Last night I had to go on stage and it was fucking terrifying. My plan had been to be both sedated and drunk by the time I got there and so I was completely unprepared when the DJ called me up as the first customer walked into the bar to be the first ‘dancer’ on stage. The xanex hadn’t kicked in and I hadn’t even started on my wine. I’ve blanked out those first two songs but I’m sure I looked like some disorientated, uncoordinated version of a deer in the headlights, my legs shaking unhelpfully in these enormous heels that I am still learning to walk in while I touched my breasts and tried to look sexy. Second stage was better because I could hold onto the rails, and the third was fine – I just sat on the swing in the birdcage touching myself for no one in particular – the floor was empty, bar one regular sitting with his usual girl not paying me any attention.
My first customer for the night was a guy from Afghanistan, who told me as I tagged the booth closed that at age 32 he’d never ‘been’ with a woman before. This made what we were about to do a bit more profound than necessary. But he was polite and shy and didn’t touch me until I took his hands and put them on my breasts and said very sweetly, ‘you know you’re allowed to touch, right?’
The next dude just massaged my back and flirted with me while my naked arse straddled his lap. He was 21 and not particularly un-charming. When he asked how old I was I told him 24. He looked a bit like someone I’d studied with and I wondered if in another life we’d be friends. He’s a Sultan’s regular and I asked him why he comes here rather than going out. His response was something along the lines of ‘I just think people are more approachable. And in a weird way it’s more real – its not some game you play in your average club because the women here are more open.’ How does he not realise that it’s our job to be more ‘open’? Although maybe he also had a point because here I was talking to him on his lap him whilst naked and not completely hating him, even though I’d never give him the time of day had he approached me at a bar. How he has a couple thou to blow at a strip club age 21 though is beyond me.
Kay was getting off on the exhibitionism. I could see the clients watching us through the hazy lights from the smoking lounge and hoped to God that no one I knew was among them.
At 1 am I had to go down to the main stage with all the other girls for a nightly event where strippers who were not actively clocked into sessions with a client have to ‘dance’ together I.e. Look bored and jig along with minimal effort to some abominable mash-up that is the DJs only regrettable moment of self-expression. I spotted Kay for the first time that night – we’d split up early on after arriving to attend to different clients. She caught my eye across the stage and cat crawled her way to me through the other girls. Arriving at my side she grabbed my hips and pushed her thigh between my legs and pussy against mine, and gyrated. Then unhooking her leg she gave me a coy smile and dropped to the floor face at crotch level while she swung her hips to the music. Kay was getting off on the exhibitionism. I could see the clients watching us through the hazy lights from the smoking lounge and hoped to God that no one I knew was among them. Looking up into my eyes she stuck out her tongue and slowly, with an exaggerated gesture, licked the front of my g-string.
I glared at her.
She giggled and stood up, climbing me with her hands like a pole. I’m not sure whether she flirting with me or if this was just for work, but it might’ve got me wet in spite of the terror of an audience. Like there might’ve been an inkling of turned-on-ed-ness.
Ten minutes before closing the last man I was sitting with decided he wanted a dance. He was cute and I’d been sitting next to him with my leg over his and could feel his erection pressing into my calf. Management wouldn’t let me take him because dances are 15 minutes and we aren’t allowed to go overtime, which was annoying as I wanted to take my horniness out on him.
Also, another 800 bucks to take home in my pocket for my efforts would’ve made it a bit more worth it. The club takes a huge cut if you consider that we are literally putting our arses on the line – twenty percent of everything that we earn, plus R1000 levies per night, which so far translates to half of everything that I’ve worked for.
The lights go on.
We walked out the booth and Afghanistan was standing at the top of the stairs waiting for me so he could ask me for my email. I gave him a fake one.
x X x
I should probably explain a bit about Kay because it is thanks to her that I am here. Because the first time I visited the club with the thought of working there I left without looking back.
