It's not every day that someone wearing a trenchcoat and heels and comes to Harvard to dance.
Nor is it every day that in the course of such a dance, the person strews off most of his or her clothes to reveal a G-string or lacy black underwear. But lately, students have begun to take advantage of this slightly off-color gift--the strip-a-gram.
"Embarrassing, but funny" said John P. Siracuse '87 of the strip-a-gram his roommates sent him for his 22nd birthday. Siracuse, who was attending a formal dinner in the Winthrop House Junior Common room when the stripper entered, said he was very surprised when the unfamiliar woman walked up to his table.
The whole thing was a total surprise to me," Siracuse said. He added he "thought it would be really innocent, but then began wondering to what extent she would take off her clothes" as she disrobed and began to dance in a "black, lacy thing."
Siracuse is certainly not the only student at Harvard to receive a strip-a-gram. In fact, managers at Cambridge's Rated R Telegrams said the number of strip-a-gram requests from Harvard students has been on the rise.
"We send strip-a-grams to Harvard, Tufts, Boston College, and Boston University," said one employee of the firm. "For me to go through the file and count the numbers would take all day." The employee added that just last night a stripper had been ordered to perform in Claverly Hall.
"For me to say where would give away the surprise," an employee said. And according to her, surprise is one of the most important elements of the strip act.
"I was surprised all right," said Arnetta C. Girardeau '90, whose roommates sent her a strip-a-gram for her December birthday. "They had a surprise party and then the stripper came. It totally freaked me out. He got down to just a G-string and began talking, dancing, and gyrating. It was definitely different."
"I just laughed the whole time, I was so embarrassed," Girardeau said. Elaine Chen '90, who was at the party in Girardeau's room, said her Thayer friend spent most of the time with her hands over her eyes.
"It's true," Girardeau said. "I didn't even see too much of the show because I covered my face."
While Girardeau admitted she was completely embarrassed by the experience, she added she would not mind receiving another strip-a-gram. "Oh, yeah, the whole thing was really funny. Everyone has fun at those things, because everyone is laughing hysterically," she said.
Eric S. Fleischer '88, who received a strip-a-gram in the Mather House dining hall a few weeks ago, said he felt more conscious of the laughter of those around him than of his own.
"My roommates and girlfriend, who were sitting at the table with me, were laughing the whole time," he said. "And I got the feeling that while the men were watching the stripper, the women were watching me to see my reaction. If they had wanted me to enjoy it they would have had to send the stripper to the suite. Not in front of a dining hall full of people."
Fleischer said the stripper, who took off a tan business suit to "wiggle out of that into red underwear and garters", did not seem to mind the crowd. "I don't think she expected so many people to be there, but she seemed to enjoy it. And I'm sure she was well compensated afterwards. It was all very friendly."
Siracuse also said he thought the people at the dinner he was attending when he received the strip-a-gram enjoyed themselves. "The whole thing was very funny. It was hilarious, everyone had a good laugh. It's not something I feel bad about. I certainly don't condemn my roommates for doing it," he said.
Some people, however, are offended by strip-a-grams.
One Quincy House resident said that he found a male stripper, who was hired as a wedding present for a dining hall employee, to be revolting.
"He stripped down to a black G-string and picked her up. It was disgusting," said the resident, who asked to remain anonymous. He added that while he had contributed two dollars to the cause he felt the stripper was very personal and offensive.
Others added that public strip-tease acts are sexist and degrading. Siracuse said, "I know some of the people at the dinner were offended. I feel bad because they weren't enjoying it."
"My first reaction to it was that it was funny. Then I thought about what it implies and what the attitude means. Still, people read too much into it," he said. "I think most people thought it was a good thing. To put social values and to pass moral judgment puts it in a different context," the Leverett house senior added.
David Schrag '89, who witnessed Fleischer's strip-a-gram in the Mather dining hall said, "While it wasn't all that interesting and I was wondering how far she would go, I don't think it's sexist or exploitative. I'm not against it as a principle. It was all in good fun."
"As long as the stripper is not forced to do the act I don't think it's degrading at all. The act was really funny--it came of his own will. Everyone had fun," said Girardeau, adding that she looks forward to the time she can send one to a friend.