Review: One Last Dance by Emma Jane Holmes

One last dance quote


Title: One Last Dance: My Life in Mortuary Scrubs and G-Strings

Author: Emma Jane Holmes

Published: 3rd March 2021, HQ Nonfiction Australia

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

One Last Dance is a unique memoir by Emma Jane Holmes, who for a time was employed in both the taboo industries of death, as a funeral assistant, and sex, as an exotic dancer.

In the wake of a bitter separation, Emma Jane Holmes has to start again and so decides to fulfil a life long dream by finding employment at a funeral home. Whether it’s collecting the body of a deceased person, assisting with burial preparation in the mortuary, or standing graveside she revels in her new role, she describes her activities with candour in this fascinating memoir. Facing death is uncomfortable for most of us, especially if it’s our own, so some details might be confronting, but I agree with Emma Jane that demystifying the subject is beneficial. The squeamish may not appreciate the details of a decomposing corpse, or the processes involved in preparing a body for viewing but I did find it interesting, though it’s cemented my wish to go directly from the morgue to a crematorium oven, leaving my loved ones to choose what they wish to do with my ashes.

While Emma Jane loves her job, she finds she is struggling to pay her bills, and to supplement her income, answers an ad for an agency that supplies scantily clad/topless waitresses. In the second half of the book, she explains how she came to be an exotic dancer under the the alias Madison, working nights at a Sydney strip club, while continuing to work at the funeral home during the day. Emma Jane enjoys dancing, not just the extra money, but also the friendships she forms with her colleagues (though to be truthful they seem pretty shallow). She feels strongly that like death, sex work should be de-stigmatised, and I agree with her advocacy. Emma Jane does find it difficult to juggle the two jobs though, and eventually has to make a choice between them.

Written with sensitivity, humour and a casual, confiding tone, One Last Dance provides insight into two very different worlds few of us have access to.

Though I’ve read several nonfiction memoirs about the funeral industry including Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Dougherty, and The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield, this is the first from the Australian experience. It’s not the first memoir of an Australian exotic dancer I’ve read though, having recently finished Sunshine by Samantha C. Ross, who may well be the ‘Samantha X’ Emma Jane refers to in her Acknowledgements.

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Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins Australia

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