Being an exotic dancer offers women the opportunity to work fewer hours and earn more income than they would in doing many other jobs. Choosing their own schedules gives them time to attend college or bring up children. Most dancers assert that they are independent subjects creating fantasy, not submissive objects. They feel empowered by the financial independence they achieve, and they talk about the increased self-confidence and self-esteem gained from successfully facing strangers and winning their appreciation. They like the power to enthrall and captivate a patron in a scopic pas de deux. Many entertainers identify themselves as feminists and think that dancers should be the ones to decide if, when, and under what circumstances they feel oppressed. Exotic dance is a potential avenue of social mobility for some women. A number of exotic-dance supporters consider that the dancer’s choice to place her body within a financial transaction does not reduce her to a commodity any more than models, actors, or athletes would be by choosing their respective professions.
Patrons may find eroticism, art in motion and much more: entertainment, companionship, acceptance and enhanced feelings of self-esteem. Clubs provide a pleasant environment in which to hang out or seal a business deal, for male bonding through a shared experience and to meet sympathetic women who are nonjudgmental listeners. Patrons gain the health advantage of relaxation. Some patrons just like to view and/or fantasize about a variety of women and still remain faithful to one. Businesses proximate to adult clubs usually attract “spillover” customers and enhance area business as well as attract new enterprises.
Negative allegations against the dancers and clubs stem from several sources. These include religious precepts of modesty and patriarchy, feminist views opposite those of the dancers themselves, media sensationalism and fear of the body. Moreover, there are often generalizations from a single case to an entire industry, besides raids and arrests that are not followed by convictions, but often harassment by people who just don’t like the clubs.
Of course, you can find a rotten apple in any barrel. Some strippers have accepted money to provide more. And so have some secretaries, teachers, students and so forth. But viewing the majority negatively just because of the rotten apple is surely inappropriate.
Recently, two women were arrested; 11 were arrested last November. Linking strippers and prostitutes as being “similar in their dynamic” is like saying that mothers and virgins may also be similar in their dynamic — they’re all women and they menstruate. However, there’s a difference between fantasy and reality, sexuality and sex. The exotic-dance club is all about fantasy, not sex. But dancers often tease — a reason for the term “striptease”? n
Judith Lynne Hanna is a leading dance scholar and critic, an expert court witness in exotic-dance cases nationwide and an affiliate senior research scientist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland.t