From poles to popes: Burlesque on Boylston

by Beacon Staff • February 13, 2008

Wendy Reardon points to a stripper pole in the center of the room and tells her class, "Oh yeah, you wish yours was this big." The dim pink lighting and zebra-curtained walls create an atmosphere of sexual seduction in the Gypsy Rose Dance Studio as seven twenty-somethings clad in an assortment of pleather thigh-high boots and booty-shorts are instructed by the Emerson alumna to live by the motto, "The pole is my friend."

Rick James's "Super Freak" blasts in the background, but in this scene, Olive from Little Miss Sunshine is not breaking it down. Instead, these women are learning to pole dance. It's a bachelorette party and Reardon ('93), stands at the head of the group in a black bustier and matching thong.

But don't put on the red light just yet-Reardon, founder and owner of the Gypsy Rose Exotic and Pole Dancing Studio on Boylston Street, did not let her liberal arts education go to waste. In addition to her exotic entrepreneurship, Reardon is also the published author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Exotic and Pole Dancing, and The Deaths of Popes-the result of her nagging interests in Papal passings.

Reardon didn't always plan on dancing for dollars. After graduating with a BA in writing, Reardon went to Los Angeles where she pursued a career in writing for Warner Brothers Animation and later Hanna-Barbera Cartoons where she wrote for shows like the Animaniacs and Nickelodeon's atypical twosome, Catdog.

In 2001, she was laid off and an unexpected career in dancing began.

"I had no dancing experience or anything, but I wanted a job that was flexible," said Reardon. "'Only for three months, only for three months,' I told myself. Becoming an exotic dancer was never a goal, it was an interim job."

She began working for Snooky's Bar in Ventura, Calif. where she saved some cash for furthering her education. After transferring to the Snooky's in Simi Valley, Calif. and later to Oxnard, Calif., Reardon's thirst for knowledge appeared in the form of deceased popes.

"I love dead popes," said Reardon. "They are the funniest guys-hysterical-I love them."

The divergent path she pursued from writing for cartoons, to dancing for dough, to her christening as a well-read pope historian was not anything that she had planned.

After a few years in California, she pursued her graduate degree in papal studies at the University of Reading in London, and paid her way by dancing at pubs through the Rainbow Agency, a company that offered stripping services to several pubs in the area.

While dancing was a means of economic stability to get her through grad school, there were some emotional consequences that accompanied her life at the club.

"There was one time when I was dancing when a guy kept saying 'How much? How much?'" said Reardon. "But the whole time I was thinking 'I'm not a hooker, I'm not a hooker.' I looked at myself in the mirror and I just had to leave."

Her manager explained to her shortly after the incident that a lot of the girls go through similar experiences with the men who frequent the club and simply learn to brush the comments aside. Reardon said that this was when she was able to separate her life as Wendy and her life as a dancer. To help differentiate these two worlds she took the stage name of Holly.

All the while, however, Reardon's passion for popes would not go away. She presented her first paper on the funeral of Boniface VIII at a conference in Michigan in 2001, where McFarland Publishers had a booth. After pitching her idea, she was published three years later.

"I wanted to write a book about the deaths of the popes, not their lives," she said. "When I got back from grad school I just couldn't give it up. I don't know why, something made me write that book. I feel like I was chosen. It's not a rocket-science concept but there is no other book like it."

After her success with Deaths, Reardon returned to the states and decided she couldn't live without dancing. She then pitched an exotic dancing class to the Boston Center for Adult Education where her first classes were wait-listed. After three semesters she was ready to open up her own studio on Boylston Street.

While Reardon continues to run Gypsy Rose full time, she explained the importance of maintaining intellectual stimulation during her free time.

"Even now, for fun, I actually sit down and try to decipher Latin paleography [the study of ancient handwriting]," she said. "Plus I think that was my way of proving to myself that I've got an intelligent side. The dancing is all fluff-what I really love is the history of the popes."

After her initial experiment in publishing was successful, Reardon decided to combine her brains and her booty. The goal in publishing the Idiot's Guide, she said, was to put herself in the forefront as an expert on the subject.

"So many places now think they can just teach exotic dancing, or pole dancing and women empowerment," she said. "But until you've lived it, I don't see how just any old dance instructor or aerobics instructor thinks they can truly teach those skills, when they've never had to honestly live it. That's why at Gypsy Rose we use only real former exotic dancers as teachers. We're the real thing."

Her studio is open to women 18 and older and this policy is taken quite literally. Reardon has taught classes for women as old as 67.

"The older ladies are more fun, because they don't care anymore," she said, while hanging up a feather-trimmed blouse from the previous class.

While women may learn some of these sexy steps for their husband or boyfriend, Reardon does not allow men into the studio unless they are either a guest in a bachelorette party or seriously considering taking up exotic dancing.

"I don't dance for free and if I'm out there teaching and all the girls are like 'Oh my God, my boyfriend's watching,' it defeats the purpose of the class," she said. "It's about the girl."

The only other exception she has made for males is for Emerson's own Professor Cynthia Miller and her class, Staging American Women: A History of the Burlesque, which takes a trip to the studio for a hands-on learning approach.

Miller explained how Reardon's class has helped to enhance her curriculum in an e-mail to The Beacon.

"Like the early burlesque queens, Wendy emphasizes the performer's ability to mock the desires of the audience and create her own terms and boundaries for her performances," said Miller. "Our field trip to Gypsy Rose Dancing allows the students to learn a little bit of that from a professional, and to understand first-hand that nudity is the least interesting part of the whole burlesque experience."

Kyle Hemingway, one of the few males ever to experience Reardon's exotic teachings, said he was more than happy to take part in the sexy session.

"It was not at all strange for me to be taking the class," the junior media production said. "I was actually quite surprised and happy that Wendy had a spare pair of platform heels in my size so I could join in on the fun, too."

Scarlett Redmond, a junior BFA acting major, a

lso took Miller's class and described the impact that Reardon had on those who attended the unconventional school excursion.

"Students come away from Wendy feeling carefree, confident and entertained," Redmond said. "She really emphasizes the self-confidence involved in pole and exotic dance. She makes sure you are dancing for yourself, and no one else."

It is this confidence that Reardon wishes to develop in her students.

"I was so quiet at Emerson, I blended in," she said. "No one from my classes would even know who I was. Dancing increased my confidence like you wouldn't believe. Because of this I try to instill in my students new confidence that can make their daily experiences, Emerson or otherwise, much more colorful."

On the opposite wall from the studio's poles, a sign reads: "Sexy is a state of mind." Reardon said that it all starts with confidence. If one is feeling sexy in the mind, the body will automatically imitate what is in the imagination.

"Exotic dancing and performing is all about your attitude," she said, "Who is anyone else to tell you that you can't do something just because you don't look like they do on the magazine covers? Yep, I've got some cellulite, I've got more in my butt than I'd like, but I'm still sticking my butt in your face because you're going to like it."