View Full Version : "One woman's decision to quit a lucrative business" by By Anne Camara

03-17-2004, 12:10 AM
Just another article that I thought was kind of interesting. It's long though. I split it into 2 parts.


Your stomach's almost darker than my caffe latte!" my roommate Erin exclaimed in disbelief, as I reached toward the back seat and my T-shirt rode up my midriff.

"I know. I used to be a stripper, you know," I replied, and we both burst out laughing--the kind of laugh I hadn't laughed in a while.

Erin was driving me to the train station with all my bags. I was leaving Connecticut, where I'd gone to college for four years and had been an exotic dancer for less than two. I'd given up my car, my beach house, my two gym memberships and my tanning salon account because I'd decided I could no longer afford the bills that had once been a part of my lifestyle as a stripper. I could still make the money in a matter of nights, but I wanted out of dancing, and this time I wasn't going back.

I'd started dancing my senior year at Yale. At that time nothing seemed more fun than dancing the night away, naked in seven-inch high heels, with a stage all to myself, music I could request as I pleased, and an infinite stream of men constantly fighting for my time and attention. I'd listen, half-bored and half-amused, to my customers' inventive pick-up lines. At the end of the night I'd come back to my dorm-room with a wad of cash half the size of a football. I used to dance two nights a week. The rest of the week, I'd go to class, hang out, study and go out with my friends like any average Yale girl.

That was before I graduated. I didn't have a plan to go into a specific career, and once college was over, I found myself with an Ivy League degree and no idea what to do next. With exotic dancing, I had all the money I needed. I'd studied hard all my life. I wanted a vacation from the competition and stress I was used to, so instead of sending out résumés, I decided to take time off and keep dancing to support myself.

Dancing was easy. I showed up for my shift anytime between five in the afternoon and 10 at night, depending on the schedule. If I got there before eight, I was free to go by one. The late shift ended when we closed, usually four or sometimes five, when the sun was already up. By that time, I'd be rich: full-time dancers made six figures. And although the shift was long, I didn't mind because on busy nights I never had a second to myself. I was on my feet the entire time, taking turns on stage and giving private dances, but I was too busy and having too much fun to feel tired.

When I got to work, I changed in the dressing room, and if the club had a free tanning policy I used the tanning booth for 10 minutes to darken my tan lines. I liked to wear a bikini, but some clubs had strict outfit regulations and at those, I had to wear a dress. At most clubs, the girls wore short, tight velvet dresses with a matching g-string and a pair of six-inch stilettos. Some clubs had a makeup artist on the staff, but because I liked to do my face myself I never used their services. When I was ready, I went over to the manager to pay my house fee for the night. Next, I paid the DJ. Once these fees were paid, the money I made was all mine, and I was ready to go.

As the night went, the girls took turns on the rotation to go on stage. Usually a stage set was three songs, and if there were more than one stage in the club, we followed each other from one stage to the other, two songs on each, until we were done. After getting off stage, we went and mingled with the customers on the floor, trying to sell private dances. Depending on the club, these ranged from table dances to lap-dances. A table dance meant that the dancer danced topless in front of a customer, with no contact allowed. In a lap-dance, she had to give some contact, although rules and degrees of contact varied depending on the club. There was also a champagne room, where customers paid by the half-hour for a girl to dance for them or sometimes just to sit and flirt. None of the clubs I've ever worked at allowed more contact in the champagne room than anywhere else in the club. Security was tight. Whether on stage, on the floor or in the champagne room, I always felt safe and protected. Bouncers were everywhere, and they were always over-protective of the dancers. I felt much safer at work than I did at an average nightclub, where I would invariably get groped!

Iloved dancing. I loved the clubs, the music, the crowd and the stilettos, the makeup and get-ups I wore on stage. I loved the fact that I could wear glitter to work. While my friends' jobs included bosses they hated, commitments they couldn't break, and very few vacation days, I could just call in at four in the afternoon and schedule myself for the night, then cancel the rest of the week and take off to Brazil on a whim. My life was sweet: work out all day, dance all night, all the money I wanted, and more fun than anyone I knew was having. I was living it up.

Yet there was a major drawback to my easy life. Although I always felt absolutely comfortable with what I did, I hated the fact that my job was placing me outside the margins of mainstream society. As soon as I left the anything-goes, free-spirited atmosphere of the very liberal Yale campus, the stigma against exotic dancing was fairly strong, and the kick I once got announcing to the world that I was a stripper lost its power. The shock value wore out. Soon I was left feeling odd about my chosen line of work.

