It was like walking into a set of a play you’ve watched before. You see all the upholstery and wiring that kept everything in place. The actors messing around out of character without any make up and costume, and you unravel the magic you experienced while watching the play.
Does this take away from that magic?
For me it didn’t. I had been there once before, but walking into the gentleman’s club that day while trying to imagine if this was a place for me, the magic was still so apparent and even more exciting since I could potentially be a part of it. The club was a three tiered, spacious yet intimate space with thick leather couches and dark – wooded tables tastefully placed in view of at least one of the four stages. The air smelt of cigar and whiskey and sophistication. These days, I even associate the smell with seduction.
In the VIP lounge, on the third floor, thick and heavy red curtains were draped around eleven booths that were illuminated with the golden chandeliers. The VVIP area was a Library decorated with books from wall to wall which for me was a total aphrodisiac for me. Hidden behind the unsuspecting shelves were private booths. You could select your own music and call in to the bar for service while lying down on the lush cushions or sitting back on the antique love couches. The whole place reeked of class.
I sat at the empty and unattended bar, careful not to stain the cleanly polished mirror counter top. I was nervous.
Underneath my smart casual pants and jersey, I wore my best pieces of matching underwear though nothing was mentioned about me having to flash my body on arrival. *Ron, a tall, cleanly shaven man with a friendly and charming aura to him, gave my sweaty palms a firm and reassuring handshake before guiding me into his office. He immediately put me at ease with a refreshing sense of humour. As if he knew what I was thinking, he told me I won’t be expected to take my clothes off for him. In fact, from the moment we sat down, my interview was essentially me just answering his question.
“So… tell me about yourself.”
I can talk. A lot. Especially when I am nervous. I struggled through different parts of my journey and let slip some things that I had told myself were not necessary for him or people in the club to know. I’ve always struggled with not being myself, you see. Ron and I spoke and laughed for close to twenty minutes, the conversation punctuated by his various questions.
The club needed up to a hundred girls at a time, and they were currently short staffed. They were particularly short of black girls, a treat the international clients and tourists appreciated.
Local girls could make anything between forty and eighty thousand in a month. In a night you could be called to dance on the stage twice or three times. The girls spent most of their time entertaining clients privately, giving table dances, private lap dances or VIP dances where the customers were allowed to touch at our discretion while staying completely clear of our labia and vaginas.
This was a strip club. Not a brothel.
Heavy penalties were charged for what Ron described as ‘sexual favours’. It was always the dancer’s responsibility to control the dance whilst over a hundred cameras in the club and a bouncer sitting all night in the video room helped reassure the girls’ safety.
Ron closed off the session by commenting on my physique. He told me that though he really thinks my tall, model-shaped African body would undoubtedly draw me customers, in his opinion. This coupled with my EQ, my story and how well articulated I was would probably be my biggest asset. He said while dancing and looking good was a big part of the business, the club expected the girls to give the clients an overall experience as opposed to a simple strip tease.
I went home feeling excited and nervous because every part of me wanted to take this job! I knew I would enjoy it, I knew I would do great at it. I decided I would start on the next Monday, working five nights a week from 7pm until 4am.
The staff, everyone from the runners and waitresses, to the floor and stage managers were so warm and welcoming. Even the dancers, women from everywhere in the world, different ages, different body shapes and sizes, were friendly. There was that initial expected tension of having someone new walk into your territory, but once we started chatting, once the shots started flowing, I was surprised at how… ‘normal’ everyone was.
So far, Ron didn’t come across as this heartless pimp I always pictured owners or managers of ‘places like these’ to look like. The girls all spoke of being well taken care of there. The actual space was clean and classy and made me feel safe. The women were everyday women I met on campus or at the supermarket: super moms, wives, diligent students, or professional dancers who loved to travel the world and financed this life long holiday through dancing in establishments like these. I realised in my first few nights there that I had my own stereotypes and mental barriers that I may have never been able to get rid of without this experience.
I connected with the space immediately.
I felt like, over and above me having to pull up a lot of courage to consider working there, Hephzibah was merely an extension of parts of me that have always existed. And this place, was going to become her playground.
See, Hephzibah has all the things I love. Lingerie and extravagant costumes, heels and makeup, the encouragement to be the nudist she is, a great variety of music, big, beautiful stages littered with bright lights, and an audience compelling her to give them her best performance. Hephzibah was sexy, and she was loved for showing that off and for speaking so freely and openly about her body and the things that excited it.
