hey Valerie Hager: actress, soul-excavator, firestarter, stripper, writer

When life hands you lemons, what do you do? Create a global phenom, one-woman, sold-out stage play and turn into a Hollywood script.

 

Yeah, this is supposed to be a blog about sexy lingerie, but it’s really about forces of nature beneath the leather and lace and silk that remind us who we are, how we want to show up for ourselves and what happens when we stop giving a fvck what other people think and focus on our pleasure, our path, our truth.
Valerie Hager is on our short-list of ride or dies. She’s got an impressive bio: Her award-winning writer/actress whose one-woman show, Naked in Alaska, has been called a visual masterpiece and is nothing short of acting greatness as she embodies all of the characters — from clients to fellow strippers — as she recounts her days stripping in Alaska. 
What we really love is her take on all things feminine power, shadow sides, going deep within yourself and coming back out on top. Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to see how the sausage is made, you probably shouldn’t keep reading. xxx
You’re an experience hunter. You're always up for anything. You'll say yes to anything. You're excited by things. You're excited by life. And you're so fearless. Is that something you were born with, or did you learn to have that mindset?
valerie hager (vh) I love this question and I do think I always had what I feel like is an insatiable desire to come alive. However, I think that in the beginning, I didn't know how to contain the overwhelm of those sorts of feelings, and emotions, or passion, or rage, or all of that. And so, in the beginning, I didn't understand that you could be both, both holy and wild. My fearlessness was fearlessness without presence. And I think that's the big difference and, for me, fearlessness without presence is dangerous.
And that's the first half of my life, which was, oh, yeah, I'm being fearless, and I'm doing all of these drugs, and I'm totally not present, and I'm cutting myself, and I have an eating disorder, I'm throwing myself into situations that I look back on now, and don't know how I made it out. And that might be fearless from the more adolescent perspective, but it's not fearlessness in the deepest sense. I think that piece of presence is what really makes fearlessness, the courageous, the lionhearted. 
That's something I had to learn through trial and error, and dark night of soul, and hitting a bottom in all levels. And then, that waking up to understanding that over a long period of time.

When you hit that bottom, did you automatically think, "Oh, I need presence?" Or did that shake you into presence? How did you make the leap from the awakening to what you needed to do?
vh That did not happen right away. When I got clean, when I was 17, that was one awakening. And then I was in the program for 16-and-a-half years. And I learned meditation. I learned what taking responsibility was. I learned through other women in 12-step how to be empowered without being self-destructive. I guess how to be, in a sense, fearless without annihilating everything around me. And so, it was over time, many, many, many years. And then, I left 12-step. And then, I have been on my own seeker path for the last 20 years.

It's interesting, because we hear messages about live fast, play hard, all of those motivational things… and no one says be present at the same time.
vh I totally relate to that. And especially, because I love athleticism. And those are slogans that are totally woven throughout fitness… live fast, play hard, push past, be the beast, all this stuff, and I totally love that. But I realized, I actually think it was COVID making me come to a halt.
And the way that I was living, the rhythm completely changed. The productions that I was doing stopped, everything stopped for so many of us.

And I realized for me, what presence was, and it's not like, sit still, and breathe, meditate or whatnot. It's actually feeling my hands, coming back into my body, putting my hand on my stomach, and on my heart, and actually reminding myself that I have a body.

Such a good point, too, because so many of us are out of our bodies by being either on autopilot or hitting the gas pedal so hard all the time that we forget to sit with ourselves. And to your point, have a body, we are in these bodies.
vh Oh, my God. I so identify with what you just said, and I feel like really, most of my life has been out of body. I think I learned that as a lot of us do as a survival mechanism. And then, I definitely learned that in stripping. That was a tool, and it kept me going on the nights that were really fucking hard. And I think that it just stayed even though it wasn't useful anymore.
And then, I realized, "Oh, this is getting in the way now. This isn't working for me anymore." And that was about three years ago, when I started working with a somatic practitioner. And that’s really when the coming back into my body started happening.
Was it through a series of talking, or were you just meditative? How did that work?
vh She's my therapist, but she practices somatic experiencing in her therapy. What it is, in a nutshell, is just working with places in the body, where stories, emotions, energy, whatever, is stuck. Let's say, I come into her office, and I've just raced to get there, and I'm late, and God knows whatever else happened during that day. And she'll have me sit down, and just breathe, and close my eyes, and feel where the tension is. And come back into my body, and let's say I have tension in my spine. Then, we'll breathe into my spine, but also, we'll go even deeper into discovering what is in my spine? What does my spine have to say? What is it holding on to? Why is it gripping so tightly that I can't touch my toes without pain? How far back does the story go? It’s a kind of practice that just helps those parts of you to break open a bit.
That brings me to something you’ve said, “Raw grit and flawed beauty. I learned to trust the drum within. Let it rage. To unleash passion, power — and the wild in me, and let it take me over completely.” Talk about what this means to you…
vh Raw grit for me, is lived experiences, is my lived experiences that maybe at one time, I thought I needed to hide away parts of me that I thought were not worthy of being seen. And coming into a place through years of work and practice. And claiming those shadow parts, and claiming those imperfections, and allowing them to shine, and fuel me instead of take me over. So, it's like raw grit. It's messy. It's vulnerable. It's fucking real. And grit is something that I earned. I had to earn grit. I don't think somebody is just born with it. We have to earn it. And then, that creates, in a sense, this flawed beauty.
But flawed beauty is actually what separates us from each other. Flawed beauty is the most delicious kind of beauty. It's like Kintsugi, that Japanese art where they take broken pottery, and they put it back together with some kind of glue, but it's gold, or it's silver. And they put back together the broken pieces, but they let you see the cracks, and they highlight the cracks. They don't even just let you see it. They highlight them with gold. And for me, that piece is so important.

