By Michelle Lhooq
It’s nearly midnight on a Friday in Times Square, New York, and I’m huddled outside one of the city’s most infamous gentlemen’s clubs.
My friend Iris Greene is a dancer there, and since the club tends to stop single girls from barging in on their own (they’re wary of prostitutes poaching their clientele), she’s preemptively told the bouncers that I’m applying for a job. After I introduce myself, the two burly men, who look like they’ve stalked straight off a Boogie Nights set, 70s moustaches and all, radio the manager to come pick me up for my “audition.” I have no idea how I’m getting out of this one.
As it usually does around this time of night, the mood in Times Square has started to shift from early evening exuberance to something more seedy, if not downright sinister. The theater types exiting their Broadway shows have long cleared the streets, the jet-lagged tourists have stumbled back to their hotels, and the crowds thronging outside the club seem looser, baudier and definitely drunker.
“I would take your coat off if I were you. You’ll never get a job here with so many clothes on,” one of the bouncers tells me, his eyes greedily unpeeling the layers of fabric sheathing my skin. My pulse quickens. In the awkwardness of the moment, I become keenly aware of how greatly clothing — or the lack thereof — defines the power dynamics of a strip club.
Simply put, those in control have the great privilege of keeping their clothes on. The clothed then exchange that other symbol of power, money, to exert their will — and what they want, desperately, fleetingly, is for the beautiful creatures around them to take their clothes off. To relinquish my coat then would also mean losing some of my agency; I pull it closer around me.
After a few minutes, one of the bouncers finally escorts me to the bar, where I’m told to wait for the manager. “I hope you have experience,” he mutters, casting another disdainful look at my incontrovertibly unsexy clothes cocoon. I’m surrounded by girls wearing far, far less.
All strip clubs have some kind of dress code. Most of the clubs in New York, especially in Times Square, are upscale establishments that require their girls to wear “gowns” — a euphemism for skin-tight tube dresses that wrap around their bodies and end slightly below their buttcheeks.
Seedier joints are called “bikini” clubs, which means exactly what you’d think: girls are only required to wear patches of cloth just around their naughty bits. What those patches of cloth look like — the color, the pattern, the cut, its aesthetic appeal — is rarely considered to be of much importance. After all, the thinking goes, she’s just going to be peel it all off anyway.
More than a fashion statement or an avenue for self-expression, stripper wear is fundamentally utilitarian. As my friend Iris puts it, “When the goal is to make as much money as possible, you need to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I wish I could give men more credit for having more interesting fantasies, but they really don’t seem to. The blonder, more tanned, toned and droney you look, the more money you’ll make.”
When it comes to general standards enforced by the club’s management, the rules are pretty simple: “Whatever it is you have on, it better look slutty, sparkly and easy to take off.” Thus, the vast majority of gowns have straps that tie around the neck — easily unraveled with a simple tug, allowing the stripper’s breasts to spill out effortlessly. Form follows function.
Back at the bar, the manager storms out of a back room, visibly coked out. Before I even have a chance to stutter my half-baked excuses as to why I’m not, in fact, ready to take my clothes off, he makes a neck-cutting motion with his fingers. “I’m not taking any more auditions tonight,” he barks, coke flecks flying from his flared nostrils. He swivels back to his den. Thoroughly relieved by this deux ex machina, I slide off my barstool and head to the pulsing main room where the topless girls are dancing.
Taking a seat between two French tourists, I gaze up at the shimmying bodies from my seat in the area right by the stage — the delicately-named Pervert’s Row.
Patrons at strip clubs are nothing if not fidgety, attention-deficient gazers; each girl gets just 15 minutes on the pole before a fresh body is trotted out. Therefore, every part of the routine is primed to maximize the profits reaped from her short performance. That, after all, is exactly what stripping is at its essence: a deliberate, choreographed act. Too much is at stake to leave up to chance — or creative expression.
Later in the night, Iris slips out of a $2000-a-night private room, looking resplendent with her blonde curls, red lips, and plunging white dress. “I’m so sorry I can’t hang out with you, I’m with an amazingly generous client who just wants to massage my toes!” she cooes. Her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe is hardly accidental.
“I once bought this stunning white dress that all of my colleagues loved, but it didn’t show enough boob. I had to shelve it,” Iris later tells me. “Now I make sure whatever I wear shows lots of boob and lots of leg, [and] I opt for a cleaner look. I try to keep it as simple as possible. That way I can mold my personality into whatever kind of fun a client is looking for. Versatility is key.”
Iris’ stripper costume is not an expression of her individuality, but a business plan calculated to maximize profits. And even though Iris and her coworkers flaunt different dresses, thongs, and sky-high stilettos in dozens of cuts and colors, their outfits are all merely different iterations on a shared them — all exaggerated expressions of traditional feminine sexuality.
