Let me try paint for you how amazing this industry can be when you work in an environment that makes you feel empowered.
I am personally impressed with how our club takes care of the girls, especially the foreign nationals. Our managers go out of their way to help the girls and have gone as far as appointing its own lawyers to represent women whose legal statuses have been questioned.
In our club, in our playground, you have the option to stay in what I call the “stripper” house. It is a three-floored building above the club where you can have your own room or share with two other dancers during peak season. The space and bathrooms are clean, while a huge communal kitchen looks out on the rooftop pool and garden where we can skinny dip and soak up the sun without worrying about peeping toms. You would be surprised to know that strippers can be very conservative and shy when they are not in their place of work.
In the stripper house, we have a nurse that comes in every week day and makes avails herself to the girls who feel unwell. We also have an onsite hairdresser, makeup and nails beautician. A costume and lingerie supplier visits the girls every Thursday while our shoe designer comes around every Friday.
In your first week, you are sent to a communication skills course to better learn how to deal with customers. Our qualified counsellor hosts workshops that ensures that the girls always maintain the upper hand in dealing with customers, especially psychologically and emotionally. He teaches us how to respond to the “you’re naked anyway, why won’t you just give me sex” chancers, the “what’s a beautiful girl like you doing here” wanna-be saviours, and the “let me be your lover, and I will take care of you” loners who are looking to buy love and companionship.
After you have passed the course, if you do not have any experience, we have a pole dancing teacher who comes to the club and hosts lessons for the girls so you can enhance your performance.
Once a week in the club,each girl does what we call a “fantasy show”. It is a specially and uniquely choreographed performance, and the only time in the week you are required to take off your g-string on stage (we usually just dance topless). For the fantasy shows, the club brings in in a professional choreographer who helps you bring to life your ideas. We pick our own themes, music, and lighting and have access to the array of extravagant and tailor made costumes that have the girls always feeling and looking like a million dollars. The shows range from some impressive hip hop routines, stripping and splashing in a large martini glass, championship-standard pole and trapeze dancing to eating and blowing fire, or pouring candle wax on your breasts and clitoris for a disbelieving audience (my personal favourite).
Hephzibah is popular for her intelligence and rapport as much as she is for her weekly Fantasy Show, the club’s first and only live singing Jazz Diva. I have customers who never take me for dances but have never missed a single one of my performances. I’ve had clients who have given me more money than what I get from a ‘real gig’, just out of appreciation of my talents. I wanted to do something unique and close to what I genuinely loved to do: Perform.
I will never forget my first brainstorming rehearsal and how the waiters and managers preparing the club downstairs stopped, not sure if it was me singing or if there was a disc playing. My choreographer seemed even more excited than I was as we prepared my set: Two Christina Aguilera songs from the movie Burlesque (how appropriate right?).
We worked on choreography that I thoroughly enjoyed and mastered whilst belting out notes in a short, silver and shining dress.
When “Something’s got a hold on me” starts, I begun on the mezzanine stage in the smoking lounge and I strut down the stairs onto the main floor. I dance over a few laps, on a few tables, then sexily and carefully climb up the pole onto the main stage where I concluded my first song without missing a beat or breaking a sweat. The instrumental to “A man what takes his time” starts, and this would be my que to slip out of my dress. I sing the second song, slower and more sensual, with nothing but a corset on, the threads of fabric that subtly hide the lips between my thighs hanging playfully off my hips.
My B cups stand proud, and my nipples firm from the adrenaline that pumped through me at the start to my set. When the stage lights start flashing, I put my mic down, and pull at the strings on my waist and off comes the thong. There are very few things in this life that make me feel the way I do when I stand on that sage, hearing my audience and colleagues enjoy what I am doing and screaming for me. I blow them away every time, to the extent that I get the most popular and coveted slots in the week to do my show. It is so special for me to be celebrated in the strip club, by my colleagues, managers and customers, for something else other than what I am there for, something a little more important to me.