So just coming back to this idea of unleashing your wild, and having this raw grit, and recognizing that flawed beauty is beauty because it's different… for somebody who's wondering, how do I do this? How do I unleash my wild? It sounds like too much... 
vh It is so too much if somebody just says, “unleash your wild” without any context. I would be like, first of all, what the fuck are you talking about? It has to be unpacked. And for me, wild is not the way that I used to think of wild. Wild, in the way I used to think of it, like I said, was destructive, was feeling dangerous, living on the edge, and making sure everybody knew it. And that's not wild to me at all anymore. It's something else entirely. For me, this path toward tapping into the wild one within is honestly going into my own inner forest. It is being unafraid, or even if I'm afraid, knowing that I won't die if go into the darkest parts of myself, and face, feel, move my body, and know I can contain it. And in that, there is this alchemy that happens. It transcends whatever the hell is going on during the day.
And I also feel like, if someone were to ask, what do you mean “tap into the wild”… first, just surround yourself with nature, get your hands in the dirt, move your body under the moon, light candles, sit outside, close your eyes and feel the wind on your cheeks. These things are where the wild ones inside of us are living. I actually have this thing I wanted to share with you. It's from this book called Rewilding. And its meditation practices and skills for awakening in nature. And the foreword talks about Henry David Thoreau, and it says that he was totally immersed in this investigation of what he called the wild. And that he came to believe that the very energy and genius of humankind was to be found only in deep mystical connection with our own inner wildness. Life consists with wildness, the most alive is the wildness. 
And I read that, and I'm like, yes. And how do we do that? How do I do that? I have to reconnect with nature. I have to reconnect with the moon, and the kind of mystical sparkly stuff that I usually don't pay attention to, because I'm trying to get the next thing done.

What's so interesting about that quote, written by a man, is that we're in this system that’s afraid of female power and their wildness. The idea that a woman will go into her darkness, or into these places everyone's afraid of and come out stronger, is why some people are afraid of us.
vh It's shifting the paradigm, which I take responsibility for. I’ve got to take responsibility for how I want to be inside of myself while I'm alive because I don't know how long any of us have here. And so, it's like, okay, there will always be people trying to put up obstacles or walls for people to limit or suppress or oppress. Women do this to other women just as men do this to women. We all play a part. And for me, the more that I tend to my own shadow aspects, the more that I tend to the walls that I put up for myself, the obstacles that I put in my own way, the more I continue to look within, the more empowered that I am. And the more clever and inventive that I get on how to move underneath, around, upside down these obstacles.
I have to mention Women who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Estes' book. I'm sure so many people in our lives have read that book, but for women who want to know how to tap into their wild, I’d go to the desert for a weekend with nothing but this book and food. And that's the guidebook. Go gather bones as she says, go gather bones. Being wild, it is deep. And it is not always easy. And it takes effort. And it takes digging.

Even though you're moving in the darkness within you, you come out loving yourself more. How does that happen? How do you learn to love yourself more in this journey? 
vh I can only say my experience was finding helpers. I could not have done this without the therapist that I have, who like I said, is a somatic practitioner. Not your standard sitting-across-from-you-writing-stuff-down-on-a-piece-of-paper therapist. I could not have done it without having an embodied dance practice. I could not have done it without a journal practice. And I could not have done it without the support of my husband and my tribe. I did not come to this place by myself. And I also didn't come to this place overnight. It took me 40 some years to get here.

