Human Marvels: "I Take Off My Clothes in Public"
by Richard S. Ehrlich
NEW YORK -- How does 24-year-old Peri Rogovin earn a living?
"I take off my clothes in public," she replies, winking.
It all started in 1972, when she needed a part-time job to help pay for college. She stepped onto a strip club's stage. Since then, she's done shows in Mexico, Las Vegas, Boston's Combat Zone, and Manhattan's Playboy Club.
Leaning her fox-like face towards a round, magnifying mirror so she can put her false eyelashes on straight, Rogovin insists she is more interested in jazz dancing than stripping.
"I didn't like being poor and I wanted to dance," she says, thinking back to her days at Santa Monica City College.
"I found out strippers could dance, they could do anything they wanted. The only stipulation was, you had to take your clothes off."
As soon as she got over that hang-up, it was all right, she says.
Rogovin flutters those eyelashes to make sure they're glued. She is preparing for an audition and prefers to dress at home, so she can take her time. She reaches for rouge.
Recalling her first audition for The Ball -- which she describes as a very elegant, private club near the campus -- she says, "First, I tried stripping in front of a few boyfriends. I saw how it went with the opposite sex, and if it went over."
She coyly chuckles. "And it did."
On her first day onstage at The Ball, she says, a producer walked in, watched her dance, then asked her to be in one of his shows.
"Where again, I took my clothes off," she laughs. "But I had fancier costumes."
She left college and went with the show to Mexico.
"I worked at this very plus club which catered to Mexican aristocracy and rich Americans. It was called El Tapa Tio. On the highest mountain in Guadalajara."
The show ran into difficulties with its Mexican agent, so she left and went on her own to Las Vegas.
"To call Vegas sophisticated or elegant makes me throw up," she declares. "It's one big blaring fake."
But she found a lot of jobs. Soon, the Royal Las Vegas, right off the Strip, hired her for burlesque shows.
"It's the nicest place for a stripper to work in Vegas," she says.
In Las Vegas, Rogovin saw the seamier side of a showgirl's life.
"A lot of times, casino people want a girl that'll do whatever they want," she admits.
"Like either go with the casino manager, or with a big money gambler. In Vegas, that's what many of the showgirls are like."
The Vegas money came fast, but she spent it just as fast. Ad stripping is hard work, she adds.
Average time onstage at the Royal Las Vegas is 10 to 15 minutes, she says. Usually, she danced three shows a night. Six nights a week. Rogovin received about $275 a week. Some places make a girl dance 20 minutes each show. That's a long time to be kicking and gyrating, she says.
It all depends upon the showgirl's act. Elaborate costumes take more time to display.
"For any show, the most tiring part is the dressing and undressing before and after each number," she adds.
Sometimes she had to change costumes five times for each show.
Rogovin twists her neck so her profile reflects in the mirror like a mug shot. The rouge is OK. She strides towards her closet and thinks for a few minutes about what's best to wear to audition her act.
At the Royal Las Vegas, the best strippers get acts, she says.
"You could come on as a gypsy lady. Or as a little girl and become a woman. Or pretend you're Little Red Riding Hood," she grins fiendishly, knowing she can manipulate men's sexual fetishes.
"The girl creates her own act. The only stipulation, remember, is that you've got to have no clothes at the end. Whatever else you do to get there is your decision."
Rapport with her audience is vital.
"I need everybody's eyes," she admits, poised in a dancer's stance with feet at right angles while she gazes at her wardrobe.
"I seduce with my eyes. That's why I have to have eye contact. If there's nothing to look at, I can't seduce it."
Her favorite costume is The Leopard Lady. A leopard skin cape and a little, ragged, black and yellow striped skirt.
"A cave woman," she chuckles. To turn her audience on, she would dance so sexy, then crawl towards them and purr.
"I hid false fangs in my mouth and then did a somersault, landing an inch from somebody's face in the audience. I'd open my mouth up and go, GGGGRRRRRROOOOOOWWWWWWLLL! Somebody in the audience freaks every time! It's fun."
Many men would agree with her concept of the American Male's Ideal Woman: "A combination of Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, and a little bit of Woody Allen," she says.
From her closet, she lets her robe slide from her shoulders, and holds the pants to her waist.
"How did a nice girl like me get this way?" she asks her full-length reflection in the closed door mirror. Turning and stepping into the flouncy pants, she teases, "I always liked men."
Then, matter-of-factly, "I feel sexy before I go onstage. I have to prepare myself that way mentally. I get very involved in making movements seductively onstage. That's my specialty."
She says that stripping is a power trip. And she loves it. But stripping isn't all dance and applause.