The clichés associated with exotic dancing didn't help. I heard that exotic dancers were pathetic, exploited creatures that had once been abused; that the reason they undressed before strange men was pathologically low self-esteem. To my knowledge, nothing was further from the truth. What struck me when I walked into a strip club for my very first audition (I'd never been to a strip club before) was how the balance of power was the opposite of what I'd expected. The women on stage and on the floor had it down; with their long fake lashes, cleavages and pouts, they clearly had the men wrapped around their fingers, and as they laughed and took their hundred-dollar bills there was no doubt in my mind who was being fooled. The men were used. They were played with until they were sucked dry, and then they left the club, heads hung low, like gamblers who had lost, while the girls winked and chuckled in their sparkly showgirl outfits. The dancers I knew were not weak. They were the strongest women I've ever met. They knew how to play soft and sweet, but as they flirted and teased they always knew exactly what they were doing and why.

And they were irresistible. Watching the dance of seduction that first night when I auditioned for the job was fascinating, intriguing and addictive all at once. The women moved across the floor in a blur of long hair, arched backs and tight curves, long sideways glances and tilts of the head, soft teasing laughter, enticing pouts, and they never stopped. They almost didn't look like women to me. They looked like creatures. Clad in leopard print, crushed velvet and stretch satin, with heels higher than I'd ever seen, they towered over the customers like superior, alien life forms. As I waited for my first turn on stage, I wondered if I could ever play that part.

It didn't take me very long to figure it out. Yet, during my first month at the club I felt like the ugly duckling--just a regular girl who'd been caught by mistake in some game she had no business playing. With my college girl life, my mind full of papers to write and cute frat boys to drink with, I used to wander through the club among Brazilian and Czech goddesses who'd been dancing for years and wonder why anyone might take an interest in me. It took a few weeks to think of myself as legit--to acquire the shameless confidence and poise that men were paying to see.

I later turned that confidence and poise into an art form. The power trip of dancing was for me as addictive as any form of cocaine. I was there to seduce every single man in the club. I made the bulk of my money giving table dances. That meant I had to get as many men as possible to pick me over the other dancers, so I would be the one to give them that one-song dance. I had to be their favorite, otherwise they would pick somebody else, and I would go home poor and disappointed. I had to learn the art of seduction fast, and by listening and watching the other dancers I picked up the tricks of the trade.

With this in mind, I turned my part-time job into a sociological study. In true Yale fashion, I set about improving my exotic dancing batting average the way you might decide to get an A in your most difficult seminar. I spied on the best girls. I eavesdropped on their interactions with the customers. I observed the men as they were watching the stage--their reactions, their facial expressions, their attention span, their response to the dancers' every move. I was trying to define what made them like one girl over the other. Because it wasn't looks. It was about seduction.

The most common misunderstanding about excotic dancing that I came across was that a dancer's popularity is all about looks, tight bodies and sexy curves. Nothing seemed less true to me. The looks were a given; you were sexy because you were there, even if you thought you had big hips and weird-looking breasts. Because you'd made the cut, you believed you looked good, the men believed you looked good, management and the girls believed you looked good, the money in your bikini meant that you looked good--you got over your body hang-ups pretty fast. After a few nights of making money with your body, you no longer thought you had big hips and weird-looking breasts. Body confidence came with the job. It came with the compliments, the stares and the tips. You took it for granted. What made the difference was the way you interacted with the customers. Some girls looked better than others and yet stayed on the sidelines all night long, complaining in the dressing room that they were making no money. Meanwhile other girls, not necessarily the best- looking ones, were working the room like the queens of the hive. Clearly, there had to be something to it.

After a few weeks of dancing I came to the conclusion that there was definitely a trick to the game. I had talked to so many men in so little time--more men than most women ever get to know in their entire lives--and they were all so different that no one girl could seduce them all unless she knew something. How could businessmen, grad students, truck drivers, high school kids, bartenders, dads, mobsters, lawyers, teachers all go for the same girl? They all had a different set of expectations. They all had a different fantasy. To seduce them, you had to read them in a split second, figure out what they longed for, and be their perfect girl...or make them believe you were their perfect girl. If you did it well, and they bought it, then you were golden. They loved you, or so they thought--they loved who you chose to be right then--and they got you a table dance. Meanwhile, you got the money and the thrill of having won.

03-17-2004, 12:10 AM
And so I learned to change who I was over the course of the night, in the blink of an eye, more times than I would've thought possible. These self-transformations were the part I grew to like best.

