Interview: An Inside Look at Stripping

by | Education, Interviews

Today we’ll be interviewing several strippers in the pole dance community about the current struggles they’re facing in and out of the clubs.

 

Why is this important to me?

As a fellow pole dancer, whether you’ve been stripping for years or have never set foot in a strip club in your life, it is all of our responsibilities to stand by sex workers, to learn and understand the challenges they face from societal agendas, and to extend our support in our own individual ways, whether that is actively fighting the issues at hand, or simply in the way we talk to each other.

Not only did stripping help create and shape what we know today as pole dancing (in fact, there would not be any pole dancing without it!) but these are real issues that affect all of us, from raids and arrests to Instagram #shadowbanning.

It’s time we help end the stigma that society has pushed, telling us that every stripper is broken, or needs to be saved, when much of the time, it’s quite the opposite.

 

Squeak is the owner of Awakenings Pole and Aerial Fitness studio and a stripper in New Orleans, USA.

Brian Wolf is the 2018 Dance Filthy USA Champion and a stripper in New Orleans, USA.

Nicky Ninedoors is a showgirl in Vancouver, Canada, who produces a live music strip event called Retro Strip Show, and runs the photojournalism project Stripper With A Camera.

East London Stripper Collective is a group in East London working to establish sex worker rights and collaborating with the trade union United Voices of the World. 

 

Photo: Squeak

Squeak

It will be 20 years in April 2020! 

 

Brian Wolf

I have been stripping on and off for about 4 years but really didn’t dive into it until I started living in New Orleans about 2 years ago. 

Nicky Ninedoors

I have been working in Strip clubs for six years, and have been doing burlesque for ten years.

East London Stripper Collective

13 years.

What got you into the industry?

Squeak

Such a stereotype….but college. I was trying to pay for books, housing, my car, my classes, everything. I had very limited time and I needed to make a lot of money. Dancing allowed me to work 8 hours a week and afford everything I needed for school. 

Brian Wolf

I have always been so inspired by the concept of the strip club industry and have always been surrounded by its workers. I finally found a couple clubs in New Orleans that I fell in love with and started working there. 

Nicky Ninedoors

My love of being on stage, the healing power of movement, and a strong desire to be able to afford to not only live but also to have the time to pursue a creative life.

Photo: Nicky Ninedoors, Credit to John Bews and Ninedoors Photography

Do your friends/family know what industry you are in, or do you try to keep that private?

Squeak

I’m pretty open about it. I have other jobs as well that I talk about with people who may not be as open-minded as my family but for the most part, I pretty much tell anyone who asks. 

Brian Wolf

I am extremely open about it. My family doesn’t really dive too much into my work as a stripper, so I tend not to speak about it too much. I consider myself a huge advocate for stripping and sex work, so I am always open about my stripping so I can create that safe environment for students who are interested or work in that industry. 

Nicky Ninedoors

Yes, I am very public with what I do.

Photo: Brian Wolf

In recent years, has the economy affected tips or private dances?

Squeak

Well….in almost 20 years the price of a lap dance has not changed. Most clubs still charge $20-30 which is what it was when I first started! But when I first started, the price of gas was almost half what it is now, groceries were cheaper, rent was cheaper, life was cheaper!

When I started dancing, I could work 8 to 12 hours a week and I was actually borderline rich. Now, I think most of the dancers I know who don’t have a secondary source of income put in probably 20-40 hours a week to live comfortably. But I don’t think we are the only industry who has seen this happen. 

Brian Wolf

I feel it solely depends on the club’s rules and standards. I’ve danced in Denver and New Orleans and I have found I got tipped more in New Orleans because tipping is more encouraged there and it’s a vacation destination. People on vacation will typically spend more money while on vacation. My best nights were Halloween week and Mardi Gras season. 

Nicky Ninedoors

I started when the economy tanked in Canada, so while I hear it was amazing prior to the crash, I luckily don’t have a lot to compare it to. I feel I’ve gotten better at my hustle, and regarding tips, it’s all hit or miss. I have a steady average which I’m grateful for. It’s not the most money but I feel I can count on it to be fairly consistent. Also, some cities have more generous audiences than others, some more into private dances, etc, it just depends where you work in Canada. 

Photo: Squeak

Have house rates changed with economical changes?

Squeak

House fees have gone up a little. Not too much though. I think the clubs know we aren’t raking it in like we used to. They wouldn’t get girls in to work if they increased the prices too much. 

