Strippers, auditors lay bare their feelings during tax hearing

Strip clubs are fighting to stop an amusement tax on lap dances.
Strip clubs are fighting to stop an amusement tax on lap dances.
Posted: August 02, 2013

I'VE ALWAYS DREAMED of being a stripper.

To have the face, the body, the athleticism, the total command of my body - far more than was demanded of me by football, where I was condemned to the line, the "dumb," dirty job, the laboratory of high pain, low glamour, where you are treated like meat.

That's where the two images intersect - bodies used for financial gain.

In a summer of raging fires and floods, Iraq and Syria falling apart, the race-sparking George Zimmerman trial, our city's invention of a lap-dance tax provides comic, if not financial, relief.

First, the titillation, then the analysis by your independent (unofficial) auditor.

In the cheerless Tax Review Board hearing room, the Delilah's private dancer's voice drops to a whisper when the city's lawyer asks her a particular question.

Her embarrassment comes in the closing minutes of Tuesday's three-hour hearing, most of which would bore the skin off a snake.

The 24-year-old dancer named Courtney claims a bachelor's degree from the University of the Arts in ballet and dance performance. A three-year veteran of Delilah's bump-and-grind emporium, she provides a primer of onstage and lap dancing with testimony as rehearsed as her stage performance.

She is dressed as prim as a kindergarten teacher in an elite school: flat shoes, sleeveless, small-print dress coming to her knees.

Her routine, she explains, includes elements of movement, strength, flexibility, a "wow factor" and sometimes "an aura of danger." There are techniques for the pole and "a vocabulary of movement," on the floor.

As to stripping, there is a "specific way to remove garments with allure." Courtney moves through it with academic gracefulness until Deputy City Solicitor Marissa O'Connell asks a seemingly vanilla question:

"What is a lap dance?"

Courtney stumbles, gropes for a second, before giving a technical answer that doesn't mention contact between performer and patron.

O'Connell asks if dancers "straddle" the customer.

"We are allowed to, if you want to use that word, straddle, but there is a classier way," Courtney says.

O'Connell asks about gyrations and Courtney blushes. White-haired board member Joseph Ferla, in a grandfatherly way, says he's uncomfortable, too.

Courtney admits there are hip thrusts and leg extensions and bending over, but "done with taste."

"The word 'gyrating' is not appropriate. This is more an aura we are trying to create," she says. On stage, she creates a "character," but declines to describe her character when I ask after the hearing.

The serious part is that the city is billing Club Risque, Cheerleaders and Delilah's for $1.5 million in back taxes on lap dances, a tax that club owners say they didn't know existed. (Citing current litigation, the city declines to tell me anything about the tax.)

Yesterday, the city begins to put on its case. There will be two more hearings next week and then months will pass before the board rules.

In summary, soft-spoken City Auditor Robby Mathews, so nervous his hands tremble, says clubs owe lap-dance taxes because they are "the producer of the show" and it is an "additional" form of entertainment. In his testimony, Mathews admits (concedes? boasts?) the lap-dance tax was his idea. He's the daddy.

Attorney George Bochetto, representing Risque and Cheerleaders, cites the language of the law that seems to say the amusement tax is to be levied on " admission fees" only. His backup arguments include artistic and constitutional protection for lap dances(!), and the tax duplicating the amusement tax at the door.

Bochetto and Mathews spar over language, with the loquacious attorney (naturally) ahead on points.

To me, the city's case looks as if it's leaking oil. Let me pour some gasoline on it.

In April 2012, as your independent (unofficial) auditor, I did a roundup, provided by the city, of all the fees, taxes and licenses the city of Philadelphia levies on its citizens. Amusement, amusement device and amusement/vehicular were included.

A lap-dance tax was not.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

 

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