“Why do you always date girls with sexual problems,” my boyfriend’s mom sighed to him over the phone. “Plenty of people have made it through school without stripping.”
My boyfriend’s parents were extremely hardworking people who leaned heavily on each other to make it through Ivy league educations and on to significant career success with nominal financial support from one set of parents. I admired them for their tenacity and bravery, but their life was nowhere near my own and I knew their path was not mine.
Ironically, her son used her words to justify habitual cheating, which is itself a sexual problem. Clearly I must be getting some sort of sexual satisfaction from my job — otherwise, why would I do it? To both of them, it seemed that I had many viable options and was just looking for attention.
Choice, however, is nothing but an illusion to the working poor. In our world, there is no time to cultivate culturally valued and high-paying skills: we’re too busy working 70 hours a week at two minimum-wage jobs and too exhausted to think once we get home. When we ask for promotions or raises, our bosses cite our lack of experience and limited skill set to keep us stagnant. We also don’t have the cultural pedigree necessary for navigating or even lying our way into professional spaces.
Options are a privilege. When I started dancing, it was the only well-paying entry-level option I had that would leave me enough time to pursue economic upward mobility. I didn’t have proficient programming skills, I didn’t have child-rearing skills, and I wasn’t savvy enough to sell illegal substances. I did have an athletic body and proficient social skills.
The first night I stepped foot in a strip club was the same night I auditioned. I was shaking with nerves and desperate hope. A dancer friend of mine explained the first steps — and I’d seen “Flashdance” once — but other than that I was completely in the dark. Without my friend’s advice, I might not have had the courage to audition. Strip clubs would have remained shrouded in mystery, and I would’ve written education off as something unattainable to someone who had to work for a living.
I can only assume that many other female students find themselves in situations similar to mine: thrust into an academic community that expects its students have some form of a financial support system or at least an adult to guide them through their search for a livelihood.
It’s your money, your body, your decision.
- If you do talk to others, expect them to be afraid for you. Unless your boyfriend is supporting you financially, his dick and insecurities aren’t going to build your future. Your money, if you use it wisely, will.
If you don’t know how to use eyeshadow, your audition night is not the night to experiment.
- If you’re dancing in the Bay Area, make sure you show up dressed in classy going-out clothes, fully shaved, with as much makeup as you’re confident wearing, and your hair should be worn loose and down. Bring a pair of stilettos four inches or higher, a bra, an opaque thong with a waistband that is at least two fingers wide, your state-issued ID and a passport or Social Security card.
- On the application, you’ll be expected to give two personal references. The club is unlikely to call them, but it’s a good idea to tell those people you’re auditioning just in case. Each region has different requirements. Before you audition, make sure to call the club you intend to work at to ask about outfit rules or any additional paperwork needed.
- Know that the space you’re entering doesn’t operate by the same social norms as the UC Berkeley campus. Racism and homophobia are rampant, and you will probably hear transphobic jokes. Keep this in mind as you navigate the audition process and your first few months as a dancer. Let it inform your hair, makeup and outfit choices, especially if you’re a woman of color.
Pretend you’re surrounded by molasses: Slow and sensual wins the race
- The managers will ask you to change and will either give you a quick once-over or have you dance for anywhere between half a song and a full song on a side stage. The purpose of this is to look at your body and decide if you’re marketable. You do not need to know any pole tricks or even be able to move particularly well (but if you do know pole tricks, go ahead and use them). Dancing like you dance when you go out will look frenetic on stage so pretend you’re surrounded by molasses and ignore the energetic club music. Slow and sensual looks a lot more confident than wild and desperate.
- If you don’t land the audition, remember that you may not fit into one manager’s idea of marketable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful dancer elsewhere.
- If you are invited to sign a contract, try to avoid being placed on day shift. From what I’ve seen — especially in San Francisco — day shift is often a black hole. Foot traffic is low, so your opportunities for sales are much, much lower. In addition, day-shift managers will do whatever they can to keep you working the undesirable shift, including asking the night-shift managers not to hire you. Managers in strip clubs very rarely act in your best interest.
Remember your stripper sisters.
- When you start working, stay humble and kind. Treat your peers with respect, no matter how inebriated they are. Reputation is a currency inside the club, and having a good one will save you more often than anything else.
- You will make mistakes, especially in the beginning. Try to be kind to yourself and learn from them instead of subsiding into a puddle who never goes on stage again.
- You will probably make friends fairly quickly; your friendships inside the club are invaluable. Other dancers are the ones who will help guide you through your first few months, and they’ll be your companions and colleagues once you’re settled.
Stripping saved my life. It is not by any means a perfect industry, nor does working in it come without risks. Not everyone will be able to be a stripper. It’s easiest for those who are able-bodied, cisgender and fit within Eurocentric beauty standards. Stripping is also not the only option for those wishing to enter the sex industry.
In my case, stripping is the perfect student job. Having worked as a bartender and bottle service girl for the better part of the last year, I can confidently say I feel less exploited dancing than I do working at a bar fully clothed. I earned one-third of my stripper income to deal with the same, if not more, workplace obstacles. I worked twice as many hours, was infinitely more stressed and didn’t have any energy left over for classes. To the problematic boyfriend who pressured me to stop dancing, I tried it your way, and it sucked.