Brian Wolf

Sadly, I can’t answer this. Male clubs typically hire independent contractors at their clubs rather than female strip clubs where the girls have to pay a house fee. 

Nicky Ninedoors

Canadian stripping is quite a bit different from American stripping. Floor fees have been pretty consistent, and those are not charged to stage dancers, just to the freelancers who sell private shows. Floor fees seem to range (from Manitoba to BC) between $40-$50 for the night, and dancers tip out on every dance, which range from $30-$50 per dance, and the house/agency taking between $10-$20 of that sale. Whew! Canadian stripper finances! To add to that, stage dancers get a guarantee for each stage show, and the rate depends on the dancer.

East London Stripper Collective

The problem with house fees/rates is only partly related to the economy. The business model of strip clubs charging fees was born in the late 1990s early 00s when dancers were making a bomb and lapdancing was a boom industry. It was fine then for clubs to take a percentage of their money, as dancers were willing to tolerate their lack of employment rights and lose a cut of their earnings, as there was so much money to be made. Being a lapdancer was still pretty taboo so there were less women willing to try it, and the economy was stronger meaning that there was just more work to go around and less poverty. (Poverty or the risk of poverty, and lack of other jobs, is the number 1 factor for why women choose any form of sex work. So if a woman already has a job elsewhere she won’t necessarily turn to sex work). Fast forward 20 years and the economy has crashed, the money has dried up. But clubs survive on their business model of charging dancers to work, and exploiting their labour.

Photo: Nicky Ninedoors, Credit to Tim Gould

Is it harder or easier make a full-time income at the club in recent years? 

Squeak

I wouldn’t say it is harder. I think it is just more time consuming. In the early days, tips came easy, dances came easy, and the cost of living was low. Most of us worked maybe 4 hour shifts 2-3 times a week.

Most girls I know now are working 6-8 hour shifts 4 to 5 times a week. But compared to working a desk job or retail or running a business….it can’t be beat. It is still easy money compared to most other jobs. I am often surprised how much I still make these days even when I don’t hustle. I think life just got harder….not the industry itself. 

Brian Wolf

I feel like as the more saturated an industry is the harder it is to make money. In the pole fitness industry, it has become so saturated it does eventually drive wages down. Pole classes used to be more expensive a few years back but now because of Groupon or Class Pass it really starts driving the industry down, cutting teachers wages. Same with the strip clubs. I always like to build my ‘regulars’ where I know they would tip me and build that connection with them, making them want to return and tip myself. But most nights are ebb and flow, I used stripping as my night shift job.

Nicky Ninedoors

I feel like it’s probably harder, based on what dancers tell me. I’ve always had some side hustles and other projects happening so I haven’t noticed a big shift for me, but I know more dancers are adding camming and onlyfans, etc. I have a Patreon, also. The side hustle is real!

East London Stripper Collective

Harder.

Photo: Squeak

Has your club changed policies (touching, tipping, house dues, etc.) because of economic changes?

Squeak

The rules of the clubs shift and change like they always have. It usually has to do with the political climate at the time or what sort of pressure the local authorities have been getting from conservative organizations or if the club stop paying off those aforementioned local authorities. I’ve seen it get really strict and really lax back to really strict many times through my stripper career. 

Brian Wolf

My club in particular has not changed its policies since I have worked there so I cannot recall its past policies to compare. 

Nicky Ninedoors

No.

East London Stripper Collective

Clubs have been compelled to change their policies because of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, a law that has “regulated” the strip club industry by imposing rules that do not protect strippers from being financially exploited. Clubs are licensed premises, which means the state has some powers over how the club is regulated and working conditions inside the clubs. Such rules like “no touching” have been imposed on us, and were fought for by the Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist (SWERF) left, who take a paternalistic and exclusionary approach towards, refusing to acknowledge our voices and allow us to represent ourselves.

The law and the campaign for it merely served to restigmatise the industry, driving away good customers, making it harder for us to earn money. Clubs are allowed to exploit us because licensing law doesn’t protect us. Our worker’s rights are not acknowledged by law, so between local councils, feminists, and club owners we work in a perfect storm of toxic conditions. Policy is failing us.

Photo: Nicky Ninedoors, Credit to Tom Gould

Is there a difference in how the younger generation act in your club versus the older clientele?

Squeak

I’ve heard that millennials will eventually put the stripclubs out of business. And I think for many neighborhood, corner bars…that is true. They don’t visit clubs regularly like the generation before did and they don’t buy as many dances. They also don’t come alone as much as the generations before did so they are a little more difficult to get to know and really connect with. They always seem to have a friend or small group with them…so they are hard to single out.  They do tip well though.

