Confessions Of A...Pole Dancer

Illustrated by MERIÇ CANATAN
With ever more burlesque and strip clubs opening around the UK, exotic dancing has seen something of a reinvention in recent years.
Pole dancing classes have been embraced in many cities as an alternative to the usual workouts – Pilates, yoga or spinning. The connotations are positive and wholesome: gain body confidence, get fitter and healthier, feel sexier.
While there are many for whom exotic dancing continues to have a sinister side – women often turn to this industry when they find themselves in financial trouble, out of options and lacking support – there are others who choose to make it their profession, citing benefits like flexibility, fitness, and high earning potential.
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We speak to one exotic dancer to find out the ups and downs of the job, from clients to hours and pay.
How long have you worked as an exotic dancer?
Since October 2009.
How and why did you start working in this industry?
When I moved from Europe to the US in 1998 I started working as a fitness instructor, teaching mainly yoga and Pilates. In 2005, interested in pole dancing, I took classes. I was later trained to teach pole. Then in 2008 the economy took a hard hit. My family was struggling financially so my husband and I decided to stake out some high-end strip clubs. I thought I had all the skill and training to take matters into my own hands and bring in enough money for us to live more comfortably. We did a lot of research and after an audition at a fully nude club, I started working there. Little did I know that dancing was just about 30% of the job.
What are the best things about the job?
The best thing about dancing is just being able to express yourself. With every stage I take or every private dance I do, I get the chance to make my audience feel. I can touch people, bring them to life, wake hidden desires. This applies to men as well as women (the club I work at has a mixed clientele – men, women, couples). The other thing I really like about dancing is that I choose who I talk to, who I spend time with, or who I dance privately for. At the club that I work at there's no pressure from management to ask for private dances if I don't want to.
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Do you dance full-time?
Since I work during the day as a fitness instructor (as well as a dog behaviourist and nutritionist), I only dance part-time. About 1-2 nights a week. I wish I could pull off more night shifts.
What are the worst things about the job?
Dancing is like a love-hate relationship. It’s a tough profession. We dancers are often the punching bag of society. People go to the strip clubs to let loose, to be who they cannot be outside of the club, to get their fix, or to get a half-naked therapist. Often without even thinking that, as dancers, we’re at work and should be appropriately reimbursed for the time we spend with a customer, the advice we give, our patience. A lot of customers feel entitled and think we’re just horny pole dancers who want to go home with them when our shift is over. But we’re not. We are entertainers, sensual dancers. Often we are seen as sexually open-minded, casual dates.
Have you been treated badly while working as a dancer?
I cannot remember a single shift where I did not have an unpleasant or ‘challenging’ experience. I think it's the nature of the profession. Although the law protects us and it’s illegal to touch us dancers, nobody really follows the law. We get groped, slapped on the derrière, people say inappropriate things all the time... When you remind customers that they cannot touch you, it’ll be blamed on you: "I thought you wanted me to slap your ass.” In the mind of the customers it's your fault if you're violated. And it's not just men who grope us. Women do it too. You have to grow a thick skin, and you have to learn how to protect yourself. When you get violated as an exotic dancer it's as if it’s your own fault because you’ve chosen this profession and you're asking for it, wearing skimpy clothes and walking around in sexy lingerie. The world differentiates between regular women and strippers. So if anything bad happens to a stripper it's her own fault. Meanwhile, we’re all just women trying to make a buck, trying to feed our kids, helping our families to live better lives, pay our way through college... But society doesn't see it that way.
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Where do you dance and how long have you worked there?
I currently work at a wonderful bikini bar in the heart of Hollywood. I've been dancing at the club for over three years now. It's a fantastic place to work.
Are you friendly with other female dancers?
I can't say that I am friends with my co-dancers. There are always a few girls you like and respect. In general I don't hang out with any of the girls outside of the club. And I don't share much about myself since it can always be used against you later. You can’t show any weakness in front of your co-strippers – especially not if you're a good dancer and they feel you're a threat.
Do you have to stay in exceptionally good shape for this job?
The job does require a basic level of fitness in order to be able to perform multiple sets on stage throughout a 6-8 hour shift. Dance is physically demanding. It’s beneficial to live a healthy lifestyle and be mindful so you can last in this profession. I’ve never been on a diet, as such. I believe in a clean, healthy lifestyle. But so many dancers do diet and the yo-yo effect is often obvious. In some clubs dancers would be weighed and fired if they gained too much weight. We dancers are very aware of the fact that our bodies are our insurance and we need to look as good as possible.
What is the desirable physique for an exotic dancer?
There's a girl for every guy. Some guys like thicker girls, big butts, small boobs, big boobs, small butts, tiny girls... Everything goes. I think what's most attractive to a man is a woman who is comfortable in her own skin and with her sexuality – maybe even in love with herself. A woman like this is a magnet.
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What are your hours like?
I work from 8pm to 2am.
What is the pay like?
I love that you're asking me this question. There's no pay! Stripping is like gambling. You can hit the jackpot or go empty-handed. You can lose money too. Every club charges a house fee – every dancer pays to work there. Most clubs take a certain amount of money per lap dance you do. And then, at the end of the shift you have to tip out. Most of the time the DJ gets 10-20% of what you made. Bouncer/s get between 5-10% from what you have earned. In some clubs you have to tip the bartenders and manager as well. Depending on where you work you can leave up to 60% of what you earned to the club and the people you're supposed to tip. We do not get an hourly wage. We are independent contractors who work for tips and make money by doing dances. It’s rude when people come to the strip club to enjoy a ’free’ show to grab a cold beer. They should just go to their neighbourhood bar instead.
Do you ever think about quitting?
I think about quitting every day – yet I also think about working an extra night per week. Stripping gives you insights you would never get, it keeps you on the edge, and can empower you. But it also exhausts you, makes you angry, hopeless, sad. Yet it pays to feed your family and allows you to do things like publishing books, rescuing dogs – or simply seeing a chiropractor to fix your jacked-up dancer’s body.
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Is it competitive between female dancers?
The competition between women is high. Other dancers can be like vultures. When it comes to money it gets cutthroat. You think that girl is your friend but next thing you know she’ll stab you in the back for $20. I think the strip club shows the true colours of humanity. On the other hand there's truly no competition. A guy either likes you, me or both of us.
Does your job affect your personal relationships?
Without stripping I would not be who I am today. I was young, innocent, full of trust and romance. Then I started dancing… The insights I have gained about men, women, relationships, marriage are mind-blowing to me. I see humanity in a very different light now. I've grown up and learned to watch my back, not trust anybody. Yet I've become more compassionate. What I know has affected my relationship with my parents (in a very positive way), my sister, my closest family members and my friends. I've become more independent and strong. But deep down I am still a hopeless romantic. I still get hurt easily. I've become more realistic… I know today that men don't change.
Has dancing affected other jobs?
I was fired from one of my fitness locations after it was revealed that I was working as a stripper. I was fired via voicemail and have never been allowed back to this location – not even as a sub teacher. They didn't even show me enough respect to tell me in person.
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A.A. Jones blogs about her experiences as a stripper at tiltdiary.wordpress.com
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