Stripping might seem like a fun and easy job, filled with energetic music, a party atmosphere, and having customers throw money at you. In reality, it's a job that requires much more time and physical prowess than just jumping on stage and removing your clothing. Rocket walks you through the ins and outs of her work as a stripper.

History

Buying shoes and costumes for work adds up, and the responsibility for maintaining a wardrobe falls on the workers, not the club owners. Photo by Kat.

In the United States, striptease is believed to have started in traveling carnival shows, where it's said that some of the performers did acrobatic moves on the circus tent poles. Later this style of dancing moved on to burlesque theaters, which admitted male customers only. Early stars of these shows were Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, and Charmion, who was a trapeze artist who disrobed during her flying circus act. One burlesque theater credited with the start of striptease shows in the states was Minsky's Burlesque on New York City's 42nd Street. Due to legal regulations that cracked down on these venues, striptease joints, also called "grindhouses" went into decline after many of the establishments in NYC were raided and shut down circa the late 1930s. In the 1960s, go-go dancing became popular along with mod culture. Eventually the more subdued, yet athletic, style of go-go dancing merged with classic burlesque, and stripping (in its early forms) was born. Some clubs eventually went from allowing just topless nudity to allowing full nudity. The Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre is credited to be the birthplace of lapdancing in 1980.

Terminology

Strippers are often also called "exotic dancers" "erotic dancers" or the more old-fashioned and formal term "ecdysiast." Sometimes strippers are referred to as "pole dancers" although not all strippers dance on a pole. The area where strip club customers sit at the stage is called the "rack."

The Work

Strippers are men and women who disrobe on stage, performing a contemporary form of striptease for an audience in return for cash tips. Strippers can work independently in an outcall capacity (usually for bachelor/bachelorette parties), or they can work at a strip club that is owned and operated by someone else. How much clothing is removed and the level of contact between customers and strippers varies greatly from state to state, depending on local laws. For example, some strippers get completely nude while others may be required to leave their bottoms on, not revealing the genitalia. Some strip clubs may allow customers to touch areas of the stripper's body, while other clubs have a strict no contact rule. Differences in laws regarding level of undress and customer/stripper physical contact are extrememly varied from state to state and from club to club. Often strippers have more strict personal rules for the level of physical contact they permit, beyond what the club allows. Inside a strip club, strippers perform onstage as well as one-on-one for individual customers. One-on-one sessions are usually referred to as "private dances" "lap dances" "table dances" "couch dances" "taxi dances" or "VIP dances." All of these terms vary in definition depending on where and how the one-on-one dance is performed (as in level of physical contact). Sometimes the dance is done out on the floor area of the club where anyone can watch, while other times it's in a private or semi-private room. The stripper's time and entertainment may be purchased in incrememnts: by the song, by the half hour or by the hour. It is usually referred to as "VIP" when increments of a half hour, hour or more are purchased. For strippers, receiving extra tips for good service is customary.

Hidden Work

Beyond the act of showing up for scheduled work shifts, strippers must keep up physical appearances in order to successfully do their work. This may involve working out, tanning, waxing/shaving, and getting their nails/hair done. Many strippers also purchase work-specific costumes. Strippers face many work-related injuries, the most common being chronic bursitis, back pain, and bruises from the very physical act of dancing on stage, sometimes performing very athletic pole tricks. Because they come in constant contact with money and the general public, they are at a high risk for getting illnesses like the common cold and flu. Many strippers also suffer from mental fatigue; it's easy to get "burned out" from working in a nightclub/party atmosphere.

Legal, labor, and other issues

Typically, strippers are described as independent contractors; however many argue that strippers (specifically those that work in strip clubs) should be considered employees, as they are required to adhere to the club's rules. This has long been a grey area and a subject of heated debate within the industry, with strippers themselves divided on both sides of the issue. In recent years, the argument over whether strippers should legally be considered employees or independent contractors has been fueled by several highly-publicized cases of strippers suing clubs over unpaid wages and stage fees/tip outs. (See more views on the topic: "Making It Rain: Oregon’s most litigious stripper is out to reform the industry," "Stripped by Massachusetts" and "Hey strippers who think you want to sue for unpaid wages!...")

Strippers are typically not paid a wage. The money they make comes from the cash tips they receive directly from customers. It is customary for strip club owners to enforce that strippers pay a "stage fee" which is a cash payment a stripper makes each night of work to be present in the club. It is also customary for strip club owners to enforce that strippers pay a "tip-out" which consists of cash payments to wage-earning employees of the club in return for their services. The recipients of "tip-outs" are cocktail waitresses, security personnel, bartenders and deejays. Many clubs also take a cut of what dancers make from private dances. The legality of the following hiring/termination factors comes into question when one considers the independent contractor versus employee debate: age, race, sex, national orgin, disability, and pregnancy. Strippers can be "fired" (or simply taken off the schedule) for any reason and under no legal repercussion for strip club management/owners. Strippers are not granted medical leave, company health insurance or unemployment benefits.

Quite a few United States jurisdictions have passed laws regulating striptease. Contained within San Diego Municipal Code 33.3610 is the "six foot rule" which requires that strippers maintain a six foot distance from customers while performing. In other US jurisdictions there are laws prohibiting full exposure of the nipples. Strippers in these jurisdictions must wear pasties. Houston has a law (passed in 2008) banning fully exposed breasts, and Detroit followed suit with a similar law (passed in 2010). Other jurisdictions across the country have banned specific body posturing they have deemed to be inappropriate or lewd, such as spreading the legs or mimicing certain sexual acts on stage.


Live Nude Girls Unite
is 2000 documentary by Julia Query about labor organizing in San Francisco strip clubs.

In addition to jurisdictional laws, strippers nationwide are faced with their places of employment being shut down due to constant protests and picketing by neighborhood organizations who deem strip club businesses to be undesirable, and by religious organizations whose members morally object to the work. These judgements are often based on misconceptions and myths about stripping as well as ignorant and insensitive stereotyping of women who strip for a living.

Frequently Asked Questions and Myths

Myth: All strippers are either addicted to drugs/alcohol, have a history of abuse, are single moms, or are working their way through college.
Fact: While these attributes can describe some strippers as individuals, they certainly cannot be applied to "strippers" as an all-inclusive group. These stereotypes have been grossly overexaggerated by sensationalistic media and the entertainment industry, specifically television and movies. As with any profession, strippers come from all walks of life and have varied personal histories and educational/career path goals.

Why do strippers have "stage names"?
Strippers have stage names for privacy reasons. When you mix liquor, beautiful women and nudity, you are bound to eventually run into a few overzealous individuals who become obsessive about the dancers. Strippers realize that most customers are just at the club to have a lighthearted good time and have no intention of becoming stalkers, but the stage name is one way to circumvent that issue. Another reason that strippers use stage names is anonymity. Despite the legality of the job, there is a social stigma attached to stripping. Unfortunately, due to this stigma it can be difficult for former strippers to obtain many types of employment after having worked as a stripper. Using a stage name aides in anonymity. Strippers also adopt a stage name to help mold a strip club persona. It's a way to better create a fantasy and make the performance more entertaining.