I think on average that most of my largest tips have come from younger guys. The younger guys also tend to behave a bit better in dances than their older counterparts. I suspect it is because they have grown up in a world of “#metoo”, consent, feminist issues, and whatnot. They are very cautious about following the rules and not upsetting the dancers.  

Brian Wolf

In some good ways and some bad ways. I would always look for the bachelorette parties and gravitate toward them because they were always good tippers for the most part. In the gay clubs it’s also about preferences. I am not the bulkiest dancer nor the typical ideal ‘muscle bod’ type queer clientele look for so tipping sometime in the younger generation was hard. I found that the older generations like me more. I played myself as more of the boy-next-door type and they liked that. Never judged them always talked with them and hung out. So, I would gravitate more towards them as well.  

Nicky Ninedoors

Sometimes yes, sometimes no! 

Photo: Squeak

Sexuality and sex talk is becoming a bigger and bigger topic in recent years, and people are becoming more comfortable with talking about sex. Has that influenced how people interact with sex workers and strippers at all?

Squeak

I feel the opposite is true in many ways. Society has been getting more conservative about nudity and sex in recent years. Most of the “flagging” and complaining about nudity on social media comes from other users…not always the bots or the moderators.

We used to be able to wear tiny thongs, see-thru tops, and even “walk the floor” without having everything covered. Now all of the clubs I work at have strict dress codes. Tops must be put back on before getting off stage, thongs must have thicker straps, and skirts and shorts must cover a certain percentage of the bum. We used to have live sex shows….not anymore. There isn’t a single club in New Orleans doing sex shows. And only 10 or so years ago, every club advertised them right at the door. 

Some of this is political climate…but that push ultimately came from the community.  Even in the swinger and nudist scene I’ve been seeing clubs getting shut down because the neighborhood was against it. They took away the topless tanning section on most cruise lines because “American tourists complained”. Even here in New Orleans, the nude pools and clubs have all become fully clothed.

Society might talk about sex…but they don’t seem to like it much these days. 

Brian Wolf

I feel like it has opened people’s minds more. You deal with shitty clientele on occasion, but the people who have treated me nicely at work and who have supported me always make me want to return. I am also in full control at work so if there was something I didn’t like I would typically get the security team. The security team at my work always had my best interest at heart and treated us very well. 

Nicky Ninedoors

In some ways, sure. There is a glorification vibe to stripping happening right now (and I think there is more open mindedness in regards to sex work more recently), and it definitely brings people out to clubs who are maybe a little more hyped up to experience it than the random “just in for a drink” men. There’s more women in the clubs there to celebrate strippers, for starters. I see more and more couples out for entertainment at the club I work at.

So, at the very least, these conversations that people are having are bringing out a different audience, which I think is beneficial in both the short and long run. There’s always going to be people who are fearful or insecure around strippers and sex workers (I have definitely been called “tHe sTriPpEr” out of jealousy, lol) and I don’t know that any amount of dialogue about sex and sexuality will change how those people interact with strippers. But the more the dialogue happens, the better, I think. 

East London Stripper Collective

I would argue I have just seen higher levels of cultural appropriation. Films, TV shows, music videos, celebrities have all been borrowing from sex work culture, but we face online censorship, criminalisation, loss of safe workplaces etc.

To be honest, just because people are becoming more comfortable talking about their own sexuality, or even acknowledging that they have one, isn’t reflecting well in the sex industry by increasing levels of safety and harm reduction. The vast majority of people are no more comfortable with the existence of the sex industry than they ever were, and mainstream feminism remains locked in conflict over it, which doesn’t help us address real concerns over safety and harm reduction.

Photo: Brian Wolf

If people are becoming more comfortable with topics that deal with sexuality, do you feel that people are also becoming more comfortable with talking about sex workers, and issues that sex workers face?

Squeak

Documentaries, film, social media, etc have given people a better understanding of what we do and what our jobs are like. However, there is still a great deal of misconception and we still have a long way to go to fix that.

I think many are trying…and for that, I am grateful. But it is sometimes even the best intentions fall short. Many people think we are victims or “stuck” or need help…and they sign bills or join with programs or companies who make laws that put us out of work in the guise of “saving us”.

There are certainly sex workers out there who need help…I’m not denying that. But please don’t put the women and men who love their jobs and NEED their jobs out of work trying to save the ones that don’t. I love being a stripper…I don’t need to be saved.