For even though strippers are constantly transgressing social norms of sexuality and moral behavior in their line of work, their attire seldom challenges the boundaries of gender and the so-called “feminine ideal.” Ultimately, this adherence to classic modes of female sex appeal is central to their performative role within the walls of the strip club — a space that, as the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin put it, can be described as “carnivalesque.”
Strippers and porn stars, says Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics at the University of Toronto, are examples of “modern-day carnival mockers who take it upon themselves to deride, confuse, and parody authority figures and sacred symbols, bringing everything down to an earthy, crude level of theatrical performance.”
By pitting the sacred (say, the sanctity of human body) against the profane (the bald-faced lasciviousness of a strip club), Danesi argues that the “carnival” form aims to “critique traditional mores and idealized social rituals, bringing out the raw, unmediated links between domains of behavior that are normally kept very separate.”
Thus, by satirizing sex, gender and sexuality, strippers — in their hyperfeminine costumes highlighting boobs and bum — may act as court jester: revealing and challenging these entrenched norms from behind a mask.
“Through costumes and masks, these transgressive individuals take on a new identity, and, as a consequence, renew themselves spiritually in the process,” Danesi says.
This transformation, however, is only temporary. When the carnival is over, the catharsis is complete — and sexual norms (and bras, jeans and sweaters) quickly snap back into place.
MICHELLE LHOOQ is a writer and stripper shoe-enthusiast living in New York City.
Originally posted on: http://shop.sweetlyinked.com/blogs/kiitc/10716001-the-semiology-of-stripper-style#
a) Wearing heels while doing squats and hip undulations (these two moves are the basic steps when performing a lap dance) has turned my sad white girl booty into a slightly less-sad white girl booty. I’m about six light-years away from a shelf, but that’s a hell of a lot closer than I was before I first showed a stranger my yoni and demanded 50 bucks in return. And I feel like that is progress.
b) Contrary to every Cosmo sex-tips column you’ve ever read, stripping teaches you that Jiggle = Good! If you are in doubt, please refer to #9.
2. Men who ignore me when I’m walking down the street. (Or at least the ones who make no mention of the fact that I am a person they would like to fuck.)
3. Informal Education.
I used to be Joey fucking Potter. I loved school and thought the only way to measure one’s worth was by getting a full scholarship to Harvard.
4. My low-numbers bank account.
Cash is King, and that shit is in my mattress.* Having met every depressed and coke-addled Wall Street guy in Lower Manhattan, I know never to trust those bastards with any sort of investment. But don’t worry, I’m not one of those assholes who collects the dole while making a mint under the table.
5. When people think I am a heathen or bad person or best of all – a SLUT.
6. Cotton briefs.
7. My scent.
That’s right – I love the smell of my pussy, and you should love yours too. It’s been identified by keen sniffers as ‘salmon,’ ‘puppy’s breath’ and ‘hot musk’ and it’s the fucking best. I used to think if my cunt smelled like ANYTHING and someone were to *GASP* smell or taste her, I would certainly die a thousand deaths unless I lathered her in Dove or better yet – just left the whole fucking bar of soap wedged up in there for the entire session of hanky-pank. Thank god those days are over. Come at my laundry hamper, panty-snatchers!
Gossip used to make me really nervous:
Now I just fucking feed off it like a leech on a boner. I hang out in the dressing room just to touch base with who’s pregnant and who got busted for dealing coke to customers and subsequently getting in a cat-fight with the Queenpin.
It’s not that I’ve become a keen porn collector, but I can appreciate it now. Before I started stripping, I thought porn was gross and silly. A huge part of me still believes most porn to be hilariously gross; if I ever watch it I am laughing for at least 75% of the program. But being in the sexy business has inspired me to have this reverent sense of gratitude for it. Like, ‘Hey, look at how crazy awesome our fantastical imaginations are! Isn’t it nice to have some talented and generous actors to act it out for our viewing pleasure?’
10. Body Hair (and by body hair I mean my bush)
11. Hot Pink
SOMEONE GET ME THIS PUSSY DRESS:
12. A day without alcohol.
Don’t get me wrong – I fucking love alcohol. It’s fun and silly and slutty and Shoshana is my new favourite character on Girls after last Sunday’s Mean-Drunk-Girl episode.
But a day without booze is so fucking rare when your job is to be perpetually drunk, and when your non-stripper friends think you’re ‘so fun’ because you’re essentially a professional fun-haver. And they never see you having fun because that would be AWKWARD. So, when they do get to hang out with you, it’s like NO YOU ARE NO WAY ORDERING THAT SHIRLEY FUCKING TEMPLE. WAITER SHE WILL HAVE A LEMON DROP SHOT AND A TECATE.
