Interview by Saundra Sorenson
Photos by Christine Taylor
It isn’t often you meet up with a girl you’ve already seen naked and suddenly have an overwhelming desire to be BFFs. But that’s how I felt over a cup of coffee with Rocket, the (currently) blue-haired knockout who stands 6’3” in Lucite heels and maintains a chameleon-like presence on the web as she becomes increasingly recognized for her skills on the monkey bars. Think of her as an urban Dita von Teese, crafting a career in both entertainment and nude modeling.
Portland isn’t a city where “exotic dancing” is a particularly divisive issue; you don’t find yourself getting into many discussions about naked dance’s place in Third Wave Feminism, nor do many residents seem up in arms about the Starbucks-like presence of strip clubs throughout the city. And if you want to dance, you don’t necessarily argue semantics. Well, Rocket doesn’t.
“I’m a stripper,” she says plainly, although she regards it as a craft (“Hands-down the best pole dancer I’ve seen anywhere is Cricket,” she says with reverance), lugging a suitcase full of costumes and paying special attention to her playlist as she hones her unique agility onstage.
She holds an English degree (“I’ve read all the stripping memoirs!”) she laughs at the mention of Diablo Cody’s Candy Girl), a certification in personal training and an impressive resume in restaurant management, but a couple years back, the Dallas native found her niche onstage after taking a class in pole dancing. The momentum she picked up spinning around the pole gained her a stage name; her “graduation” recital at Lucky Devil Lounge immediately scored her a job offer.
“I had three guys asking me for a dance, and I’m like, ‘I don’t work here!’” she remembers. “At the bar, the guy’s like, ‘How would you like to work here? I own this place.’”
Despite her snark, she agreed to pick up a few shifts.
“I remember going home and going, ‘What am I doing? Why did I say yes to that?’ Within a week, I was like, ‘This is the job for me.’”
Initially, it was partly Lucky Devil Lounge’s interior décor that sold her.
“Monkey bars – that was the selling point for me when they asked me to work at that club. And there was velvet red, Victorian wallpaper, cheetah print carpet — I would decorate my house that way if I could do it.”
Although she now moonlights at Sassy’s and in front of the camera, she kept stripping clearly defined as a second job for about a year. The riskiness of it – and the logistics of it come tax season – were too daunting at first. Now, of course, she revels in the seemingly limitless deductions you can take as a stripper – specifically, during a quick weekend in Vegas.
And as she builds her website (“my mom’s all kinds of excited about that” Rocket rolls her eyes) and keeps a dynamic Tumblr account, she considers the idea of citywide celebrity.
“I don’t know if I’m really famous – I’m kind of a homebody. I have a really close core group of friends, but I’m not a nightlife person. Most of the time I’m at home with my dogs” (a Chihuahua named Bob and a grumpy panda-like border collie/husky mix) “reading a book. I’m really into SciFi.”
She brings the playfulness to the club. Attempting to spare the crowds from a fiftieth playing of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” Rocket opts instead for more obscure tracks by Gary Newman and the Two Boy Army, Bowie and Depeche Mode. Or as she puts it, “Songs that make me think of Blade Runner” or have a charming edge of cheesiness to them.
Whether it’s this commitment to showmanship or her mad skills in midair, Rocket’s got herself a definite following.
“I have customers that regularly make me CDs,” she says; notably “a compilation of modern-day bands that are still together covering ‘80s songs.”
She adds, “I just got a four-disk compilation. I love it when people do it for me.”
But even as she hangs upside down from the monkey bars, one-legged, she can still clearly see the pratfalls that come with the job.
“I think a lot of people get caught up in that lifestyle. Very little stability. But I know dancers with multiple degrees, I know a bank manager. It’s people from all walk s of life, from the 30-year-old dancer who has a mortgage to pay, to the 18-year-old.”
Mainly, Rocket’s driven – not by a specific goal to become an iconic stripper, but simply to make a living doing something she was surprised to find she enjoys. Her keen business sense (including a website with a pay area) and her grounded lifestyle keep her on trick. She avoids meat and animal products, has never dabbled in drugs and says it’s near impossible to get her to drink (“Vices? I like to get even, but that’s about it”). And although she’s loathe to feed into a negative stereotype about her industry, she has seen what controlled substances have done to some of her colleagues.
“You have to watch out that you don’t somehow morph into your alternate reality,” she considers. “A ton of dancers are Pisces” – the sign most known for its need for escapism and addiction.
She divides her customers nearly evenly as male and female, across the board in terms of sexual orientation (yes, she dances for women, too). Rocket observes singles, couples and groups showing up for reasons ranging from titillation (no pun intended) to entertainment to something slightly more troubling, but scoffs at the idea that she only ever sees desperation. Still, she admits that she’s sometimes taken aback by the things people will tell her.
“ I’m a psychologist to lots of people,” she says. “I’ve had people tell me some real personal stuff, and I don’t know what it is that makes them want to tell me these personal things. Sometimes it’s sexual stuff, like I hear a lot of fantasies and fetishism stuff they don’t feel comfortable telling anybody else. There was a guy who came in and told me, ‘I’m 24 and I’ve never told anyone this, but I’m a virgin, what do you think I should do?’ I told him to go on a website called Adult Friend Finder.com.”
Rocket’s sympathy and her taste for the unusual show through; her face lights up as she remembers advising the embarrassed customer.
“I said, ‘You could have a 3-day party and lose your virginity!’ He was adorable. I said, ‘Put your picture online and you’ll have people knocking down your door. You’re not gonna have any problems.’”
She shrugs. “To some people I think [coming into a strip club] is a serious thing. Some people just want to be entertained. Some people just want a naked lady with their beer.”
For more information – including Rocket’s performance schedule – check out RocketisRad.com and myspace.com/rocketisrad
Rocket will be at Lucky Devil Lounge Friday (July 10) & Devils Point on Saturday & Sunday.
- Full Rocket photo set by Christine Taylor here
- More Portland interviews and photos here
- Christine Taylor’s Website: Happyplayground.com
- Christine Taylor on Twitter
- Saundra Sorenson on Twitter
- More Pipeline from Christine and Saundra here: Pipeline Posse