I lived out more substantial parts of myself through this character than I ever let on. I didn’t have to make a large distinction or do too much compartmentalising when it came to separating myself and Hephzibah. I looked around the change room and watched how the girls put everything on. Literally.
The hair, the eyes, the lashes, the makeup, the nails, the sun tan lotion or bronzer, the ridiculously high heels and the costumes over their bodies, some of which had also been well-constructed in surgery. This was topped off by wearing lipstick over a rehearsed smile, and finally strutting off with a tequila-charged persona. I didn’t want to be like that. I understood the club had a ‘standard’ of beauty and that I was competing with Brazilian, French and Russian women who had the ‘default features’ according to the media and society. But I also knew how important it was for me to feel comfortable in my own skin and I’ve always appreciated my own beauty. So I easily rocked my afro when I got sick of the weaves. Until this day I don’t own a pair of stripper heels. I never painted my nails and still kept them short or else that would have been the end of my sex life as women-loving woman.
A few weeks after that first day, I was called into the office for what appeared to be “a lack of effort” on my part to look my best. After trying to reiterate to Ron that beauty is a subjective thing and I was merely upholding the diverse and multicultural reputation the club had, it took me getting to the numbers to drive my point. I was making more sales than some of the Brazilian and French girls, even in my natural look, church heels and minimal makeup. Quite frankly, I was and am never interested in entertaining a man or woman who didn’t find my black skin and all its natural features sexy.
I simply didn’t have to.
Friends who I eventually opened up to about where I was spending my evenings wondered how it would affect me, having men blatantly objectify and sometimes touch me, something I was not used to. Firstly, having been someone who has experienced abuse from men, working as a stripper showed me just how much of a difference it makes when someone is invited to perve on you because you want them to, as opposed to when he imposes his or her carnal desires on your unwilling body. Even as someone with little experience being in an intimate space with a man, never do I feel disempowered at work like I did when I was sexually assaulted.
In fact, I feel celebrated as Hephzibah. All the time, thanks to the calibre of men that come there. On my first day though, I honestly wasn’t sure how I would react to having men that close and in my personal, intimate space.
As I went for my first dance a French-speaking guy asked my manager to call me from the general main floor after he saw me walk past him earlier. We went up to VIP and there, the young but well-mannered gentleman wined and dined me. I immediately got the impression he felt a little self-conscious about being in the strip club, or was it guilt? He was more uneasy than I was. When he asked if we should buy a second bottle of champagne, I realised that maybe my newly found friend wanted more of a girl-friend, “let’s talk before we get cosy” experience, than a “how nasty do you wanna see me be” good time.
After I had dizzied myself enough with the bubbles, I invited him to join me in the private booth. I don’t remember feeling nervous or apprehensive. I felt in control. I closed the heavy curtains behind me and turned around to face him. I didn’t start dancing immediately. I stared him right in the eye, and watched him as I began to undress myself. I felt a familiar rush of blood in my body as the exhibitionist in me came alive.
I relish the feeling of being wanted and desired.
I particularly enjoy the fact that, these men and women can want, admire and desire me with all their might, but they couldn’t have me. I was right there, literally in the flesh yet still far enough to be called a mere fantasy. A dream.
My French boyfriend-for-the-night, and many clients until this day, commented on how pleasant it is to watch me because they can see that I enjoy my own body whilst putting on a show.
After a long nine hour shift, I took a cab home and reflected on an interesting night as I showered. I felt a tiny tinge of guilty as I cleaned myself and noticed that I had gotten aroused throughout the night, being watched dancing nude and hearing and seeing the effect my teasing had on those who fell for my seductive spell. I basked in the incomparable feeling of having been able to count close to R5000 in cold hard cash and know it was all my hard earned money.
A good start for a first timer.
As I finished brushing my teeth, I stared back at my reflection and sussed myself out for any doubt, any discomfort after my debut. I looked at my nude body as if I was a client, checking myself out. I smiled slightly and shook my head as I sighed, pleased that I was oozing pride and an internal sense of beauty and confidence. Hephzibah and I were gonna take the club by storm.
I smoked a spliff and listened to the still and sleeping city as I sat on the roof of my room, some of the music from the club still echoing in my ears. I then slipped into bed and eventually drifted off to into a peaceful sleep after giving myself a lazy, self-loving orgasm.
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