I loved assessing a group of guys when they walked into the club, taking them in with a single look, noticing the telltale details that told me what kind of guys they were. Did they wear wedding bands? Did they have the heavy-set frames of ex-high school football players? Did they look like men who read the Wall Street Journal every morning as their chauffeur drove them to the city? If they looked like college boys, what kind of clothes were they wearing? Did they go to a state school, a small private college, or an Ivy League school?

Once I knew who I was dealing with, I would go over to the DJ booth and request my songs for the next set, depending on what I'd figured out about my audience. I never played my own favorite songs unless they happened to coincide, which was rarely the case. I learned to play AC/DC, Def Leppard and Aerosmith for the blue-collar, white guys with goatees, expectant grins and a taste for cheering me on as I danced who crowded the stage in groups of five or six. I knew they liked long hair and beer and girls who came up to them saying cheesy things like, "How you doin' boys, you having fun tonight?" I also knew to play Dave Matthews for the college crowd who sat in groups of three or four, shy and reserved, away from the stage until I motioned them over. I knew to play techno for the late-night crowd of 20-year-olds, who were obviously high on E and had stopped by the club before making their way to after-hour parties that went on long after we closed. And I would try to dance and interact with each group differently--a blank slate in a white bikini, hoping to morph myself into anything at will.

The crowd differed significantly from one club to the next. Over the course of my exotic dancing career, I danced at just about a dozen clubs. I danced mainly in the Northeast, though I always had a fantasy of taking a road-trip to Texas with my college roommate and dancing at various clubs in the South. It was an empowering feeling to know that once you're a dancer, you can take a pair of stilettos with you, show up at any club, anywhere, dance the night and make hundreds of dollars to get you to the next place. That trip never happened. However, I did end up dancing in London instead. I'd been shopping all day and had no plans for the night. My London friends were nowhere to be found and I really didn't feel like calling it a night at 10 with all my pent-up energy. So I packed my dance bag, told my parents I was going out, did a Yahoo search on the 'Net for an upscale club in town and ended up dancing for a rowdy crowd of young British businessmen all night. They call it a beaver over there. The things you find out!

But now I'm done. It was so much fun, for so long. Until one day, a few months after graduation, when it no longer felt like a game anymore, nor a fun break from the pressures of an Ivy League school. Once I finished college I was finally on my own financially. I had no loans, but for the first time in my life I had real bills to pay. So when the night got long, or if the crowd got annoying and I didn't feel like being there, I no longer had the luxury of calling it a night and going home. I needed the money; that made a big difference. I was no longer teasing men just for fun, just to see if I could play the game. In some sense, they now had power over me, because although I was making more than enough to cover my lifestyle, the bottom line was, I needed the money I was making. And because that money was theirs to give me, I no longer felt like I called all the shots. The trick was not to let them know. It all started to feel like a lie and I hated it.

It took me forever to get out. You would think that once you make the decision to get out, you're out. But there are always girls in the dressing room who've quit dancing years ago and who've slipped back into it. The money makes it a slippery slope. There's nothing more depressing than the sight of an older dancer who's been wanting out for years but who's still there, long after the thrill of dancing is gone, with a face leathered by years of tanning and the tired looks of a woman who's seen it all. These are the lifers. All the young dancers I know are scared of turning into one of them. No dancer I've talked to has ever told me that her plan was to be an exotic dancer for the rest of her life. A few girls I knew were always taking classes in the hopes of getting some kind of degree. Others were hoping to meet a rich man who'd whisk them away from the business. Others danced one night a week in addition to their day-job as a temporary way to boost their income. Whatever their situation, most wanted out within the next five years. I was always surprised to see how few actually got out.

The night I finally decided to quit, however, I felt that I didn't have a choice. Long gone were the days when I'd stroll into my club with the walk of a queen and the mindset of a fighter about to take on a new challenge. Long gone were the afternoons when, as I shaved my legs listening to my favorite exotic dancing songs, the anticipation of going on stage ran through me with an exquisite wave of adrenaline. Gone were the days when I loved every minute of stage time, every minute on the floor. Now, when I drove to work, instead of looking forward to a night of fun, I'd be thinking of the money I needed to make that night. I didn't want to be at work: I wanted to be driving back, having made my "quota" for the night so I could pay my bills and get on with my life. Although I tried to keep a smile on my face all night long, I was losing patience with the customers. They annoyed me. The girls annoyed me. Everything annoyed me. Dancing had lost its appeal because it had become something I knew too well.

I had been bright-eyed about dancing when I first started, the way one might be enthusiastic about a foreign country. The sights and sounds of the clubs were more exotic to me than anything I'd ever seen. Girl talk in the dressing room wasn't like girl talk at school; few dancers went to college and their lives were a dark maze to me. Their lives were full of mobsters, drug dealers and gangsters. A 19-year-old friend of mine at the club once told me matter-of-factly that she was dancing to bail her sister out of jail that night. When I first started dancing, I used to relish the accents and the colorful stories of a life I came nowhere near living.

I used to feel the same way about the customers. Although I occasionally worked at upscale clubs in New York, I preferred low-key joints where I could rub elbows with "real" people. I used to pass these men on the street with my college friends without so much as a nod of acknowledgement. They were the men who tried in vain to buy us beer at the local dance club, the men who never understood why we ignored them at the bar, why we kept flirting with Yale boys instead. The division between Yale and the rest of the world permeated every aspect of my life then. When I crossed the railroad tracks to get to my favorite strip-joint, I crossed to the other side of town and I left Yale behind. I felt as though I were diving into another world.

A year and a half into it, the newness of diving into this other world had faded. Instead of being amused and entertained as I overheard crazy conversations in the dressing room, I wondered, exasperated, why these girls didn't get their act together. They certainly had the money to lead the upper-middle-class lifestyle I referred to as a standard. Yet most of them seemed utterly unable to live somewhat normal lives. My guess was that they didn't know how, because they'd been raised a different way. As for the customers whose psyches used to fascinate me, I now understood them too well to care. After many nights of dancing for them, I finally had them figured out--which towns they grew up in, where they worked, what they wanted out of life. It was time for me to move on.

I had thought that to quit dancing would take time, planning and discipline. I was afraid I might be tempted to dive back into it the second I needed quick cash or a thrill for the night. Because I'd seen so many girls quit with great pride and come back broke a few months later, I was expecting that I would go through at least a few failed attempts before I actually did it right. Yet although it took me a while to decide to get out--my lifestyle was nice, and even after my passion for exotic dancing had faded into a slightly annoyed indifference, I didn't hate it--once I made the decision to quit, I was out cold turkey the next day.

The night that turned out to be my last, I'd walked into my club and out of the blue, I wondered why I was there. The place was dark and fairly empty. The girl on stage looked fake and bored. The men at the bar struck me as losers. I didn't feel like chatting it up with the bouncer. The seediness overcame me like an unexpected wave of stench: after all, I'd been dancing there nearly every day for months and months without paying attention to it. I knew right that instant that I was done. I made a U-turn
for the dressing room, changed out of my stage clothes, said good-bye and left. I felt lucky to have a Yale degree to fall back on, because despite the financial problems I had to deal with after quitting so suddenly, I didn't have it in me to dance for one more day.

Do I regret my foray into the exotic dancing world? No. In fact, I cherish it, and to this day, I maintain that it was an unbelievable experience. I came out of it unscarred, thankfully, and enriched with the kind of insight I could've gained nowhere else. I infiltrated a culture that's largely male. Not many women know much about exotic dancing, although from the number of questions I usually have to answer whenever my past comes up, I think they're fascinated. Dancing has definitely changed me, but it hasn't hardened me. It hasn't made me hate men. Instead, it's given me the kind of maturity one gets from opening one's mind to other people and other perspectives. My experience dancing has given me the confidence that stems from the knowledge that I have chosen the life I'm living now--that I wasn't just born into it, but that I've returned to it after exploring at least a few other options.

04-18-2004, 04:08 PM
nice article. especially the parts describing stripper mentality and it's fallout.

05-11-2004, 03:04 PM
Great article..thanks for sharing..:)

06-09-2004, 10:19 AM
Very well written article. Your education shows. Its nice that you chose this lifestyle for a brief moment and it did not drag you down. If I was a woman I would have danced in college too. It seems like most jobs we have when others pay the bills, they can be fun because we don't have to worry about how much we are making to live. Your experience seems to be just that. I experienced it too, and I was just selling shoes. (that job is about flirting too, we just didn't get paid as much as you) I go to a club from time to time here in town and have met other college women doing the dancing thing, or part timing and doing other work...however the majority are not so lucky to have anything else to fall back on but their dreams...and I agree many don't know how not to think of a different life beyond what they know...which is too often a life of abuse and being used or using others...poverty sucks, and it can lead you to do things you wouldn't normally want to do or live a life you never thought you would....add children or an abusive or lame husband or boyfriend...you get the picture. Did you ever have resentment from the other women given your priveledged background or did you have some rap about why you were dancing? Just curious ;)

09-10-2004, 06:56 AM
Great piece, thanks for sharing it with us. A friend-and former ATF, quit dancing a little over a year ago and, when she was going through it, expressed many of the same emotions mentioned in the article. The 'lifers" can be a little sad but I don't think many of them actualy see themselves as "lifers". The author's experiences, as well as my friends and many other ex-dancers shows that dancing and the lifestyle it affords you, doesn't have to take over your life. There is always a way out if you really want it.