Yeah. It's a job, a commitment.
vh Yeah, it's commitment. And one of the things I learned through my therapist is really working with myself as if there are various aspects within me. There are aspects that are the killer, the annihilator, the addict and the fuckup. And I have learned how to contain them, and work with them, and understand that they actually really just need my love, and acceptance, because they actually have a purpose too, but they're stuck in old ways just like I used to be. So, I have learned how to develop my own inner mother aspect to tend to these little broken ones inside.
And to remind them that they're actually not broken, and it's safe to express whatever it is. And that's how I feel like I've been able to heal. And now... I put these parts that are raging, and bleeding, and hurting on the center stage. And I sit in the audience inside of myself, and I watch them fucking wreck shit apart.
Because in that audience I have with my hand on heart, I watch them just fucking rage, and scream, and just tear up everything, including tearing their own heads off. And I just sit there with my eyes closed until the softest part of that aspect feels my presence. And then, I know the real healing has begun.
How do you think body movement is part of that?
vh That is a huge role. I will say that the first half of dancing or stripping, it was very embodied. It’s just that I stayed too long, and I didn't take care of myself. And so, I started to eject. But there were many years that were some of the best times of my life, and I love so many people from those years. But I feel like what I've learned by working towards wholeness and an embodied movement practice is coming back to presence.
And it's not just dancing to great music — there are times for that. But this is really moving my body with conscious awareness, listening to music and feeling my body as I'm moving, letting the tension go. And feeling any buzzing of emotions that might be moving in there as I move, and allowing them to just come forward, and continue to move, and they don't need to have a story. This body dance reaches all of the aspects within. There's ecstatic movement, there's soft movement, there's chaotic movement, there's collapsing and dissolving. The body when expressed can express things we can't yet say. And help release what is stuck.
And also, I feel like we don't even know our own power. We’re so critical of ourselves, we have all of these emotions, and all of this stuff packed in, and then also, what media tells us what we're supposed to look like, or how we're supposed to move. But really, there's so much beautiful power in our own unique expression, wouldn't you say?
vh Oh, absolutely. And I think because we live in Los Angeles, it's a little louder with those things. It's like the billboards, what people come to this town for, is often really specific. It's a little more highlighted here, which is also a great teacher for me. This fucking town is a goddamn teacher, for me.
Let’s pivot to the sexual part of it because you've also learned about the art of temptation, the art of the tease, this art of building up tension, as a dancer. And then, also, this part of you having fearlessness and presence. All of that leads to an amazing sexual experience- 
vh That is totally true… And while I was stripping, I was studying acting in conservatories. The two of them were companions for a while. But I think you just nailed it. If I take myself back to being in the clubs, and... the art of sexual experience, the tease, the temptation. That is such a huge piece in exotic dance, and in where I worked. And I think that what you said is so on it, which is presence. It's allowing myself to not just feel my own body, but to take in the other person, and to allow the two of us to weave together energetically. It's not a selfish thing. It's really a generous expression. Tease or temptation, these things are very generous, and playful, and at times, really soothing.

So then, you’re acting, you’re a dancer, but how did you shift into screenwriting?
vh I feel like it so directly ties into everything we were talking about. Because the catalyst for me to teach myself how to screenwrite was the deep desire to get the message of my solo-play Naked in Alaska: The Behind The Scenes Story of Stripping in The Last Frontier out to a wider reach women and anyone else who has ever felt like an outsider, misfit, fuck-up, failure. 
The deeper messages in that body of work speak to being fearless, untamed, pulling up your grit and guts, and reclaiming yourself — all the parts — like the last lines of the play say, "I'm finding my light, and she's showing me the way. And this new girl — the one I'm changing into — she's teaching me how to love the whole of who I truly am. The strong, the weak, the liar, the addict, the gypsy, the temptress, the lost little girl... The tribe in me... longing to be seen, to be touched, to be heard... to be loved... in an attempt to be free.” Because isn’t that what we are all after — getting free? 
The entire experience of writing Naked in Alaska the play and pilot was an embodied experience. It was and is the act of giving a voice to the parts I used to hide. To the unacceptable parts, the wild parts, shadowy parts, and disarmingly vulnerable parts — and allowing them to be witnessed and felt. So often, I'd be on my feet with my writing mentor or my husband, who co-wrote both with me, embodying the people of my past. Both the women I danced with and the men I danced for — walking around the house as if I was them coming back alive through me. Reclaiming the years that both destroyed me and made me. It was like another way of giving a voice to the aspects within that long to be heard. 
Ultimately, I wrote Naked In Alaska and because I believe that part of our destiny is to learn how to take the cards we've been given and make a difference in the world — no matter what. To take what we've been dealt and reframe it — to ignite, to inspire, to be a catalyst for change. Our uniqueness yearns to be shared with the world. It's up to us to claim it — this was and IS me claiming it. 
This is a bit of a pivot, but I’m always curious how to take all of these ideas and inspirations into the real world. What did you learn as a dancer that you take into your daily life?
vh That's such a good question because I feel like one of the biggest things that stripping taught me was empathy. There were so many people that came in there to soothe their ache.
That's all they were there for. They don't know that they're there for that but that's what they're there for. And then, you have a bunch of goblins that come in disguised as regular people and that's not what they're there for. But most of the people that came in there were there to soothe an ache. And I feel that this way of working, lap dancing, was through literally having to be close to people, who were in such a state. It was opening up the depths of empathy within my own self. And humility as well. And grace.
When I think about dancing for someone, when I think about a specific man that I was dancing for, I can hear his breath, I can see his shoulders soften, and my shoulders soften. And I can almost hear the drum of his heart. And his breath changes, and my breath changes. And sometimes we'll close our eyes. And I can tell you that a lot of the times, it ends up feeling like we're in union. It's just two swirls of energy, or light, or whatever moving together. And for those small moments in time, both of us forget the inner aches that we have. And we're just experiencing the deliciousness of being human.