"At the Royal Las Vegas, it was probably a great set-up for the hookers waiting at the bar," she admits.
Rogovin doesn't feel exploited by stripping, she claims, because she can justify anything she's doing and find value in her work.
"Nobody approves or disapproves," she says harshly, suddenly defensive. "It just makes no shit to me. I'm more independent than any other lady I've met."
She makes good money. Her shows allow her to perform jazz dancing.
And she doesn't believe that men who must pay, but can't touch, are being exploited by strippers.
"These guys wouldn't come unless they found enough value in it. Ad if they gotta pay, they gotta pay."
Then, shrewdly, "If you were going to take off your clothes, wouldn't you rather get money for it if you could?"
After ferreting a blouse from her drawer, she straps on a red bra and dives into the silky, rose-patterned shirt. She pins a red beret at a tilt above her heart-shaped face.
"But I don't do anything offensive to get a reaction," she adds. "Some strippers rub their crotches. There's no need for that. I get offended. It's not sexy. It's crude."
Like some people in her audience, she feels certain shows and photographs should be banned.
"I love nudity," she clarifies, "we all have that in common. We can all be naked. But using little kids," she squints her eyes with displeasure. "It's sick. Putting more insane ideas into people's heads." Then, mischievously, she grins, "I enjoy it personally, but I know where to stop it at."
Magazine advertisements of glamorous women speckle her walls. A wooden sign painted, "Burlesque Show Live Onstage, Every Hour on the Hour," hangs above her make-up table. As she stuffs a jar of cold cream into her bag, she says that she enjoys doing burlesque shows much more than just stripping.
"I'll talk like a stripper and you'll hear what she's like," she says. Then, turning her voice into thick Brooklynese to satirically sound the part, she slurs, "I go out there and I move around to the music, doll face, and I take off my clothes. This guy slipped me 20 bucks under the table for a blow job, and I'm so mad at the boss because he wants me to go with another customer over here who bought a 200 dollar bottle of champagne."
Laughter cascades out of her lipsticked mouth.
Burlesque is different. Burlesque has a self-contained act which goes beyond peeling off clothes. At the Royal Las Vegas, she designed her own costumes.
"A burlesque queen is like the Statue of Liberty of Ziegfield Follies, she declares. "Very American."
She danced in Las Vegas for eight months, then traveled. She would frequently return, using the city as base to contact producers and choreographers.
But if she can't find a job, she'll try stripping in less extravagant surroundings.
"I worked for about two weeks in this place in Boston's Combat Zone," she says. "It was the sleaziest joint you could find. The Peek-a-Boo Club."
Rogovin was thankful when the Playboy Club in Manhattan hired her for Minsky's Follies in May, 1977.
"I love the Playboy Cub," she raves. "They treat you like gold. They make sure newspapers write you up and you get fantastic photos taken of you for advertising. You're built up. You're glamour."
During November through December, she danced her way up to star in Minsky's Follies. The pay for a lead dancer -- about 500 dollars a week for 12 shows -- allowed her to scan the theatrical clothing shops for flashy costumes.
Now that Minsky's Follies has finished showing at the Playboy Club, she hopes to find another dancing job in the city. Or dance in France, where her cousin lives. She peers at her watch and says she must leave for her audition. The stripping job she's competing for is at a dinner lounge.
Her audiences at dinner lounges often include married couples. And women are usually more critical of her act, she claims.
"Men are sold right away," she adds, then talks bass, mimicking them: "Yup, she's all right, heh, heh."
She insists she doesn't want to sexually arouse women, but then adds, "I do not like frigidity in women. Even though I might not be turned on to them. I'm a stripper. There's a reason why you take off your clothes. It's an expression of sensuality. It's like doing a dance."
Rogovin tiptoes between sex and sensuality.
"Like when I do my 16-count split. I'm simulating, uh, I don't like to say 'lovemaking,' because I'm not pumping the floor, right? Or playing with myself. But..." she searches her feelings while putting on her coat and counting bus fare, "...I'm just showing what I feel making love is like. As a stripper, you're arousing people to that. Being sensual. Feeling sexual. It turns me on to know I can turn all those people on." Then she adds, fondly, "It does."
When Peri Rogovin takes off her clothes, she is only naked. Not many people would pay the price of a dinner show to see her standing undressed. It's when her body dances -- merging into music -- that people watch with awe. With or without the camouflage of clothes, she captures sensations when she dances.
By toying with a costume's illusion and nature's passionate drama, she turns the human body into a spot lit spectacle.
Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich
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Website, more news by Richard S. Ehrlich plus the non-fiction book of interviews, documentation and investigative journalism, titled: "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews