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This time around, I want to do something completely different. Well, not entirely, but the Monty Python reference was just begging to be used. I have spent a fair amount of time writing about being a dancer, most of which has not made it onto here yet, but I’m working on it.

While it is clear that people in the sex industry are constantly dealing with very damaging stereotypes, that can be true of people on the other side of it as well. Customers get a rather bad reputation also, and just like any other stereotype, it’s mostly untrue. It’s just that the assholes know how to make themselves really visible and audible, so they stick out. But most customers are just your average people, men and women, frequenting the club for fun, to celebrate an event, to spice up their sex life a bit perhaps, or just to do something different. Some customers are regulars, who have come to the same club usually at the same time on the same days for years, it’s their local watering hole and they come to see friends.

Some of my experiences with customers that really stand out would seem like very ordinary interactions when put out of the context of a strip club, which is probably why they stand out so much to me. I was mainly just a stage girl, I didn’t enjoy doing private dances, so very seldom did I sit around the bar chatting with customers, since I wasn’t there to hustle. I suck at hustling. I’d usually be in the change room reading a book or if I was in town, meeting up with friends, going out to do a bit of shopping in between shows, anything but hang out in the bar. It didn’t help that I am not a big drinker, I usually save that for occasions when I’m out with a group of friends, in an environment where I can just be myself. So I didn’t really get to know a lot of the customers, aside from a couple regulars here or there.

There was the guy who was sitting in front row at Mugs one day, he was polite and clapped after my song ended, but he didn’t look like he was really having a good time. I don’t know why, but I had this feeling like it was something else, something sincere, so at one point, I sat down on the stage in front of him and commented how it’s not every day that a guy gets to see a bunch of beautiful women naked, so cheer up. He humoured me with a smile at that, and then went on to explain how he was going to college up the street, and feared he did poorly on an exam he had just taken. We chatted for a bit, and he came up to me after my show to thank me, that I had made him feel a lot better about it.

Another time, a large group of guys were celebrating a bachelor party, and apparently, they were heckling the groom-to-be to get a private show, and he chose to approach me.
Thirty bucks for one song? Why not. I’d feel awkward dancing around in that tiny space, with just one guy watching me, but tips weren’t exactly great that week. Once we got in the booth, he very shyly admitted that he’d never had a dance, and he really didn’t want one, either. No offense to me, of course. He loved his bride-to-be, and didn’t feel right being in such an intimate setting with another naked woman, so would I mind if we just talked and then he could get his buddies off his back? Not at all, we both came out winning, his buddies were appeased, he didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to, I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to, it was awesome.

Then, there’s the not so great experiences. They do happen, and sometimes it’s not someone being obviously offensive, but disrespectful through inaction and inattention. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the regulars that come in everyday are awesome and some of my favorite people, but there were some who really weren’t that great. There was one group in particular that frequented one bar in Port Moody that absolutely drove me up the wall. Not only did they ignore the dancers, but they’d sit close to the stage sometimes, and would post on our internet forum offering “advice”. As if sitting in the club every day made them a part of the industry, gave them insider knowledge. It didn’t. Their “advice” was usually misguided, ignorant and outright terrible.

The times when they would sit in front row were the incidents that truly got to me. In my opinion, front row is reserved for people who give a shit. If you’re there to watch the dancers, support the dancers, sit in front by all means. If you’re gonna chit-chat and completely ignore (thereby disrespect) the dancer who’s performing on that stage, why not do it at a table in the back? We don’t really expect too much from men that sit in the back. They’re more low-key and low-profile usually. Except for that one time when I was dancing to Garbage “Not My Idea”, and obviously lip-synching the chorus… “this is not my idea of a good time!”, and some guy got up from his seat in the back, placed a $20 on the stage, and went right back to his seat. Fantastic.

Now, here comes the “interaction” part. When a customer decides that interaction is a one-way-street and ignores a dancer, chances are she’ll ignore you. We don’t usually go out of our way just for one guy to look at us. Though there will be times when the dancer WILL try and get a rise out of the guy. Usually, I only speak for myself here, it’s out of annoyance. I get annoyed when I’m being disrespected, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So yes, I will poke fun at the jaded man every once in a while. Maybe I’ll lie down and look bored as I’m doing my floorshow right by where he’s sitting. Yes, I’m making a point by doing that. A lot of times we define a “good show” more by a “good audience” than a “good performance”, though the performance does come into play, you will find that a dancer will have better shows and DO better shows when the audience is being responsive. The ideology: why bother if they don’t care? they don’t care, I don’t care. So if ever a customer feels like ranting about a ‘bad show’… maybe they could take a look at the crowd and see if there could have been some influence there.

That is one of the vital parts of the dancer-customer relationship. The audience has an influence on the performance whether they realize it or not. When one of the customers is shouting derogatory comments at the dancer, who in their right mind will expect her to be smiling and cheerful and truly enjoying her performance after that? Yes, we are supposed to be professionals, and do our jobs no matter what the circumstances may be.

Crock of shit. When you’re a customer service representative, you get the same thing from your employers. It doesn’t matter if you found a woman mugged and beaten on the side of the road the night before, you still have to be cheerful and friendly at work the next day. Yes, this happened to me, and yes, that was expected of me when I worked at a clothing store. The thing is, no matter who you are or what your job description may be, you are still a human being. We are creatures of emotion, reaction and sentiment. Even if on the surface it may seem that a passing negative comment had no effect, there is a good chance it actually did. But we’re paid to conceal that, and we’re not the only ones. Any employee that deals with the public has to put on a mask of pleasantness and approachability. No matter what they may be thinking or feeling inside, they are not supposed to show negative emotion.

When it comes to feelings and reactions, one must realize that the dancer on stage is a human being, a woman, and has the same feelings and reactions any other woman would. People ask me sometimes if this job is debasing women, or degrading me as an individual. No, it’s not the job, it’s some of the things that come with it. Being on stage and performing is not debasing or degrading, whether we’re clothed or naked. There is nothing offensive or degrading about the human body, so we shouldn’t treat it as such. But what is degrading is some of the things that are said to us, and are deemed acceptable. That includes stereotypes such as “strippers are whores and druggies”, or “they’re dumb and they didn’t go to school so they’re doing this cuz it takes no training” or “it’s an easy job”. Many times our jobs, and us as individuals and as a group, are put down and put into broad generalizations that apply to a very small minority. But you will find druggies and people of little intellect in pretty much any field. “Cashiers are whores”. Ever hear that? I doubt it.

And this is why the relationship between a dancer and the audience can at times be a love-hate or plain hate-hate relationship. The audience can dictate the mood, the audience will shout degrading comments at times, and at times the audience will believe that they are in some way “better” than the woman on stage.

Dancers would be happier, and put on better shows if we are given the respect we deserve. So, next time you’re sitting in front row (or back row or that table in the corner), keep in mind that the woman on stage is a human being just like you, a woman with the same emotions as any other, and if you hear something like “let’s see the sandwich meat” or “show me your pussy”, don’t follow suit, or if you have the guts, take a stand. We shouldn’t have to fight the war alone, this industry relies on both dancers and customers.

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