is 'That's just the coolest thing. You're fun to watch,"' says Kelly. "Some have said, 'Omigod, Sue, you cannot be a go-go dancer,' and one said 'Your social standing will crumble."'
Kelly does not take her job that seriously. Nor does she feel as though she is being exploited. "Man Ray isn't the Combat Zone. I don't take off my clothes and I don't do salacious dancing. It's just a little more exaggerated than usual. Really--everything is done tongue-in-cheek, a parody of sexy go-go dancers," she says.
Besides, she adds, the best thing about working at Man Ray is that "it's amazing to get paid for dancing--something I like to do anyway."
What a Feeling
Though her job may resemble the plot of Flashdance, like most student employment it has its ups and downs. "It makes so much of a difference if there are friends who I can talk to on my break. Otherwise I stand there smoking my cigarette and feeling really sordid and squalid."
"Last week the place was packed with people and there was a lot of smoke. It was like a Sid Vicious story--me, staggering up to the bar husking, 'Bobby, give me a glass of water. I'm going to pass out," she says.
"At the club I have these cold, icy stares that usually prevent rude comments. I walk around in an obnoxious way, sort of like 'I'm a personality here,"' Kelly says.
Four hours of go-go dancing would make even Tina Turner exhausted. "At times, I wonder if I shouldn't just blow it off and have normal Saturday nights like everyone else, go to Pudding parties or something. But this way I get $40, and that way all I get is a hangover," says Kelly.
Another Man Ray dancer, MIT sophomore Joe Kohle, says, "Sue's great to work with because we see things the same way. Whenever I start feeling funny about go-go dancing she tells me, 'Don't worry. You go to MIT and these people don't. They're probably jealous."'
Kelly says she has no plans for what she will be doing after graduation, but hastens to add that go-go dancing is not a possible career. "Maybe something in the arts, and anything but investment banking," she says. "I wonder, when I'm middle-aged will I still have this same fascination with night life and teen boogie?"
"But," she says, "I wouldn't mind working at [the New York nightclub] Area if they paid me $50 an hour."