Dancing in circles

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There are a lot of false stereotypes about strippers, exotic dancers, entertainers, whatever you want to call women who dance nude for money.

They’re stupid. They’re prostitutes. They’re con artists.

False, false and false.

Many dancers in Portland have parents who are unable or unwilling to help them financially so they use their earnings to pay for rent, college tuition and expenses. By day they are students, and by night, entertainers. It’s the perfect work schedule to take classes during the day and finish within four years debt-free.

In classy clubs dancing nude is as artistic as ballet or any other dance. Pole tricks take a lot of strength, endurance and skill. It’s about beauty and entertainment, not sex. Ancient Greece and other cultures reveled the nude anatomical form as a symbol of nature’s perfection. Dancing does not equate to prostitution.

Men and women visiting strip clubs should already know the score. They’re walking into an interactive fantasy, nothing more. Unlike watching a movie or reading a magazine, they’re paying to be able to watch firsthand and talk with beautiful women.

These women curl or straighten their hair. They wear cosmetics and revealing clothes. They shower in Victoria Secret perfume. They laugh at your jokes even when they’re not funny. They listen to your stories even when they’re boring. They tantalize and tease. That’s what you’re paying for. That’s all.

There’s one stereotype that’s always been true until recently: Dancers make bank.

One of my friends has worked at a strip club in Portland off and on for two years. One of the best paid dancers, she consistently averaged $400 to $500 a night. She paid her tuition out of pocket and never had to take out student loans.

Yet, lately, she’s lucky to make any profit. A lot of the dancers are not making any money. Sitting in the backroom they discuss whether they’ll have to leave in a deficit or not.

Unlike bartenders, waitresses, bouncers and DJs, dancers don’t receive an hourly wage on top of their tips. Instead, they have to pay the club a “house fee” each night. They are also obligated to give tips to the DJ and bouncers. If they buy something to eat or drink, then they also tip the bartender and waitresses.

Originally, dancers didn’t have to pay house fees to club owners. Dancers earn tips for themselves while also generating revenue for the club by attracting patrons who purchase expensive drinks. It was a win-win situation.

Business owners became greedy. House fees were initially conceived as a way for the club to pool dancers’ money to buy them luxuries like bottled water and make up artists. But, as time went on, the luxuries disappeared one by one until only the fee remained.

One way to remedy or offset the greediness and the recession is to mandate that clubs pay dancers at least minimum wage so that they have a salary in addition to their tips. No one should have to work and leave with less money than when their shift began. It’s almost as bad as slave labor.

To head off any arguments that it’s their choice to dance and no one’s forcing them, take a look at our economy.

Oregon’s unemployment rate is at 9 percent. There are hundreds of applicants to fill one position. It’s taking months for people with bachelor’s degrees to get hired. Rent and groceries have to be paid somehow.

“Apparently men think that I pay my bills with alcoholic drinks, air and delightful conversation,” my friend told me bitterly the other day. Instead of averaging $1,500 working three days a week, she earned $250 working five days a week. The next week she made significantly less.

Strip clubs patrons are no doubt affected by layoffs, but it’s more than that. The clubs aren’t empty. Instead, they’re filled with men and women who are under the illusion that dancers still earn a lot of money. These individuals incorrectly feel that they deserve a free show so they don’t tip.

Or some offer to buy dancers several rounds of $11 drinks. That’s money that dancers would prefer went toward their rent rather than pickling their liver. If they’re willing to buy dancers overpriced drinks, these people obviously have money to tip instead.

It’s just another way for patrons to dominate over dancers. Pretty soon all of the beautiful dancers will have left and only the bloated alcoholics will remain.

Meanwhile, strip clubs are doing fantastic. The owner of Stars recently announced a new location opening in Tualatin. Another new club recently opened in Portland.

Dancers deserve to be paid well. Actors, actresses and other entertainers get paid exuberantly. Dancers should not be an exception.

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