And that human connection, we forget how powerful it is.
vh It is so powerful. And I'm glad you said that because the first word that came in my head when you said that was the antithesis, which is rejection. And it's so nourishing to feel connection, real authentic connection, when so many of us have felt so much rejection, which I now have the belief that nobody can actually reject me. They just don't give me what I want.
I love that. So much more positive.
vh Exactly. It’s me taking responsibility, and not feeling like a victim.

Taking back your power.
vh Absolutely, that is taking back your power. And that's something I've had to also work my whole life on, which is understanding what being empowered really is and what it isn't. When I am in my feminine power, I am strong and I am soft.

How do you turn on that feminine power?
vh I take a moment and I breathe from my guts, if that makes sense. I breathe from my guts, and I kick my shoulders back. And I remember who the fuck I am, and where I've come from.
And then, I soften my heart because I think that's the most important piece. Once I remember who I am, and where I've come from, and all of the different ones in me who've gotten me to where I am today, then I don't need to have a front anymore. And then I’m really in my power.
What about pleasure, just pure pleasure, what have you learned?
vh Body-wise, right, not like eating chocolate cake?

No, no, no. But if that works...
vh This is an ongoing journey for me. But definitely sensual movement, ecstatic dance, pole dancing for myself. Putting my heels on for myself, and in a sense, for all of the women out there who want to feel sensual and sexy and strong. That's one of my most favorite things to do. It's a reclaiming when I pole dance for myself… I'm alone… I’m by myself. And that's one of the ways I've cultivated pleasure, and I also think moving my body with my partner, not just having sex, but actually just dancing, really holding each other, and being with each other, and just swaying to the music, and smelling him, and allowing that wolf blood to start to move and pump throughout my body.

So then what’s your go-to piece of lingerie that puts you in your power or that ‘wolf blood’ state?
vh Honestly, I have to say I'm so Gen X. I'm not going to call it what we used to call it, but it's like a cropped, ripped, white tank and boy shorts, the cheeky ones. That's my jam.

Because you feel and look like a rock star?
vh Yeah. And also, it's a great outfit for pole dancing. And I love feeling gritty-sexy. I think that I'm not so girly-sexy-feeling… If I want to feel empowered, and I want to feel like I'm going to go outside and seize the day, I'll wear a crop top that says, "Free Brittany" and a fucking flannel around my waist with ripped jeans, combat boots, and then I’ll put on some rad choker necklace and some eyeliner on the inside of my eye.
You're all kinds of hot. So wrapping up, what question should I be asking you and what’s the answer?
vh It’s not a question, but I do have this phrase that somebody wrote on a little card and gave to me. It says, “Don't be afraid to start over again. You may like your new story better.” And I love it.

It's so good. It's so you. Last Q, your favorite V word?
vh My favorite V word hands down is vulnerability. Because I feel that when I finally understood that real vulnerability is strength, it is the most delicious place to be, and it is the place where my walls come down. And in that moment, whoever I'm with, is able to see who I am. And I am able to see who they are. And when I have the courage to be vulnerable in tough situations, or even in bed with my partner, when I can be vulnerable, it's so delicious. And it's so human, and it's like putty. It's yummy. And the other person then doesn't feel so afraid. And in that, we can just swim in deliciousness, I love that word so much.
Vulnerability is so important to try to cultivate, and to know it's not weakness to be able to say I'm scared, or if I'm with my husband it's like, we have to constantly work, because we've been married for 14 years. We have to work really hard at intimacy, it's not easy. And we continue to pull back the layers in each other. And sometimes, I just have to be really vulnerable, and say I don't know how to do this right now. I don't know how. And I want to, but I don't know, I don't know how, and I just need you to know that.

It’s very softening. 
vh I know it softens him. And he usually feels similar. And then, we have this really intimate conversation that deepens us in a different way that I feel is also sensual. Just the nature of being vulnerable and intimate with a partner, I feel is sensual.

"... flawed beauty is actually what separates us from each other.
Flawed beauty is the most delicious kind of beauty."

 
 
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