Brian Wolf

I think so. We do have people as allies and people who will go onto platform and talk about harmful measures such as FOSTA/SESTA to bring light issues of problems that do exist. We always say, “If you want to know how to help, ask your local stripper”. 

Nicky Ninedoors

I think some people are becoming more comfortable than others. The people who are more able to look at capitalism and patriarchy objectively are the people who generally are more receptive or supportive of sex workers and sex workers rights.

East London Stripper Collective

There is a danger when non-sex workers advocate or discuss matters of the sex industry without the relevant knowledge and experience. We saw that with the petition signed by a load of film stars calling for the reversal of Amnesty International’s policy on sex work – without properly listening to the voices of sex workers all around the world calling for decriminalisation.

Photo: East London Strippers Collective, Credit to Robbie Golec

Is stripping still stigmatized? Do you ever feel discriminated against outside of the club?

Squeak

Yes, of course. Sex and sex work is a touchy subject for many people and I don’t expect that everyone is going to agree with what we do and how we make our money. But I think the stigma is part of what sells. If it wasn’t naughty, if it wasn’t a little dirty…we wouldn’t have much to offer, other than good conversation and a nice view. 😉

Brian Wolf

It’s always going to be taboo. That negative stigma is going to be attached just like a harmful stereotype, but it’s what you make of it. I know what people think of strippers and I really don’t care. I’m still going to work and having fun

Nicky Ninedoors

Of course. Any time you are capitalizing off of your body and sexuality and charging for it in any way (especially if you are a woman), you will face some level of societal backlash. We aren’t evolved past that, yet. Thankfully I have insulated myself in an artist bubble so I don’t often have to notice.

Once in a while I’ll hear something ridiculous or have weirdness online from some incel but most of time I’m pretty safe from the BS. I don’t feel discriminated against outside the club typically, though I have been searched at the border because I said I was a stripper. Now I definitely say I’m a pilates and voice teacher and face zero issues. 

Photo: Brian Wolf

Do you think that female dancers and male dancers are treated differently by their clientele?

Squeak

Yes, and the guys have it way worse. My best friend and my boyfriend are both male dancers and I hate to talk badly of my own kind…but many female customers are absolutely appalling in the way they treat the male dancers. They grab their genitals without asking, shove their tongues down their throats, try to force the guy’s hands down their shirts and pants. And they (generally) don’t tip as well.

My boyfriend and bestie have more terrible things happen to them in one weekend than I will have happen in a year!! And! I make more money. And honestly, most of my “incidents” actually are from female customers as well. I often get women who say “it’s okay cause I’m a girl too” as they grab my tits or try to kiss me. 

Brian Wolf

Absolutely, I think tipping is better in the female clubs then the men’s. I also feel female clubs will have a more intimate setting rather than the male clubs. Ours had a dance floor, drag shows, slot machines; so there was more focus on other things then dancers. 

Nicky Ninedoors

Women go nuts for male strippers. It’s terrifying. Lol! 

East London Stripper Collective

Male and female strippers work under completely different business models. Male strippers get paid to perform and don’t have to hustle for tips. Female strippers have to pay the clubs, aren’t guaranteed to make any money and have to work in competition with each other. If someone opened a strip club where men where treated the same as female strippers, no one would work there.

Photo: Nicky Ninedoors, Credit to John Bews and Ninedoors Photography

Has working in this industry changed how you view dating and relationships?

Squeak

Not really. I’m polyamourous and I am very open about sex and physical needs. I’ve been with the same two guys for 8 years now and I think my relationships have been successful because I understand that people are curious about others, they are curious about SEX with others. They don’t always act on it…but that curiosity is there.  Strippers provide them with a safe outlet for it that (hopefully) isn’t going to end their monogamous relationships. Most of my customers love their wives, they are devoted to their families, they are good people…buuuuut they have needs that maybe their partners can’t or won’t fulfill. We help them with that…without interfering with their existing relationship. I think seeing things from their perspective has made me a much less jealous and more understanding girlfriend.

Brian Wolf

I think it built up my confidence in myself in the real world. I want to surround myself with supportive individuals and if there was a partner who didn’t have support of the strip clubs, I wouldn’t want to be with them. That’s why I love that my partner and I could go on a random night to a strip club and have fun with no judgments. 

