Feature: StrippedWritten by Malia Griggs, Riley Carithers, Sarah Kobos
“I never had a horrific experience as a child,” she says, “but my parents and I aren’t close. They don’t pay for me, and when I started dancing, it paid for pretty much everything.”
A friend, Beth, who stripped, introduced Emily to the profession.
“I had to drive Beth to work because her car was in the shop,” Emily remembers. “There was a room booked for a private party, and I ended up staying and watching and liking it.”
She started out only dancing at private parties with Beth, and a couple parties turned into a few more. Later, she would strip alone on stage, but she was never a “main call girl,” the club’s term for a performer with set hours. Emily chose her own schedule.
“People think it’s this horrible business where the club takes over you, but you’re as involved as you want to be,” she says. “I would dance for two weeks straight, make a couple thousand dollars and then wouldn’t dance for months.”
On a typical weeknight, Emily would drive to Platinum Plus after 10 wearing a favorite necklace and heels—always heels. In the parking lot, she’d call for an escort into the club.
“You’re probably safer as a girl stripping than as a girl walking down the street downtown,” she says. “I know that sounds crazy and ironic, but you are. There are cameras everywhere, and guys get drunk and yell, but that’s no different than Five Points or a football game. At least you have a bodyguard.”
Inside, three stages wrap around the club. Emily would sign up for a private party, a 30-minute dancing slot or to walk around selling shots to customers. Sometimes, she’d wait hours to dance. Once on stage, she would concentrate on a particular spot or person so as not to lose focus and undressed down to her bra and underwear—and then to almost nothing else. She likens the customer’s experience of watching her strip to being served by a waitress.
“You focus on your waitress when she’s there, but you won’t remember the girl who served you food two nights ago. It’s not something you fixate on forever,” she says. “My job was a momentary satisfaction for them.”
Customers ranged from 18-year-old boys to men in their 70s, and Emily danced for rite-of-passage birthday parties, fraternities, bachelor parties and more.
“You have guys who come in with wedding bands on, people wearing nicer clothes than I would wear out of there, guys spending their last dollar to see a girl dance and guys who come in with wads of hundreds just because they’re bored,” she says.
She saw girls, too.
“At 2 or 3 in the morning, a group of drunk girls would show up from Five Points, and they would get on stage and dance. It was kind of funny, but I always felt like it was bad for them in the morning,” she says.
During down time, Emily developed friendships with other strippers, despite their constant nightly and weekly rotation. Many obtained their jobs by participating in amateur contests first, and a good number were also students. Emily was particularly close with another dancer, Jessica, who paid for her entire tuition with money made in the club.
“A lot of these girls were smarter than most people I know in college, and when you see how they start from nothing and work their way up, you have a lot more respect,” she says.
Private parties paid the most; guests put down a flat fee of $200 to $300 toward the club. Additional tips went to Emily, and the house took another 20 percent off that sum. At the end of a normal night, she left with $80 to $175 in her pocket, drove home after 3 a.m. and had to wake up for her 8 a.m. class.
“It was really difficult to balance work and school,” Emily says. “I’d go to class and hadn’t studied. I’d have exams and hadn’t done homework or a project or anything.”
Stripping impacted her school and social life in subtle ways. She quit a job at an Italian restaurant because strip club shifts provided her with enough financial support. She told some of her friends about her new job, and they were mostly concerned for her safety.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Did you see things that scarred you?’ but stripping’s nothing more than you see in a movie,” she says. “It’s not a brothel.”
Emily makes it clear that sex was never a central factor to her job, nor did it play a prominent role in her personal life. She hasn’t been seriously involved with anyone since high school. She started talking to a guy her freshman year, but she didn’t tell him about her stripping outright. When he found out, he didn’t understand her rationale.
“His problem was that, on the surface, I came from a pretty normal family, drove a new car and my parents lived in a nice house,” she says. “I told him I stripped because I needed the money for school, but he thought I was past the point of need. He thought I was just too used to doing it—like it was a drug.”
The two never dated, and her experiences as a stripper have made her skeptical about trust in relationships.
“You see guys outside the club on their phones to their girlfriends saying, ‘Yeah, babe, we’re watching the game at so-and-so’s house.’ How easy is it for them to lie, and would you have any idea at all?” she wonders.
At the end of Emily’s second year, she found a better-paying position at a restaurant, and she stripped less and less and eventually gave up. Now, she runs into former customers occasionally in her classes or at her workplace; they do double takes but stay quiet. Since she’s considering teaching as a long-term career, Emily worries that because of technology and camera phones, evidence of her dancing might surface one day and create trouble.
“I don’t want to risk my degree and ruin my whole life,” she says. “The reason I stripped to begin with would just be completely pointless.”
Despite her concerns, at the end of the day (or night), Emily doesn’t regret her decision to strip, and if the need arose, she would do it again in a heartbeat.
“People sometimes think it’s contradictory that I want to be a high school teacher. They ask me, ‘What if this was your daughter?’ and ‘How would your father feel if he knew?’ and I tell them I don’t have a problem with it. There are so many worse things I could have done to make money,” she says. “Stripping was what I needed to do at the time.”
And while she stands behind her decision to strip, she does not readily recommend the profession to others.
“There are long nights and scumbags, and you’re exposed to a lot more drugs. If you could make it any other way—waitressing or working for the university—it would be so much better. But if it meant going hungry or buying a book for your chemistry class, do it—only while you need to, and then get out,” she advises.
She understands that people are uncomfortable with the idea of stripping, but she wishes they could experience the job from her perspective.
“I had never gone to a strip club before I danced at one,” she says. “So, when I went for the first time, I was in the dressing room. I was with the girls, and some of them are the most normal girls in the world. And, of course, there are exceptions to every rule—and every person and every place—and there are stereotypes about strip clubs for a reason. But at the same time, these are people who are just there to make money like anyone else.”
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