When I’d discovered that it was actually in private dances that you made money, of which there are two kinds: stripping naked without touching, and stripping naked with touching, the latter being by far the best paid, I began to panic.
I thought, probably as you do, that you got paid for taking off your top off on stage and dancing sexy. Maybe pulling some pole moves if you can. For good money, how hard could that really be? Especially if your audience is a bunch of misogynistic men that you stopped giving a fuck about when you woke up one day, fell in love with a woman, and started calling yourself a feminist. Why not actually make cash off male entitlement instead of putting up with it for free? In all honesty I was (and am) much more worried about the other girls sitting and watching in boredom while they waited for customers. When I’d discovered that it was actually in private dances that you made money, of which there are two kinds: stripping naked without touching, and stripping naked with touching, the latter being by far the best paid, I began to panic.
Greg must’ve noticed because he offered to take me to talk to some of the girls in the smoking lounge, which at that point was in some sort of organised chaos. He pointed at a girl sitting in the corner, long hare ears on her head. ‘See Crystal. She used to be a manger but realised the cash was better as a dancer so started stripping instead’. Crystal looked up at me but I couldn’t tell whether she’s smiling or smirking. A girl with dark, thick and perfectly coifed hair looked at me and yelled ‘I love my job!’, downing two shooters. ‘You do?’ ‘Yeah I mean look at that cutie over there – mmm I would marry him in real life but instead I get paid to party with him! Maybe I’m just a kinky bitch!’ she shrugged.
I looked to the left; a naked girl was gyrating in a dark corner occupied by jeering men in suits. She leaned over and pulled her butt cheek open, to flash her arsehole and pussy at the clients and the rest of the room. I couldn’t imagine reducing myself to that, to being valued as a body part. The silky dark girl sitting on a high stool next to me came to my rescue; her voice husky and nasal. ‘Its not so bad, you’ll get into it’. Some men jeered down from the balcony at the girl on stage. The girl to my right turned sharply ‘Shutthefuckup!’ I glanced around quickly; worried she’d get in trouble with management. No one came to cut her off. ‘Whatever you do, don’t work here,’, she whispered, ‘if you have any other option. I’m ruined now. I’ll never be able to do anything after this. How can I when I can make in a night what I would otherwise make in a month!?’
So I walked out that night and the manger might’ve even emailed me a couple of times to see if I was still interested, but I never responded. Which is just as well because then I got back with my now again Recent Ex, who would’ve been way to jealous to handle it. Or just weirded out – she couldn’t even take me cooking in my underwear.
We broke up again. Actually she dumped me.
Work dried up. Partly because I was desperately trying to pull together my own projects and turning down anything vaguely corporate, partly because it was winter. Maybe also because I was depressed.
My sister left for overseas and a stranger moved into my apartment.
Enigmatic soft voiced Kay, hardly ever home, she’d stumble into the apartment late at night dressed in latex and smelling like red bull vodka. She was seeing an ex, which gave me stupid hope, although in an open relationship and so with many nights to spare. I suspected that these late night comings had little do do with her girlfriend. A week into her stay I came home to find her there, for the first time, and that night we got to know each other over a glass of red wine on my balcony overlooking the city, and I was proven correct. Kay was into BDSM, Kay was into polyamory, and Kay had also worked a three month stint during her last uni vac as a stripper at Sultans. Now she’d just finished her degree in fine art and was trying to decide whether to pursue her passion for painting or take up a reasonable paying and safely growing corporate job in advertising.
Having dismissed corporate work for the ‘artistic’ and barely able afford a can of sardines I was at a loss as what to advise. The punctuation of her long limbed angular body and full mouth by her steady, surprising self-confidence and height was alluring. Her eye bats and cocked head suggesting both friendly and flirtiness as she revealed that she was thinking of stripping again while she found her way post-university and to pay off her student bills. I told her had thought about it too, and even gone for the interview, but never gone through with it, and she invited me to join her interview with Greg the next week. So a rainy day just over two weeks ago, that’s what we did.
