Stripped

Stripped

Why baring all is more than just a means to an end

By Kate E Lore

Photo: “This world that we work in is totally different from any other job … In here I can be blunt … ” -Essence, dancer at Harem Night Club; photos: Catie South

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This is a quote I saw once and I can’t get out of my head. Time and time again the most opinionated people I know are the ones who will argue with each other for hours on end while neither side truly hears what the other is saying.

Perhaps I am more open-minded than most who claim to be. Personally, I like gaining new perspective on things. When presented with new ideas or opposing views I’ll scoot forward in my chair intently and tell the other person to “Go ahead convince me.” I genuinely take the time to listen to what the other person has to say and consider their arguments. I learn things this way and sometimes I do change my mind. I keep in hand my own facts and opinions holding whatever subject open like a wide map in my mind. I am not an easy sell; most times I learn some things and maybe make a few exceptions.

When I was presented with this assignment I took it as a personal opinion challenge. My one and only prior gentlemen’s club experience had been negative and I’ll admit I made many assumptions from what little I had seen. It had been a Saturday near midnight and it was extremely crowded. We couldn’t get enough seats and we couldn’t hear each other over the music. I noticed a face that looked dazed and strung out dancing an empty routine in the corner. I simply assumed this was the standard state for all the girls. When I took on this article I was hoping to see that perhaps some of the ladies were not so bad off, that maybe they enjoy it. My most genuine hope was that at least this might serve as easy money to fund something much better than a drug problem.

For this article I went to the Harem Night Club, located on North Dixie Drive. The girls at the club, particularly the ones I interviewed, seemed to carry themselves a bit sturdier than the average girl on the street. It would require a certain confidence and fearlessness to do what they do after all. Surprisingly, each of the women spoke in that same manner with which they carried themselves: well spoken and intelligent, the ladies of Harem are more than their physical appearance.

“I work in an ER,” said Lori, a day shift dancer. “I work here twice a week. I’ve been at (Harem) for six years. I’ve been dancing for 20 off and on throughout school. It paid for everything.”

“I study accounting and math education,” said night dancer Essence, who is finishing college near her hometown of Lingleville, Texas. “That’s my main focus.”

“I go to Wright State. I’m in the last year of my bachelor’s. I’m a cultural anthropology major with a double minor in religion and also sexuality studies,” said Rocket, who also dances at night. “I plan on doing Peace Corps before I go back to grad school. I do plan on writing quite a bit about my experiences here and providing a unique perspective for the sexuality studies field and for women’s studies. I want to use this to explain that sexuality doesn’t have to be either/or. It doesn’t have to be black and white. It’s not always being objectified or being taken advantage of, or being a little housewife type, or being a complete whore.”

“When I graduate college I’d like to actually open up my own strip club,” Essence said. “I love the atmosphere. I feel like I can dominate on the business side and the entertainment side. My strip club would be a place where people could have something outside the norm. It would be open to all different sorts of girls. I would offer pole classes, I will offer daycare, I will offer counselors if they need it because sometimes I feel like I’m a counselor in here. This industry can go so far if it’s done correctly. I feel like it’s slowly dying off and I would love the opportunity to build it back up.”

The girls openly admit this isn’t like any other job. However, money is far from the only perk.

“I’ve got my master’s, so I’m pretty well set. I’ve got my master’s in nursing,” said Lori. “This is my stress relief. I come in here to get rid of the last couple days because I work three 12-hour shifts. I come in here, get to have a few drinks, get to mingle with the guys and girls and just … get away. I enjoy it.”

“This world that we work in is totally different from any other job,” said Essence. “In here I can be blunt, I can be straightforward, I can tell you, like, ‘This is what it is.’ Out there you have to be so sympathetic to everybody else because not everybody else has that outer shell. It’s so much harder.”

“I felt like all the other jobs that I’ve had working in an office, restaurant, working various entertainment gigs, you always have to have this persona. But here it was more like comfortable being myself. I look forward to being myself. Expressing myself while I dance, it’s just very liberating. I feel naked in multiple meanings of the word,” said Rocket. “Especially during school, I don’t get to go out and have fun. So, I get to combine my work environment with entertaining myself, having fun, making a decent amount of money. The schedule is my favorite part. I don’t have a set schedule. I come and go as I please. If I have an exam or a 20-page paper due, I don’t have to worry about losing my job over that.”