It’s quite possible that every woman hates the idea of strippers until she either meets one, or becomes one. I thought they were drugged up attention whores with daddy issues. Now that I’ve seen the light, I know that we TOTALLY ARE attention whores with daddy issues (and of course there are drugs, but drugs are everywhere so let’s retire this strippers-are-the-only-addicts hypothesis once and for all). And we are taking these needs, wants and Freudian complexes and spinning them into GOLD. We are modern-day Rapunzel-stiltskins with expensive hair extensions.
Nickelback makes men want to spend money. So now, whenever I hear one of their tracks (I couldn’t tell you which one; they all sound the fucking same) I am fondly reminded of having money thrown at me, and this makes me happy.
It’s busy season. Strippers everywhere are either drunk, hungover, or both – but let me tell you we are money-minded and if you’re friends with us but have some semblance of a regular job, you won’t be seeing any of us until February.
It’s November. I’ve got six weeks to make enough to last me through my tropical repose that should extend through January. It’s crunch time.
Lonely men are looking to cosy up in my divine presence… and I will be there to listen to their woes, giggle while holding a straw close to my lips, and tell them how powerful, funny and handsome they are.
November is also the month I vowed to steer clear of alcohol. Because why not. Because alcohol is bad for you but really because I’m vain and want to look good for a good while without needing a liver transplant.
Is it weird that I masturbate to my own self-awareness?
There are always loopholes in the sexy dancer business when we’re talking about the consumption of alcohol. Like, you have NO IDEA how many bottles of Dom Perignon I have dumped behind couches, chairs, onto the 80′s carpeted floor or back into the ice bucket. It’s wasteful and fucked up and tragic but it’s what we do. Because we want him to buy another bottle. Because he will. Because in the eyes of Mr. Money Bags, the drunker we get (or appear to get), the more our strict moral code unravels.
Because this is true, but it’s also total bullshit.
When I get wasted I get pretty loose-lipped and entertaining. Just like you, I’m a really fun drunk girl. But I’m a business woman first, stripper second, and drunk girl third. So no matter how slutty I seem, I am not going to get herpes from you. But you can keep spending in hopes that I will!
So the trick is to act drunk.
But sometimes the waitress forgets that you ordered the mocktail, and you can’t really, truly not drink an entire bottle of champagne that some dude bought for you, because he doesn’t like champagne but wants to make you happy.
Basically I’m drunk all the time, sometimes for real and sometimes merely acting like I’m about to fall over and need to grip the soft biceps of yet another finance guy for stability. Yet somehow in the deep recesses of my psyche I know that I’m not an alcoholic, because I’ve dated a few of those and they always piss the bed. I haven’t pissed the bed in at least ten years. (high five, me!)
So I’m in some sort of twilight zone where I’m perpetually drunk, yet I can’t tell if it’s sincere inebriation or an act. Where does my stripper self end and my real girl self begin? Is this an existential crisis and am I supposed to care when really I’m getting lady boners every time someone slips me a crisp new Benjamin?
Let me raise my glass to all my fellow strippers out there who are hustling hard, and I’ll see all you bitches in Tulum in a month or so.
One of rock ‘n roll’s most celebrated former strippers graced my laptop screen while I lay in bed this afternoon:
I curled up with some Ramen and a pressure headache to watch HIT SO HARD, the story of Patty Schemel: badass drummer of Hole, former junkie and forever and always rug muncher. My kind of girl!
It starts like this:
Naturally, I creamed.
All the grainy, hand-held shots of nineties babes really just made my day, and the irking inside me that urges me to start a rock band grew stronger and stronger.
Yesterday I was pretty sure Hank Moody was my spirit animal, but today I’m going to go with Courtney. Courtney Love is most definitely my fucking spirit animal.
I mean, I just love her.
And then there were these moments where I was just totally feeling Patty’s vibe:
Haven’t we all been there?
The reality is there aren’t enough true or fictitious stories about bad-ass babes.
There were a lot of dark moments about drug abuse and addiction, which, let me just say – I might have risked being a junkie at some point but I’m just too fucking cheap with my money. Seriously I just can’t justify dry-humping gross dudes for money that I will just burn or snort away on an area rug with a janky coffee table. I just can’t do it.
As we say back in Canada, “she could squeeze a nickel til the beaver shat.”
The full subtitle read: “She had an absolutely genius sense of humor about being a crackhead on the streets.”
You see? Bitches, Cunts, Whores and Rock ‘n Roll Goddesses… we have character.
And we get to have happy endings!
Go watch this doc and come back to tell me what other ones I need to watch.