When most people think of an exotic dancer, their ideas about this woman fall into one of two extremes: She's either a sad person who is addicted to drugs and prostituting herself, or she is Playboy-model pretty and making a fortune on her looks. The truth is that the dancers in a strip club are just as diverse as the customers who frequent those clubs, which is to say that both groups are a lot more diverse than people assume them to be. I've worked with the stereotypical, drug-addicted dancer and the beautiful woman that most men think of when they think of a dancer. But I've also worked with grandmothers, college students, mothers just trying to make a little extra money to support their children, and just about every kind of woman in between.
Stripping is a shadowy kind of business, so it isn't surprising that there are so many stereotypes about the women in this line of work. But during the four years I worked in this business, it became clear to me that there are a lot of reasons why women choose this line of work, and a lot of different women who do it. (You can read more about what goes on behind a strip club's walls in Why Men Go to Strip Clubs.)
What Dancers Aren'tStereotypes are made for a reason so I'm not going to sit here and tell you that all dancers are healthy, hard-hardworking women just trying to get ahead of the game, that the stereotype of the drug-addicted prostitute is some big lie. The reality is that this line of work attracts people who use drugs because there is no drug testing - at least I've never heard of a club drug testing their dancers. It's simply an atmosphere where it's easier to get away with using drugs.
Prostitution also comes with the territory. Exotic dancing is part of the sex industry. Dancers aren't supposed to sell sex per se. What they do sell is a sexual fantasy. And sometimes, that fantasy paves the way to a real encounter. It happens. It happens in the clubs. It happens when dancers meet men outside of the club after work. I would even say that it happened more after the economy crashed. Men just want more bang for their buck. Seriously, no pun intended.
Drugs are a factor here too. I've worked with a lot of dancers who are strung out and doing more than dancing to support their habit. They've lost their kids and can't pay their rent. It's sad, but it happens.
What They Can BeI think of the ideal dancer as this beautiful, intelligent, educated, sexually empowered woman who doesn't do drugs, doesn't get drunk and doesn't prostitute herself. She treats her job as a job and not a party. Her bills are paid and she's saving money for the future. I've met a few of these mystical creatures who always seem to have their sh*t together and have a good head on their shoulders. They are usually a pleasure to work with because they are either extremely friendly and helpful to new dancers or they are so focused on their jobs that they hardly ever talk to anyone. They usually retire from the business early and use the money they earned to pursue new ventures. Some of them use dancing as a platform to get into other areas of the adult industry, be it feature entertaining, erotic modeling or porn. Overall, though, these ladies have a plan, and the strip club is just a quick stop toward a bigger goal.
It's hard to pin down the "average" exotic dancer. I have worked with a few women over the age of 50 who got into the business when they were younger and just never moved up or got out - for whatever reason. There are a lot of transient dancers who dance for a while, either to put themselves through school or just because they think it might be fun. A lot of dancers I've worked with were single mothers who worked a day job and danced a few days a week just to bring in a little extra money for their kids. Some dancers drink a little without getting drunk. Some use drugs recreationally but haven't landed themselves an addiction.
The Average Dancer
Of course, I like to think that I was an average dancer. When I was still dancing I had a useless boyfriend who sucked my money up faster than I could make it and prevented me from moving up in the business like I had wanted to. I think that kind of thing happens to a lot of dancers too. They are young, they get involved with the wrong guy, and they end up getting stuck in a rut. I also believe that a lot of dancers start out with the best intentions but fall prey to drug addiction, or get hooked on the money they're making, or fall into some other trap that leads them to become that stripper stereotype everyone's so familiar with. (If you're interested in going behind the scenes, you may want to check out the "Bare:The Naked Truth About Stripping", which looks at the sex industry from the perspective of a former peep-show girl.)
So who are strippers?Explaining the women who dance is a lot harder than explaining the men who come to see them. Sometimes they are making the most of what God gave them and carving out a place in the world for themselves. Other times, they are lost and finding the quickest way to get what they think they need. Some women just do what they have to do to pay their bills.
I can understand that a lot of people don't know much about what happens in a strip club, but what does bother me is that people often forget that dancers are just people. They have children, family, friends and people who love them. They sit around in their pajamas at home, and take their kids to the park. The landlady who owns your apartment complex might have bought it with the money she made dancing. That nurse who helped you have your baby might have put herself through college by working at a strip club. The point is that while you might think you know what kind of a person becomes an exotic dancer, I can assure that you don't, especially if you've never been in a club. ("Stripping Down: A Memoir" provides a powerful and moving look at how one woman found affirmation through exotic dancing.)
And for those of you who visit strip clubs, I've got a few words of wisdom for you too. Dancers are not robots that the managers puts away at night. They did not emerge from some primordial, sexual ooze just for your pleasure. So remember to tip your dancer well. I'm sure she has big plans. (To read more about strip club etiquette, check out A Lady's Guide to the Gentleman's Club.)