In my playground, I am surrounded by men and women who can speak so candidly and so comfortably about their bodies and sex. I wish we humans were like this every day instead of treating sexuality and desire as this gross concept. We are not shy and modest about the power that women hold as sexual creatures.
WE celebrate one another, WE tell each other how stunning and amazing we are.
After my sexual assault and all that was going on in my life prior to me deciding to become a stripper, the biggest part of the restoration of my confidence and esteem came from the way my colleagues and managers dared and encouraged me to tap into a beauty and brilliance that I knew already existed, way before a rich customer would come and remunerate me for it.
In my playground, I’ve learned lessons and picked up skills that my half a million rand degree could have never taught me. I learned how to read people and their energies better, how to pick up on body language, and how to say so much without even opening my mouth.
After a few weeks in the club, I could afford to choose what kind of customer I would dance for. But on quiet nights, all the girls would collectively approach tables of older, scruffy, unshaven and sweaty drunks. Sometimes I feel guilty at how easy it is to manipulate men, but sometimes it’s so ridiculous I can’t help but laugh. If the girls dare approach a table as a pair or group, we are ruthless with our endeavours and maximise how much fun we get out of it over and above the monetary compensation.
During table dances, while grinding on customers’ laps, the girls and I would pull faces at each other while fake moaning, seeing who can resist the urge to laugh and keep up the sexy act the longest. We’d call each other the dirtiest of names and fake fuck each other on the tables, luring the customers to stay longer, and thus, spend more money. Then, the moment the spot watch goes off, we’d either be asked to stay for another dance, or we’d make up an excuse to skip the ‘after play’ small talk so we can go laugh about making R 5000 in fifteen minutes over a shot of patron. The girls and I have literally turned that club into our playground.
Our territory. Our games. Our rules.
When I left the club to go finish the last semester of my curriculum, I couldn’t believe how much I missed working, dancing. How much I missed the girls. Even now, knowing that my days in that place are numbered, it’s an experience that will stay with me for ever that I know I will miss.
I appreciate how experiences as daring as these help in shaping my perceptions of the world and of myself. Every time I step out of my comfort zone and put myself in unfamiliar territory, I walk away having bulldozed walls in my own head that I was not even aware were there. I walk away being more empathetic to people whose struggles I won’t even suggest I fully understand, and I become even more grateful for what I have, where I may have taken it for granted before.
I have a better, refined image of who I am, and who I can be, as well as an updated perception of society and the human race. I have an unapologetic attitude towards the power of my body and sexuality as a black woman living in my time, and I am not sorry for celebrating it and using it to my advantage. I am proud knowing that I possess the kind of courage I display working as a stripper, and it’s a life experience that compares to very few I’ve had so far. I like that in my twenty two years of living, I’ve proven to myself that I can excel in any environment I put and find myself in. After I have paid off my fees, I will be left with a fit and toned body, complimented by the confidence that is evident in my walk and demeanour. I will use my degree to build the success and life I want for myself, and one day when I am sitting on the board of directors making decisions to better my country and people, very few would guess what these long legs can do on a pole, or how I can twerk on your lap and give you the best view of my God-given, African body on a table. They may never believe where my love for, and extensive collection of, lingerie and matching underwear comes from.
It’s a pity that there are adverse consequences to people knowing what line of business I am in because of societal perceptions. It’s a pity I have to keep it to myself as if it is something that I am ashamed of. I also hate that I cannot say that every other sex worker has the same safe and empowered experience as I do working in this industry. Like I said, this industry has been around for a very long time and it is not about to disappear, unless we find alternatives to sexual pleasure and desire.
My hope and dream, even way after I have retired as a stripper, will be to have legislation, laws and rights that help change every street corner and every brothel from being an abusive, violating space and give every sex worker an opportunity to make a life for herself in a way that is empowering. Give her an opportunity to work in a space where she feels respected, celebrated and where she too can enjoy herself. Allow her to play her games, by her rules. Give her her own playground.
Check out the entire so far series here.