I’ve had a handful of different job titles over the years- including pharmacy technician, bartender, and office temp, to name a few. I ended up settling into a nursing career, and that’s what I’ve done for the last 12 years.
Most of the people who know me today, either professionally or socially, know very little about my past, including my struggles with substance abuse and my mental health. Many would also be surprised to know about one particular job title that I held for eighteen months immediately before nursing school: exotic dancer.
How I Got The Job
I didn’t wake up one day and decide to become a stripper, and it certainly wasn’t something I aspired to be as a little girl. The opportunity fell into my lap when I was struggling to figure out who I was and what I was going to do with my life.
I was a 21-year-old college dropout working as a bartender. I was making decent money, but I also was living on my own, loaded with student loans and credit card debt. Most importantly, I was trying to maintain a cocaine addiction which was getting worse by the day.
I ended up going to the strip club one night with a male friend just for fun. We were doing shots and dancing around when I was approached by an older gentleman who looked like he’d walked right off the set of Goodfellas. His olive-skinned face had a few pockmarks on it, and his hair was a slick comb-over, but he was nicely dressed and wearing an expensive-looking gold watch and a gold chain around his neck. He asked if he could buy me a drink.
As a bartender, I was no stranger to older men hitting on me. I was just getting ready to tell him to fuck off when he introduced himself as the owner of the club. He told me I was a beautiful girl and thought I had potential as a dancer. He must have seen the ambivalence on my face because he went right for the closer — telling me that most girls at that club bring home over $500 a night.
Timing is everything, and at the time, money seemed like the answer to my prayers. The fact that I had zero experience dancing didn’t seem to matter. All I had to do, the owner said, was show up at the club the next morning to meet with the talent manager.
I’m not sure what I expected walking into that club the next morning, but I was incredibly nervous. My first thought was that the club looked very different in the light of the day.
I met with the talent manager at the bar. She was an ex-stripper herself, a pretty but worn-looking woman named Chastity (which I found somewhat ironic given her occupation). She went over the dancer’s contract and fee schedule and explained that I would be an independent contractor.
Being classified as independent contractors is pretty standard in the industry. Dancers don’t get a paycheck from the club- in fact, they pay to work! My club required dancers to pay a flat fee of $80 to work an evening shift ($40 on days), plus a portion of the money made from private lap dances and dances in the VIP/champagne room. Dancers also tip out individual employees, like the DJ and the House Mom (who’s like a dressing room manager).
Chastity told me I couldn’t work my first shift until I bought some costumes and shoes. Dancers weren’t allowed on stage in a g-string from Victoria’s Secret-- you had to buy actual exotic dancewear and shoes made for dancing.
A vendor came right to the club a couple of times a month, but I was surprised at how expensive the gear was. A single pair of booty shorts can run $40. A pair of stripper heels will easily cost you $100 or more, and they don’t last very long. Including the costumes, shoes, and house fees, I spent a couple of hundred dollars before I even set foot on the stage for my first set.
Until I got more experience, I would work the slower day shifts. Chastity told me to spend time watching the other dancers perform and that I could come in at specific times before the day shift started to practice on the pole.
Good routines require practice. Many people don’t realize how physically demanding exotic dance is. It takes strength, agility, and endurance — especially to do any moves on the pole. By no means was I exceptional at it, but I mastered a few basic moves because pole work can really increase your earnings.
After a few weeks of working day shifts, I started working on some of the slower evenings. A month after that, I did my first Friday and Saturday night, which are the prime shifts with the maximum earning potential.
Once an hour, we would hear our name called and head to the stage to begin our ten-minute sets. We would dance our way around the stage, looking to find clients interested in us and spending money.
Most girls use a stage name. It’s a good practice to keep your dance life and personal life separate. You don’t want any creeps to know your real name or any other personal details about you. My stage name was Alexis, and I created a whole persona and back story to use whenever clients would ask me questions. Being personable and friendly is a crucial part of the job. A lot of clients are lonely and are really craving connection more than anything.
It’s important to understand that strippers are in the sales profession, but we do not sell sex. We sell a fantasy. A tease. Something that the client is missing. We use our time on the stage to market ourselves, but we are ultimately trying to up-sell, to convince you to buy a private dance or an hour in the champagne room.
The most successful dancers are not the best-looking or the best performers, although that certainly helps. They are the ones who understand how to get into their clients’ heads and give them the particular fantasy they’re looking to find. That’s where we make the most money.
There are people in the club that can help you with this, and that’s why I always tipped club staff generously. The DJ has a lot of power, as they can hype you up during your introduction and get clients interested in what you have to offer. You can also ask them for favors, such as playing a specific type of music when you’re on stage or skipping your set.
