[ | Pittsburgh City Paper]

“It really changed who I am as a performer and my comfort with the stage.”

In recent years, positive strides have been made in our culture’s attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identification. But negative views of those who work in the sex industry persist. Women (and, to a lesser degree, men) who use their bodies in legal commerce, such as strippers, are often scorned. They are accused of doing moral and social wrong, and at the same time seen as victims of exploitation.

In her new autobiographical one-woman dance-theater show Sex Werque, dancer/choreographer Moriah Ella Mason, a former stripper in Pittsburgh, explores attitudes and misconceptions about the industry, and feelings that both she and fellow strippers have about the profession. The show runs July 27-30, with four performances at off the WALL Performing Arts Center, in Carnegie.

With the 90-minute Sex Werque (which contains adult content and partial nudity), Mason says she wanted to emphasize that working in the sex industry is more complicated than the binary responses she usually gets: either “that’s so cool and empowering” or expressions of pity and worry. “Both of those responses are true dynamics of the industry,” she says, “but neither tells the complete story.”

A Trafford native, Mason began her dance training at age 10, inspired by seeing her older brother in a local production of High School Musical. She studied dance and choreography at Sarah Lawrence College and danced professionally in Tucson, Ariz., before returning to Pittsburgh where she has performed with the Pillow Project, STAYCEE PEARL dance project, and Maree ReMalia/merrygogo. Last year, she was seen at Carnegie Stage in Mark Thompson’s Kimono. She has presented her own work locally as well as in New York. When she’s not dancing, Mason works as a massage therapist, filmmaker and visual artist.

She says she got into stripping partially out of curiosity about the excitement and danger associated with it. “I tend to push myself toward anything that feels scary,” she says. Her biggest motivator, however, was economics. She was struggling to pay her bills and to fund her art.

Of the many responses from people who knew she was a stripper, some of the more complicated came from feminist friends. Some cheered what she was doing, and some jeered, Mason says.