Student Jobs: Uncovered

Originally posted on Critic – Te Arohi.

I might just become a stripper,” sighs every 19-year-old girl with a student loan and a half-empty bottle of Corbans. She then continues with her life: she dances at 10 Bar, and saves hard for a new MacBook. Her friends tell her she’s hot, and this year she’ll pash at least five people; her ego remains stable. She and her friends talk about stripping as a last resort; it’s said to be sleazy, dangerous, and a sin. Sometimes, though, her dreams are filled with wads of cash, diamonds, a small golden pistol in her waistband, suitors, and her own supple skin glittering in the spotlight; but she’ll never know if this is the life she has missed out on.

Stripping could be the fantasy life above, or it could be sleazy darkness and danger; most people will never know, but if you’re interested, the beginning of a new year away from your hometown life is the time to find out. Whatever label you consider stripping to be – anti-feminist, slutty, fun, empowering – it happens, and will continue to happen for as long as arousal is fun. So let’s cast aside moral judgments, both positive and negative, and consider it a job opportunity.

Stripping will only ever be part-time, at least in a city like Dunedin. The clubs are only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, but most girls don’t work all three. “The money was full time,” veteran Ashley told me, “[but] the hours certainly weren’t.” She didn’t seem to find this a negative, though: “you’d get bored working ‘full time’ three nights a week, I reckon.”

Although stripping is only ever part-time, the money definitely makes up for it: another stripper I spoke with, Lilly, quit studying to work full time, and found that the money she made in the club was worth plenty of hours’ work: she ended up getting another part-time kitchen hand job “for a bit of extra money while I stripped.”

As for the money – it’s exactly what movies make it out to be: a lot. Ashley made $1200 on her first weekend at Stilettos, but that, she explains, “was madness … around that time Stilettos hosted a Lisa Lewis show.” Your usual “best night ever” as a stripper is actually closer to $900. Although the money’s good, the one catch is that it isn’t guaranteed; there is no hourly wage, as all the cash comes from tips and lap dances. Dallas, 21, found this to be the main lowlight of the job: “it’s not guaranteed income, and it can be quite frustrating if it’s a slow weekend.”

It seems the money is still better than most other part-time jobs, though: Ashley’s slow nights and small crowds could sometimes leave her with a disappointing $200 for a night’s work. “We made good money,” she told me, before re-phrasing it: “well, I made good money.”

She explains what made her such a money magnet: the big bucks came from convincing people to buy lap dances. “Most of that was achieved by getting to know a patron; sitting down between sets, having a chat, a drink, or a cigarette, and making them want you as opposed to any of the other girls.” To make money, you not only need to have good chat, you literally need to be able to sell yourself. “I was pretty good at that.”

One would think that getting hired as a stripper would be based mostly on one’s physical appearance, but Dallas suggests not. “There are no specific requirements appearance-wise, you just need to be well-presented and outgoing.”

Lilly agrees, saying, “There wasn’t a specific body type or fitness level guideline.” All three are sure there’s room for most figures: “there are a variety of body types and that helps to cater to each patron.” So don’t worry, self-conscious ladies; you, too, can be a sexual object! Ashley, though, has some bad news: “if you were super obese you’d have a problem,” but in general you just need to “be confident with your body.” This could be the secret to the body types we see stripping; they’re the ones encouraged to be body-confident.

That bombshell being dropped, here’s the good news: there’s no real fitness requirement! “You just prance around stage and use the pole as a prop until you learn to pole dance properly.” Speaking of which, what previous experience is required to be a stripper? Both Dallas and Ashley made their way to the stage via pole-dancing lessons. Having made contact with their inner sex bomb, they both decided to take it to
the people.

“A friend and I went in one night to watch and thought it looked like mean fun, so asked [the owner] if we could give it a shot for real. She said ‘sure!’ and that was basically it!” So began Ashley’s six-month stint as an adult entertainer. For those who didn’t do lessons before stripping, like Lilly, training can be available; there’s a pole studio downstairs at Stilettos for the girls to use.

After her lessons, Dallas says she “seriously considered [stripping],” but didn’t actually apply to a club until after a friend of hers started working there. The feeling of friendship is strong in the club; Ashley feels that “Dunedin girls kind of bond over having worked for [Stilettos].” One can’t help but wonder if this is sisterhood in the face of an oppressive underground hooking ring, but it’s apparently strictly the opposite.

Strip club owners, it turns out, are super-strict and no-nonsense; which is absolutely what’s needed. A surprising amount of regulations exist in what you might think would be a dark den of shadiness and illegality: “there are actually quite a lot of rules, but they are all necessary,” Dallas insists.

Customer interaction rules appear to just be common sense: no straddling without underwear, no intoxication on duty, and no “favours” for patrons. Despite the smooth running of these establishments apparently requiring the most hawk-eyed of managers, the bosses seem to be lovely. Dallas’ are “very approachable,” and Lilly says, “as soon as you step foot into the establishment they make you feel at home.”

Ashley agreed that by-the-book bosses and their rules “definitely kept us safe,” and were more for patrons than workers. Owners “didn’t tolerate sleazy customers or any shit going down.” What kind of shit? “Drugs, hooking … that’d get you out the door in a second.” Shit did not go unnoticed; there are cameras at these establishments, and they’re watched.

