Hearing about the closing of my alma mater, downtown peep show the Lusty Lady, saddens me. (The venue will shut its doors in June.) It's been years since I was a Lusty Lady, but working there was a formative experience.

I certainly polished my physical graces in that pink hall of mirrors. Many of the women there had years of dance classes and were performance artists. I was at the opposite end of the spectrum—I wasn't clumsy, but I had no formal dance training at all.

Which was fine, because to say that one dances at the Lusty Lady is to employ euphemism. The stage is small, perhaps 8 by 15 feet, and there are usually several women on it, so often you are all less than an arm's length from one another. It would be more accurate to say one wiggles at the Lady—or undulates, or bounces, according to one's mood. I'm still no Isadora Duncan, but the Lady improved me—nothing teaches you how to sway, turn, slither, and bend beguilingly like watching yourself, naked, hour after hour.

While I didn't learn dance steps, I learned another type of erotic performance. I'd already worked for escort services and massage parlors, but those jobs were about touching. At the Lady, I studied the art of visual presentation and verbal stimulation. Since we were paid a flat wage, there was no reason not to experiment with different personas. I tried being a biker chick, a pigtailed country girl, a retro pinup doll, and, oh yeah—a bitchy dominatrix. Guess which one I decided I liked best?

It was training in speaking my sexual thoughts, too. One of the reasons women hesitate to mention edgy sexual fantasies is out of fear that men will think we're giving immediate, unequivocal consent to them. Safely behind glass, I gave myself permission to say any taboo sexual thing I thought of. Some of the kinky things that came out of my mouth surprised me, but I found I liked saying them, and I saw other people liked it, too.

From those experiments came pieces of a whole. It was in the laboratory of the Lusty Lady that I created many of the elements that would one day coalesce into "Mistress Matisse." I'll be sorry to see my old birthing place go. recommended