Hephzibah: The Women I Meet At Work
In the past I had too had my misconceptions about the kind of people who work at a strip club. I won’t lie, I walked into that club with more than just my height being the reason I towered over everyone, in my mind I was above the others for a number of reasons. I was a soon-to-be graduate. I also had tonnes of experience in social activism. I was a known stage performer. I have worked for big corporates and stood in front of influential people. In my mind was nothing like the women here, and would never be anything like ‘them’.
I asked Ron* at our first meeting about my soon to be colleagues and all he said was, initially, some tension was to be expected when someone new walked into their territory, but other than that, the girls got on fine. I thought, of course he wouldn’t tell me that they are all hooked on drugs, prostitute themselves outside the club, have abusive boyfriends and pull each other’s wigs off in a drunk brawl at the end of the night. I didn’t expect to see or experience anything less than what Hollywood and media helped me paint of the scene, so I had mentally prepared myself accordingly before my first night .
I am so humbled and a quite relieved to say that my preconceived ideas of strippers has successfully been bulldozed and I have never been prouder than I am of some of the women that I have met while dancing at the club.
From my first night, so many of the girls came up to me asking me who I am, where I am from and what else I do. They offered me welcome shots, showered me with tips and techniques and tried to outline as much I they could what I could expect in my new… profession. They were so ready and willing to share information and give me things to look out for.
It is impossible that all eighty to a hundred girls would know each other, speak to one another and get along, but I got the sense that everyone respected each other’s hustle. They stayed out of one another’s way, and when an opportunity came to make money off a client, they went on as if they were always the best of friends.It isn’t always fun and roses though. There are girls who do not get along, and there has been the odd confrontation. The club fines the girls R5000 for misconduct if you cause trouble for your colleague or other staff members. I’ve seen lovers getting into fights, and have heard a sometimes very funny exchange of words between girls who simply don’t get along or fight over customers they steal from each other.
There are many different girls from different backgrounds and who dance for different reasons. It is impossible for me to know everyone, especially to the extent where I know their stories, but I will share some of my closest colleagues’ experiences.
I don’t think it is a surprising to know that a big portion of the girls who work at the club are mothers and have families to support. Lisa* is South African divorcee and mother of three precious little girls. After the divorce, Lisa found herself alone and raising the kids she bore with her husband of 13 years. I am in awe when I hear what I call her ‘super mom stories’. Lisa gets home at 5, packs lunch for the kids to take to school, gets them ready, takes them to school, comes back to sleep for a few hours, gets up at two again to go watch ballet and pick the oth
er one from soccer, comes back home for homework and gets supper ready, then she puts her dancing shoes so she can get to work for nine hours until 4am again. I honestly, honestly do not know how the single moms at the club still remain so graceful and haven’t become hard or bitter for all they have to go through just to make sure their children have a decent life. I have a deep respect for them and their resilience. Every time I want to complain about working two jobs, I always remind myself that there are some others who have bigger responsibilities and have it a little harder
than I do.
Jiji*, a Taiwanese professional acrobat and gymnast, has been with the club for almost twelve years. She came here looking to make a better life for herself, but with no intention of staying forever. Unexpectedly she met a South
African man who in her words ‘loved her unconditionally and supported her regardless’. They have been married for 8 years now and Jiji still continues to dance while being a wife and mother. She is not the only one with a ring on it, and it pulls at my heart strings when I see these supportive partners waiting outside at 4am every morning, ready to take their wives home.
There are so many of us students at the club. Of the ones I have spoken to, I know our majors range from BCom, Business Science and Psychology to Music, Dance, Marketing and Communications. One of the new girls is saving up to go finish her course at a school for circus performance abroad. Some work only during the holidays while others work Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The club allows us to prioritise our studies by granting us the choice to choose our own working days, to work on weekends only, to work seven hours instead of nine, and to take study leave when writing tests and exams.
Many of the younger girls from abroad are traveling the world and use their dancing skills to fund their adventures. Two sisters have taken a sabbatical, and have danced in quite a few countries in a space of a year while easily enjoying the experiences each country has to offer with a very comfortable budget.
The ones I worry about
In my post two weeks ago, I recited a piece that was inspired by Rosa*, one of the girls that used to work at the club
but was soon asked to leave. Rosa and I clicked, and usually spent the first two quiet hours at the beginning of our shift sitting, chatting away. Rosa loved a good time and was always telling me about her endeavours in the Mother City, being a fairly conservative girl from a small town in KZN. She too, wanted to go to school and just needed to first settle into the new city and explore her options. Her plan sounded well thought out, as if she often thought and dreamed about it. Then over the weeks Rosa’s drinking in the club became excessive. She would get fined for being drunk and be sent home early. The last I heard of her she was being called in for using drugs on the premises, and the cleaning lady was asked to clean out her room. She was evicted from the house for owing too much money to the club. She hadn’t been coming to work, and when she did, she was always out of it and not in a state to work well.
It’s a little scary when I see other girls like Rosa, because it reminds me how easy it is to fall off the wagon in this environment. The quick and easy money could easily keep you from ever leaving the industry and possibly pursuing other things you wanted to do and explore, especially with your potential. Being surrounded and financed by clients who love a good time means we are most likely to encounter drugs and become dependent on alcohol than the average person who only goes out once every other weekend. I also resent how detached those witnessing these things are because everyone is just trying to sort themselves out too, and doesn’t want to get too involved.
It really is unfortunate that you cannot save everyone.
I have learned a little about a few countries and cultures or traditions from the many foreign women I have met at the club. My wish to be more diligent in learning another language are having a better shot at coming true since I’ve started dancing. I don’t doubt that I have made some of my longest friendships from the phenomenal, strong, funny, sexy and bad-ass women I’ve met at the club. I have learned so much about women, about myself even, through experiencing them in that environment with all their uniqueness and different stories. I have a new found respect for women and appreciate the modified, and even better perception I have of us and all that we are capable of.
Whereas it usually annoys me that most people have this one dimensional perception of strippers and sex workers, I now feel a little pity for them. Hollywood and the media usually only tell the ugly parts about our industry and how it has affected the women in it. They seldom tell the stories where we are responsible moms, diligent students, future professionals, artists and performers and women who could change the world. They don’t show the dancers who have grabbed life by the horns and are creating opportunities for themselves where they previously may have never been considered.
So you can imagine, after getting to know the women I work with, I fast came crumbling down on the high horse I waltzed into the club on, and realised that I am actually not very different from the women here and neither are they from me.
I have never been happier to be proven wrong.
Check out the entire so far series here.
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