If a client is looking for a particular type of girl, floor managers can suggest a specific dancer and make introductions. If you don’t tip appropriately, you can forget about receiving little favors like this. Being friendly with other dancers can be beneficial as well. Sometimes it’s easier to convince someone to pay for a private dance if another girl is already available and ready to give one to his buddy as well. While we’re all in competition, sometimes working in pairs and looking out for each other has its perks.
Some young women begin stripping with an unrealistic idealization of the job. It has the allure of fast cash and seems like a way to improve your situation, give yourself more options, or move up in the world. You seldom think about the negative aspects until you’re doing it.
The increasing glamorization of stripping is largely a result of the entertainment industry. Celebrities like Cardi B have openly talked about their experience dancing. Jennifer Lopez made it look easy in Hustlers. And in 2005, the year I started working at the club, T-Pain’s song “I’m in Love With a Stripper” was all over the airwaves.
To some segments of the population, stripping is considered an acceptable means of income for young women who either have limited other options or who are simply comfortable using their physical appearance to make money. But for many others, there is a negative stigma associated with the occupation, with some individuals even equating it with prostitution.
I can’t tell you how many times I would get asked if I did sexual favors for money at the club or off the clock. I never even considered doing this, although I won’t say that it was unheard of. Some girls made arrangements with clients outside of the club, but it wasn’t a common occurrence where I worked.
There are different reasons young women start dancing. For some, they need to support themselves or their family and put food on the table, and few other entry-level jobs can pay the way that stripping does. There are a lot of single moms. Many are high school dropouts.
Then you have girls with substance abuse issues like myself. Yes, they have bills to pay too, but a large portion of their profit goes to their dealer. They can’t get high unless they have money from dancing. And they can’t dance unless they are high. It’s an endless cycle.
Some girls are just addicted to the stripping lifestyle. They like the attention of clients, the fast money, or even the drama that goes on behind the scenes between dancers. The antics that go on at a strip club, especially in the dressing room, would make for great reality TV!
And lastly, you have the girls with a goal. They start dancing as a means to an end. Maybe they are trying to pay their way through college or trying to save up on a down payment for a house. Some women successfully reach their goal and then leave. But there is a far higher number who become addicted to the money and the lifestyle and end up dancing for much longer.
Playing The Part
Dancing is hard work. It does a number on your body, especially your ankles and knees, and injuries are not uncommon. The longer you do it, the more residual damage you sustain.
To be successful as a stripper, you have to do an excessive amount of upkeep on your appearance outside of the club. Clients expect you to look sexy and well-groomed at all times. That means getting your hair and nails done religiously, waxing head-to-toe, going to the tanning booth, getting your teeth whitened, working out-the whole nine yards. Many girls also end up getting breast or ass implants. I never took it that far (and was also quite happy with my natural assets, thank you very much!)
Stripping got to feel like any other job after a while. I got up, got ready, and went through my routine. There were co-workers I liked and those I didn’t. Some of the clients were nice, and others were real jerks.
In reality, money fluctuates a lot as well. It depends on the night of the week, as well as the time of the year. Summer is slower, while the busiest time of the year is around Christmas. Some nights I brought home upwards of $1,000; other nights, I barely made $100 after tipping out.
Personally, the easy money was not good for me at all. My drug use worsened a lot while I was working at the club. I couldn’t dance without something to pick me up and get me going. I was occasionally late for my shift because I was waiting for my dealer before I went to work.
I also met many dealers who came to the club as clients and tried to take advantage of me in one way or another. I often did stupid and reckless things, like leave the club after my shift to get drugs with men I didn’t even know. Besides getting ripped off once or twice, I’m incredibly fortunate that nothing terrible happened to me because it certainly could have.
I was employed by the club for a total of 18 months. I stopped working after I started dating the man who would later become my daughters’ father. He was uncomfortable with the way I was making a living. I stepped back to examine some of my choices and realized that I was playing Russian roulette at the club because of my addiction. It wasn’t long after I stopped working at the club that I ended up going into rehab for the first time.
Although I don’t talk about my stint as a dancer very often, it’s not out of shame or regret. I supported myself as an independent woman with the wages I made from the club and paid off a portion of my student loans.
However, it saddens me to see young women who fall prey to the lifestyle, drop out of high school, or give up pursuing other dreams just to dance. They see the way strippers are portrayed in music videos and hope it’s going to bring them some sort of fame or riches, or that they will have some kind of Pretty Woman experience and meet someone who will take them out of the club and save them.
The reality of working in the club is far less glamorous. Stripping requires a lot of hard work, practice, and personal upkeep. While physical appearance is a factor, the job requires being a people person and having an affinity for sales. While there is the potential to earn a decent amount of money, the exact amount can vary drastically on any given day and depend on both the club and its typical clients. It’s an unhealthy environment for individuals with substance abuse disorders like myself, as the cash in hand party lifestyle that accompanies the job makes it much easier to continue using.
Originally published at http://modernjunkieprincess.com on October 28, 2020.