The Glamorous Life of the Stripper

Excerpted from a 1999 study by Kelly Holsopple.

Kelly, a former stripper, investigated violence in strip clubs, typical strip club activities and interactions, working conditions, and women’s thoughts on stripping.

Her study had two parts. In phase one, she interviewed 41 women for 1 to 4 hours each.  The interviews were qualitative and open-ended.  The phase one subjects ranged in age from 19-40, and had been working as strippers anywhere from 3 months to 18 years.

They worked in both urban and rural clubs which, collectively, featured the following activities: topless dancing, nude dancing, table dancing, couch dancing, lap dancing, wall dancing, shower dancing, and bed dancing, peepshows, female boxing and wrestling with customers.  Some of the clubs also sold photographs of the dancers, or hired porn models and actresses as headliners.

After analyzing the phase one results, Kelly found that two most pronounced themes were low-self esteem and violence.

In phase two, Kelly interviewed a smaller group of women using a 26-question survey.  It focused on the rules and work conditions at clubs, and incidents of verbal harassment, physical and sexual violence, and sexual exploitation experienced by the strippers.

These surveys and consequent discussions lasted from one to four hours.

The phase two subjects ranged in age from eighteen to thirty-five years old, and entered into stripping between the ages of 15 and 23 years old, with an average entry age of 18 years, 10 months.

In phase two, the women were asked to describe the various circumstances of their recruitment into stripping.

One woman recounted her recruitment as an eighteen-year-old. She went to a ‘gentlemen’s club’ to pick up her friend, waited at the bar, was served alcohol, and was asked for her ID by the owner. Instead of kicking her out, he told her she could make $1000 per week working for him and pressured her to enter the amateur contest that night. She won the $300 contest, and worked there three weeks before being recruited into an escort service by a patron pimp.

This kind of story is not uncommon.  Typically, a strip club manager asks a potential applicant to audition on amateur night or bikini night, popular with customers who hope to see girl-next-door types rather than seasoned strippers. If the manager is pleased and there is an opening in the schedule, he may make a job offer. 

Applicants are told working as a stripper is flexible, lucrative, and that they will not be forced to do anything they do not want to do.  Later, strippers discover that managers overbook them so they are forced to compete with each other, often gradually engaging in more explicit activities in order to earn tips.

It’s important to understand that strippers are typically hired as ‘independent contractors’ rather than ‘employees.’  They have no fixed wage, and their income depends on pleasing customers in order to earn tips.  They are not entitled to any of the following privileges: workers’ compensation, health insurance, unemployment benefits, or filing discrimination claims.  Club owners save money by paying no Social Security, no health insurance, and no sick pay. (see Joe’s Strip-o-Rama Employee Handbook)

Other club income collected by the management can include: door cover charges, beverage sales, sale of promotional novelty items, kickbacks, prostitution, and fines imposed on the women.

When not on stage, strippers are also encouraged to perform private dances for bigger tips.  These are usually performed in areas shielded from the larger club view. As a rule, these transactions involve one female dancer and one male customer. These situations skirt the definition of prostitution because of the contact involved.

  • Table dancing is performed on a low coffee table or on a small portable platform near the customer’s seat. The woman’s breasts and genitals are eye level to the customer.

  • Couch dancing for a customer involves a dancer standing above him on a couch, dangling her breasts or bopping him in the face with her pubic area.

  • Lap dancing requires the woman to straddle the man’s lap and grind against him until he ejaculates in his pants. A variation involves the woman dancing between his legs while he slides down in his chair so that the dancer’s thighs are rubbing his crotch as she moves.

  • Bed dancing occurs in a private room and requires a woman to lie on top of a fully clothed man and simulate sex until he ejaculates.

  • Shower dancing is offered in upscale clubs and allows a clothed customer to get into a shower stall with one or more women and massage them with soap.

  • Wall dancing requires a stripper to carry alcohol swabs to wash the customer’s fingers before he can insert them into her vagina. His back is stationary against the wall and she is pressed against him with one leg lifted.

  • Peep shows feature simulated or actual sex acts directed by masturbating customers who sit in darkened booths and view the women through a glass window.

In the second phase of her survey, Kelly found that:

  • 100% of the women reported physical abuse in the club.

  • 100% of the women reported sexual abuse in the club.

  • 100% of the women reported verbal harassment in the club.

  • 100% of the women reported being propositioned for prostitution in the club.

  • 100% of women also witnessed these things happening to other strippers in the club.

Customers committed the overwhelming majority of violent acts.

Club owners, managers, assistant managers, bartenders, music programmers or DJs, bouncers, security guards, floorwalkers, doormen, and valets were guilty to a lesser extent.

The women in the survey reported that customers have

  • spit on them

  • sprayed beer at them

  • flicked lit cigarettes at them

  • pelted them with ice, coins, trash, condoms, room keys, pornography, and golf balls

  • hit them with cans and bottles

  • pulled their hair

  • yanked them by the arm or ankle

  • ripped their costumes or tried to pull their costumes off.

  • bitten, licked, slapped, punched, and pinched them

Some strippers worked on elevated runways so narrow that they could not get away from customers on either side touching them, especially when they were kneeling down to accept a tip in the side of their g-strings/t-bars, or when they had their backs turned.

Despite claims from management that customers are prohibited from touching the strippers, this rule is consistently violated.

Strippers reported having these thoughts while on stage:

  • “I daydream about nothing in particular to pass the time of 12 minutes.”

  • “I’m thinking about how good I look in the mirrors and how good I feel in dance movements.”

  • “I tell myself to smile.”

  • “I think about getting high and that I am making money to get high.”

  • “I am giving these guys every chance to be decent, so that I don’t have to be afraid of them.”

  • “I am filled with disdain for the customers who do not tip, but sit and watch and direct you to do things for no money.”

  • “I think of how cheap these fuckers are, what bills I need to pay.”

Strippers engaged in private dances reported these reactions:

  • “I don’t want him to touch me, but I am afraid he will say something violent if I tell him ‘no’.”

  • “I was thinking about doing prostitution because that’s when customers would proposition me.”

  • “I could only think about how bad these guys smell and try to hold my breath.”

  • “I spent the dance hyper-vigilant to avoiding their hands, mouths, and crotches.”

  • “I was glad we were allowed to place towels on the guys’ laps, so it wasn’t so bad.”

  • “I don’t remember because it was so embarrassing.”

Notice none reported thinking, “Gee, this guy is so hot, I wonder if he’ll let me take him home.”

Reprinted by permission of

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