Surely sleazy customers would be rule-breakers, though, and cause trouble? Apparently not. They reckon the stereotypical seedy, lone, old guy is a myth: “Nobody is a creepy old man … They knew they were paying to have a hot half naked chick make them feel like the centre of the universe, and they knew she wasn’t going home with them later.” The younger guys, on the other hand, were the ones likely to cause trouble; they sometimes didn’t realise that the club they’d entered was just a business, and tried to get off with a stripper, or thought, “that you owe them because you’re just some stripper slut.” Dallas agrees that these were the more troublesome patrons, saying, “The worst tend to be extremely drunk men who come in large groups,” such as blokes on a stag do. “But,” she concedes, “that is a huge generalisation.” Lilly comes across as a bit more of a wallflower – for a performer – and similarly dislikes groups, but this is because approaching them is intimidating. “If you include them all in conversation they become friendly,” she advises, and gives the good news that sleazy customers are “very rare.” When they pop up, they are booted out; a strip club is one place the customer is not always right.

If the stories about creepy old men aren’t true, then what kind of patrons can a stripper expect? A strip club, like a coffee shop, has its regulars. They come in male and female varieties, usually come alone, and are “pleasant and respectful.” It’s the rainbow of customers that really makes the job for Ashley: she loves “meeting people from all walks of life – learning things, learning what makes people tick, learning some epic sales skills.” Stripping gave her skills for life, and friends to boot.

A life: that’s something we sometimes forget strippers have. Some of us might assume they keep their jobs a secret, lest they bring shame to the family name. Maybe some do, but not these three: all three used the phrase “very open” when discussing the confidentiality of their jobs. Their families and partners all knew what they did, and were supportive. A supportive circle of friends would certainly help anyone, in any line of work, but it could also be that performers – like strippers – gain plenty of confidence from what they do.

What about their lovers; are they understanding? Removing your clothes for people other than your significant other(s) could pose a problem for some relationships, but not Dallas’. “My partner is supportive,” she says, and explains his reasons: “he knows that I love my job, and that it’s a safe place to work.” He sounds wonderfully liberal, and Ashley says any partner would probably have to be: “honestly, I wouldn’t want to date someone who took major issue with my having stripped … I’ve done plenty more outrageous shit than that over the years, so we wouldn’t be a great match.” A sour turn in Lilly’s love life, however, is how she got into the biz: “I have always been fascinated with all things sexual,” she tells me, indicating that her partner wasn’t. “Once my relationship of two and half years had ended, I took the opportunity
to apply.”

She also adds that being single and a stripper can present you with many romantic options: “in the industry, you are wanted by many; men and women.” A stripper has to be able to cope with the mass amounts of lusty suitors, which Dallas is fine with, confiding, “The constant compliments do a lot for my confidence!” She’s more in touch with her sexuality now, which she and her boyfriend reap the benefits of.

So the love life can work, but what about family? Becoming a stripper might be daunting; will you lose friends? Will moral crusaders target you? First of all, all the strippers said that their mothers knew and supported them. Lilly, however, did warn that some extended family and friends may not be so into the wacky stories that go hand-in-hand with adult entertainment: “I did have a lot of family members delete me on Facebook due to the vulgarity of my statuses.” It was strangers, though, who shook her up the most; they would ask too many questions, some out of curiosity and some “would just take the piss.” Stripping is one of those jobs, then, that you can be open about and have it go fantastically; but sometimes you’ll be reduced again to “some stripper slut,” or a talking point, and that can be hard. Ashley believes there is a limit to how open you should be about stripping: “I wouldn’t lie about it to others,” she says, but admits that “it sure as shit doesn’t make it onto my CV!”

Is stripping worth the questions, the secrecy, or the occasional sleaze? The three of them all agreed that the only lowlights were slow nights and the occasional rude patron, and rambled about the highlights for a long while. For Ashley, one of her favourite things turned into a rule-breaking bonanza: she liked those rare occasions when she got to give a lap dance to “a reeeally hot guy.” Although she once danced on a Highlander, it was a hot blond called Ryan, a regular, who stuck out for her. She actually took his number – against policy – and agreed to go out for a drink with him, potentially ruining his presence at the club. Realising her mistake, and wanting him to “keep throwing money at me while I was on stage,” she had to go the whole night without sleeping with him. Stripping is a hard life, with complicated social rules.

Back in the club, when the Highlanders are gone and the regulars are unenticing, it’s the camaraderie with the other girls that’s a stand-out highlight: “they are the most fun, caring, strong, loving, and beautiful characters I have ever met, and I consider them my own family,” gushes Lilly. Dallas is just as soppy, telling us she “really loves all the other girls.” Although Ashley loves her stripper family, the big highlight for her was “getting paid to dance around without many clothes on and have adoring crowds of people throw money at you!” That’s right, Ashley lived the dream. “If I could do it again and nobody would ever know, I would in a heartbeat. Hell, probably for free it was so much fun.”

So, stripping: is it glitz and glam, or is the underside not worth it? As a job opportunity, it will only ever be part-time, and likely temporary. Most girls aren’t there longer than half a year, and it can follow you for a while after that. “In hindsight,” confesses Ashley, “I’ve been lucky as hell it hasn’t caught up with me.” Although they worry it could affect future job opportunities, they admit it’s given them sales skills they wouldn’t have got elsewhere. They also get paid – very well – to socialise, exercise, and pick out sweet tunes to blast. There are certainly some personal characteristics you need to work in a strip club – confidence, strong social skills, and rhythm – but if you have those, it could be a hoot. Not to mention, of course, the number one highlight: “your giant envelope of cash every Saturday night absolutely rocks.”

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