Nicky Ninedoors

It raised my standards. It lowered my patience. It’s been a fascinating journey for sure. I’ve been in a committed relationship for 10 years, and it’s sparked change and evolution that’s been both deeply uncomfortable and also incredibly illuminating. I don’t think I would have learned the things I’ve learned if I wasn’t a dancer. Or maybe it would have taken a lot longer. 

Have you seen an influx of new strippers in the industry? If so, has that affected your work?

Squeak

The flow of new strippers coming in and old strippers leaving is about the same. If a club gets shut down, we’ll see a ton of new girls come in but that doesn’t happen a whole lot. For the most part, clubs seem to have their “core group” of dancers with new girls rotating in and out here and there. 

Brian Wolf

Working in New Orleans we saw new people all the time. It is a transient city, so we got a lot of new dancers from around the world. I still had my core group of regulars, so it really didn’t affect me too much, but I am supporter of the newbies. Stripping is not for everyone, so I always give mad props to the new people who try it. 

Nicky Ninedoors

There’s always new dancers. I don’t believe it affects me at all.

East London Stripper Collective

The economy still fails to provide equal opportunities and equal pay to both genders. Austerity is hitting women harder than men. Jobs done disproportionately by women that traditionally serve a “caring” role in society by providing emotional labour are still underpaid, and unacknowledged; carers, teachers, nurses, child-rearers, housewives, cleaners, are all devalued in the job market. All of this drives women into sex work. Of course this has adverse effects, not least because the sex industry is deregulated and criminalised, meaning it is controlled with coercion, bullying, threats and violence. When workers have no access to power and workers rights, then exploitation is rife.

Lastly, are there any issues that are currently going on that most people might not be aware of, but are impacting dancers?

Squeak

FOSTA/SESTA and the ATC.

The government (local and federal) is enforcing a lot of out-dated rules (like “girls must be 18 inches off the ground to take off their tops” or “dancing barefoot is considered a form of prostitution”) in order to fine clubs and control them. They act like they are trying to protect us and save us and find victims of sex-trafficking…but they are really just making a killing off of the fines and citations they hit the clubs with. Many clubs can’t afford to stay in business and end up closing down. 

In 18 raids on the New Orleans stripclub…not one incident of sex-trafficking was discovered. That’s because they aren’t really looking for that. They are just looking for ways to make money, but they rally the support of the community by acting like the “good guys”.

Don’t be fooled. The ATC and FOSTA/SESTA are not preventing terrible things…they are just creating it. 

Brian Wolf

FOSTA/SESTA for sure, and definitely the raids happening at the female clubs by the ATC.

FOSTA/SESTA is one of the key issues that is going around and is having a direct issue to the shadowbanning of social media. I’m sure, as most people saw, the death of Tumblr. With the passage of FOSTA/SESTA pornography was now banned on Tumblr and that’s what killed the website. Tumblr is still running however it’s not as popular as it used to be. Its censorship and ultimately a dangerous thing for sex workers.

Raids are happening in clubs and its sad when the clubs (especially on Bourbon St.) are on high alert. You may not have a job. It’s one issue we really want the general public to really know about and see it from our standpoint. 

Nicky Ninedoors

Social media censorship! It directly impacts our visibility and therefore our income. 

East London Stripper Collective

We are currently working on a huge unionisation drive for strippers. We are not yet criminalised and still have a handful of venues left. These workplaces are becoming a battle ground for us to establish our workers rights and change the direction of the industry by establishing our workers rights. We need the public to support us, and more importantly we need people to stop thinking that shutting down strip clubs is a win for feminism – it’s not. We are working with the trade union United Voices of the World (UVW).

Get In Touch

For more interviews like this, as well as more guides, tips, and handbooks all about pole dancing, visit PolePedia.com and sign up for email newsletters. Get in touch via Instagram at @PolePedia.

 

You can find Squeak at @squeakmachine on Instagram. She runs a pole dance studio called Awakenings Pole and Aerial Fitness, which is sex worker friendly. They also raise money, donate their space, and offer support to all their local sex workers.

An additional mention goes to @BAREnola which is a stripper-led group that has been fighting the raids and protecting sex workers in New Orleans.

 

You can find Brian Wolf at @booboobrian on Instagram.

 

You can find Nicky Ninedoors at @the.nicky.ninedoors and support her on Patreon to gain access to club videos, photography, singing lessons, and more.

Her next live music strip show is Sunday, April 12th, 2020, at the Penthouse Cabaret in Vancouver, CA. Use #retrostripshow to find more details about the show.

 

You can find the East London Stripper Collective at @ethicalstripper on Instagram.

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