Valerie Hager is an American ex-crystal meth addict and one-time pole dancer taking a show called Naked In Alaska to the Edinburgh Festival. Pete Shaw asks what we can expect her EdFringe debut.
I pole danced for 10 years on stages in Tijuana, San Diego, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Alaska. For most of these years, clubs were my church.
Tell us about your Edinburgh Show.
“Naked In Alaska is my experience stripping in the Last Frontier state. It’s a solo show I wrote in honor of that unforgettable 10-year period in my life — and especially of the unforgettable power and beauty I witnessed in so many of the women I worked with. Popular culture often belittles exotic dancers and strip clubs, yet the truth is far more complex and breathtaking. I’m not interested in the popular clichés; this was my life and I know these dancers as real people with dreams and children and heartbreak. I’m after the truth— a show another dancer could watch and say, “That’s how it really is. Oh my God, she gets it.”
“Naked In Alaska begins when I’m in my early 20s, living in San Diego, newly clean off of a crystal meth addiction, $3,000 in debt… and unemployed. My best friend Raven, wanting to help, invites me to work with her for one night in a seedy strip club across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. That one night turns into a 10-year career that reaches its apex in a down-home club deep in the heart of Alaska. I play over a dozen characters I worked with or danced for—and whose entwined stories remain imprinted on my heart forever. On top of that, there’s pole dancing, sequined costumes, archival photos and video, and more rock n’ roll heart than you can handle!
“More than anything, with Naked In Alaska I wanted to take a fearless look at the objects so many of us make of ourselves to fit in to the world, and the buried truths we must face to have a chance at coming home. We all run from something at some point in our lives— some of us for our whole lives. Naked In Alaska is my story about what it took for me to turn around and look that thing dead in the eye.
“Last year, we won FringeNYC’s Overall Excellence Award in Solo Performance and Chicago Fringe’s Audience Favorite Award. Since 2012, we’ve had sold-out runs and phenomenal reviews here in the States. I’m so excited to bring it to Edinburgh this summer!”
What's your link to pole dancing? Practical experience?
“I pole danced for 10 years on stages in Tijuana, San Diego, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Alaska. For most of these years, clubs were my church. Yes, pole dancing was a part of the job description, but more than that it was a place to shine, to feel like a star, to express everything I couldn’t say — or rather didn’t have the courage to say — with my voice. Even now pole dancing is a transformational art form for me. It‘s a release for my heart and my body — perhaps the clearest reveal of my soul. “
Do you ever get awkward audience members who have the wrong idea about your show?
“With every performance of Naked In Alaska I have been blessed with the warmest, most caring, openhearted audiences I could have imagined. I think, to a very large extent, the story I’ve written and the way I perform makes it very clear that this show comes from a deep, at times wrenching, and soulful place. This energy I hope impacts the audience from scene one. That they’ve all gotten it: “Yes, there’s dancing and a half-naked woman up there, but that’s not what this is about. I can see my own life and dreams at stake up there, too.”
This is your Edinburgh debut. What are you most looking forward to, and what scares you the most?
“All I’ve heard from everyone I know who’s participated in the Edinburgh Fringe is that it’s a life-changing experience — they literally use those words! That thrills me! I want to be part of that kind of magic — for myself, for everyone I meet, everyone who comes to the show, all the new friends I will make, and the incredible art I will witness from all over the world. In truth I’m so excited I can barely contain it! It’s an incredible honor to be participating—and from the perspective of the girl I once was — a recovering meth addict, high school dropout, exotic dancer — it’s a blessing impossible to put into words. I never thought I’d be able to experience this or have a chance to perform in a city with the history and majesty of Edinburgh.
“What scares me? The flight! I get scared of flying — take offs, landings, turbulence. But I’ll never be scared enough to miss this adventure!”
If you could pick four people, from the past or present, to be in your front row audience, who would they be and why?
“I’d want the primary dancers that I portray in Naked In Alaska: Raven, Infinity, Sierra, and Charlie. I would love for them to sit there and feel with their whole beings that I was telling their stories and honoring their lives and struggles. Without them, Naked In Alaska would not be. I carry them within my heart always — not to forget, of course, that they would also be my harshest, most unruly critics and the ones who’d be roaring with the loudest laughs! It’s really a story dedicated to them — and to women of all backgrounds — whose strength and grace in the face of adversity continues to inspire me.”
Naked In Alaska is at the Assembly Roxy, 1st-25th August (not 11th & 18th) at 7pm.