Big D
09-21-2004, 07:51 AM
Shit! She captured my thoughts exactly. Only, I am one of the older strippers who worked my last years. Fortunately, taking good care of my skin and excersize kept me looking younger than my 39 years. I made more money in my last year than I ever had. It is interesting how her perception changed over the course of the story. The once beautiful, wonderous, exotic world turned into the dark, dank hole that she left behind. Brilliant! Hopefully, I am out forever...though the money is still calling me...

09-25-2004, 10:16 AM
Big D: Good luck, it's not easy. My retired ATF still gets that "I could pay my rent in one shift" look in her eyes when we talk about the old days. It probably never goes away completely. The money is always calling.

12-17-2004, 02:56 AM
Wow! Amazing article, and so true to how I first felt when I started dancing at 17, then quit for a while, only to return full time. I can t imagine working a low paying job. And it is depressing at times, because you feel like, when do I have to leave this superficial life behind and face reality?

12-17-2004, 08:08 AM
Very educational article. I think it captures the mindset of a "college coed by day/exotic dancer by night" girl that I see at the strip club ever so often. Once the glamour of the business wears off, this is what's left. At least you got out as early as you did. This is recommended reading for anyone who is a "wannabe stripper."

12-17-2004, 08:54 AM
I don't know - reading the first part of the article makes me wonder if she has ever been in a strip club. But I suppose that is the point.

12-20-2004, 03:21 AM
Jenny, I'm a college student/dancer who loves, in normal life, to dress up and wear makeup and look pretty and flirt, so I was pretty entranced with dancing early on, too. However, I'm starting, after not so long on the job, to feel the way she did at the end of the article. I'll just have to save my pennies and send out my resumes so I can get a job after I graduate.

12-31-2004, 12:47 AM
hmm, I've read this before.

01-09-2005, 01:22 PM
She mentioned in the article that some of the "lifers" were dancing one shift per week for temporary added income to their full time job. What is wrong or tragic about doing that?

I have always been a dancer that has had a "real job" going on at the same time. This has made me look forward to dancing those few nights per week because it becomes a fun stress release.

Also, since the dancing becomes a little added extra income, it becomes fun because you are not as needy finanically as the full timers.

Just my .02,


02-14-2005, 05:40 PM
The writer sounds spoiled and arrogant. Of COURSE she has self-esteem issues, really deep ones if she can't even see them. I'm an Ivy League girl, a senior, who just started dancing, and I hope I never sound like this to anyone. She just wrote off other women and men like they were dirt under her feet.

A lot of the facts she presented were true. Yes dancing is fun when you first start, I love it especially since it's like a walk on the wild side compared to school. Yes you do have to plan ahead so you don't wind up with nothing to show for your college degree--that is key!! She brought up a lot of really good points, all of which are common sense, about not getting burned out, sucked in or dried up. But what was her breaking point from dancing? "Oh whoa is me. I'm no longer lording over men and treating them like dirt, now we have to have be to equals. This is so frustrating. Oh whatever shall I do??" :pray:
Clearly someone who has never had "pathetic"--or as I prefer to call them, REAL--problems.

It's very telling that she never mentions how a college degree enables you to HELP OTHERS or GIVE BACK in a tangible way. That is what keeps me from overstaying.

02-18-2005, 09:38 PM
I read this when it first came out in the Weekly....It's interesting to me because it's quite different from my experience, even though I'm also a college-type girl who felt like I was visiting another world when I first started dancing at 19....I guess the difference is that I genuinely loved and respected so many of the people I met in that world that I was comfortable there and wanted to stay....Of course, I had periods of burnout when I needed to take a break, and times when I stopped dancing temporarily in order to pursue other interests, but I always retained a deep affection for the industry and the people in it. I stopped dancing when I was 30 mostly because I didn't want to overstay my welcome in the industry, but I miss it, and if I could have eternal youth and beauty, I'd dance part-time forever....