The Harem of Dayton is particularly known for being one of the best clubs in the city. It seems like some of this success comes from the staff, who actually enjoy working and have developed a strong support network.

“I love my manager and my DJs,” said Rocket. “Bar staff is pretty phenomenal, too. But they always take care of us. We’re not even allowed to go unless a bouncer walks us to our vehicle, watches us start our car and leave. They’re always very concerned with our well-being.”

“I actually took a year off of school and Kevin, the owner, he’s like my father figure. He actually helped to guide me into going back to school,” said Essence. “He’s like ‘I understand you love dancing, but if there is anything you do, finish school.’ He’s been awesome to push me forward and all the advice he’s given me along the way, I’ve been able to pass it along to new dancers and younger girls.”

“I look forward to seeing the waitress and bartender, those are my friends,” said Macy, a daytime dancer. “I like coming here and joking with them. We have a fun time. Some of the customers that come in, you look forward to them coming in. I like the daytime better. I’m older. It’s more mature. Some of the guys, they’ll just want to talk about books or something. We’ll talk about books, movies, art.”

“We’ve got an amazing management team,” said Lori. “All the girls for the most part get along great. The whole atmosphere (at Harem) is a lot better than any of the other clubs I’ve worked at. I like to be the mommy figure to the new girls who come into the club. When I first came in, I didn’t know anything about the club environment and I had a girl take me under her wing. I never got mixed up in the drugs. I never got wrapped up in the backstage bullshit. Having a mom figure in the club I guess really helps. You know, somebody to watch your back, somebody to make sure you’re doing everything OK, show them the ropes and get them started the right way so that they can come in, make their money and not have to worry about any of that other crap.”

“My Harem family has definitely helped me through a lot,” Essence said. “It’s hard to get homesick when you have so many great friends.”

There are, of course, some dangers and some stereotypes that are based off a sad truth. There are things to be weary of and people to watch out for.

“There are certain individuals at other clubs who try to get certain girls intoxicated,” said Rocket. “It’s the same sort of hazards girls will encounter at a party or a bar. Women have to look out for themselves.”

“The biggest problem I’ve had is judgment from other women,” said Rocket. “It’s a social stigma. I’ve had boyfriends be worried about me meeting their parents, sort of treat you as sub-human to a certain degree.”

For anyone looking into this line of work there are some things you should consider.

“Do not let it change you. Stay yourself,” warned Essence. “I’ve seen so many girls go through drug problems and rehab. It’s so easy to get swallowed in the bad part of this industry. Be you and if you don’t know who you are then watch the friends you hang around.”

“Make sure you don’t have an addictive personality,” said Rocket. “This environment allows you to meet a lot of people who don’t have your best interest at heart, or a lot of access to certain things, certain lifestyles that aren’t necessarily good.”

“Keep your mind on track that you’re here to make money and go home,” said Macy. “Don’t get wrapped up in drama or anything else.”

“Don’t get mixed up in the drugs, don’t belittle yourself and stick to your rules,” said Lori.

“[Remember] this is a fantasy world,” added Essence. “You sell the fantasy, you don’t actually have to do what they ask.”

These women are proud, articulate ladies who feel far from taken advantage of. They enjoy themselves and are making money to pay for education and some much larger life goals. Essence and Rocket, who are roommates, have teamed up to do a charity event thanks to some of the connections they have made.

“[It’s] a volleyball tournament. It’s for Heifer International,” said Essence. “It’s an organization that helps prevent poverty. They grow livestock and crops and seeds and farming tools and they give it to people in third world countries, and basically help them to build self-reliance.”

“It’s at Scene 75. There will be a full bar and raffle tickets for game cards for Scene 75,” said Rocket. “We’ve been putting it together completely on our own and both of the clubs that we work at have been very supportive. We’d like to create an annual event, and eventually somebody else might take over.”

As I expected, there are some hardships these girls face. There are temptations and treatment from people that just isn’t fair. However, that can be said for all sorts of situations from all sorts of people. What I found most surprising was how well educated and ambitious many of these ladies are. To them, being a dancer isn’t a last resort, or even easy money. To these ladies, this is an escape of fun, a chance to be themselves, a stepping stone for their larger goals in life and a family-like support network. There are girls who have greatly benefited from working at these types of places. At least for the Harem of Dayton, it seems that they’ve developed a strong support network of people who actually look out for one another.

 

Learn more about Kate E Lore and see her web-comics and blog at KateELore.com. Kate can be reached at KateLore@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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