We met at the National Gallery where there was a free exhibition to warm up with some free wine. Cape Town being the pond it is, we were constantly interrupted by people we knew being middle class and talking about work and I kept floundering on the question of ‘what are you working on’. Glaringly vague, I thought. I couldn’t exactly tell them I’d been so unemployed I could barely afford soup or that I was working towards an interview at a strip joint. Maybe you eventually have standardised answers to pull out that aren’t exactly lying but don’t give away the truth either.
Kay was digressing into to her BDSM forays. Although I should’ve been focusing on the details of what exactly a ‘play party’ is having distractedly agreed to go with her, my mind was on the details of what it takes to strip. We were visiting the manager Greg at the club within the hour and I still had so many things that need answering. Like what do I do with my ingrown hair? What happens when you have your period? What if a client tries to break the rules and touch your pussy? ‘You just say, ‘no baby, you can’t touch me there’. Kay put on her sweetest voice, tilting her head and flicking her eyes up and down in that flirty way. I’d never called anyone baby. Not even the people I’ve loved the most. I still wasn’t sure I could do it.
Entering the club with Kay was a whole different experience – immediately less intimidating. Greg was enthusiastic about the idea of me starting, but when Kay went back to the club a few days later I was still swinging between the promise of more editing work locked up in a dark room with a computer screen all alone, and the promise of lots of money locked up in a dark club surrounded by horny men.
Besides my terror at the idea of being on stage there was the issue of touching, which was making my justification of stripping as dancing or stripping as athleticism a bit difficult to maintain. And then there were all the horror stories of being sold into sex slavery and prostitution. I wasn’t sure what to believe, but if someone like Kay could do it and still be so empowered, surely I could. She seemed unscathed.
It was a couple days after that that something switched. I landed up at a friend’s house party and bumped into Luke. We’d slept together a few times a couple years ago when we’d both been living in London, and then once recently as a sort of mutual rebound fuck after we’d both broken up with different people. He is tall, good looking and clever but into a monotonous bang that lacks intimacy and imagination, or even relatedness. Like something out of your standard porno where it’s obvious that the actors only just met each other, except in our case we’ve known each other since varsity. He was sort of hanging around slightly expectantly and needed a place to stay. It wasn’t urgent – he just lives far away – and it may have just been an excuse but I wasn’t averse to sharing my bed with him. Given that we had actually fucked before I figured that sharing a bed with him wouldn’t be awkward going by the normal rules of intimacy. Although I wasn’t particularly into him either. When I switched off the lights in bed he immediately pulled in to kiss me. I was too tired, or maybe just too indifferent to resist, but also too disappointed in his lack of sensitivity to my ambivalence to really partake. I let him go down on me until I came and then rolled over without reciprocating.
Just after 4am Kay walked in slamming doors, wafting the smell of red-bull vodka and perfume through the flat and playing Rihanna loudly on her phone. I was half awake before from the residual coke and an uncomfortable bed-guest, but this woke me up properly and I was pissed me off. When I managed to drag myself out of bed to tell her to be quiet I found her standing in a tiny outfit – just three pieces of fabric connected to each other with bits of string – smoking a blunt on the balcony. ‘Ah baby I had such a good night’ she crooned. ‘Look how much I made!’ she dragged me into my sister’s room, blunt still ablaze in between her fingers, to show me the notes upon notes lying on the bed.
We lay down on them next to each other and recounted our respective nights. I told her about the guy in my bed and that I was not really into him. ‘You welcome to sleep with me baby, but you’ll be sleeping with Silky tonight because I’m too comfortable to change!’
I woke up with the sun in my eyes and my hand in hers and snuck back into bed with Luke. I didn’t want to be rude. We all had breakfast together and when Luke finally left Kay and I snuggled up on the couch to watch a movie and I messaged Greg to tell him I’d begin the next week.
Also check out our other series by a stripper, entertainer and performer Hephzibah.
There is also this awesome piece about a woman who has an intense interaction with a stripper, it’s sensual.
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