Why become a stripper? An easy answer is: Money.
You see, when I turned 18, I became financially stable. I had earned acceptance into City Year, packed my belongings, and moved to Denver. I worked 60 hours a week, and saved most of what I earned. At age 19, I started my undergrad at the University of Colorado, and found it difficult to balance working even just twelve hours a week and maintain decent grades. Then, I turned 20, and was offered an unpaid internship with the Colorado Department of Education. I realized that if I accepted the offer, I would risk my financial security and independence. Later that summer, I became a stripper.
To put all the clichés and myths to rest, to let you hear it from the horse’s mouth — or the stripper’s tax return — let’s throw numbers around about what a stripper salary looks like.
I would earn $76,800 dollars a year — before taxes — if I worked for six hours a day, four days out of the week, and averaged $400 each night.
The truth about stripping is an average of $400 per night is an acceptable number for many exotic dancers. Not good, not bad — acceptable. A four day per week, six-hour shift is the standard: acceptable, if draining. There are some exotic dancers who would never return to a club if they could not make at least $500 per four-hour shift. There are also some exotic dancers who would beg for an opportunity to make $300 per eight-hour shift.
Strippers take pride in how much money can you earn from stripping. A large sum of money can turn what many would consider an immoral and degrading profession into a practical one. The almighty dollar breaks down stigma and taboo — for some unfortunate souls, it defines their self-worth. Hence, why a dancer would quit after one bad (i.e., <$400.00) night. Yes, an exotic dancer would expect to make more money in Manhattan — where a studio apartment often costs $2,000, if not much more — than in Denver, where you can find a one-bedroom in a high-rise for $900. But when you live in a city like Denver, and you threaten to quit over a few low nights, you have to ask yourself, exactly what are you trying to prove? And to whom?
The same questioned applies to what exotic dancers/strippers/ecdysiasts choose to call themselves. The word “stripper” is considered dirty, titillating, or uncouth. While I prefer to call a spade a spade, I have met strippers who are genuinely offended to be placed in the same category as the low-paid, classless, and deeply stupid characters that parade around in pasties on television screens, who need saving in big-budget movies. I am not a stripper, they protest, I am an entertainer. An Exotic Dancer.
And yet…Go-Go dancers are technically exotic dancers, but they DO NOT strip (ask them). And I must admit — not all strippers dance. So what’s a…person who dances and takes off her clothes to do? Besides admitting that the words basically mean the same thing, and it is just connotations that vary. However, while I personally could not give a single fuck about someone who finds my profession uncouth simply based on its name, I would hate to unintentionally titillate someone as an alternative. And I pride myself on being straightforward. Therefore, I refer to myself and others in my profession as ecdysiasts, i.e., striptease artists. You can thank Gypsy Rose Lee for getting H. L. Mencken to come up with the term. Gypsy Rose Lee considered herself a “high class stripper,” and while I can write and say and act like I don’t care about what people think of my profession, I like having a term for what I do that winks at my intelligence.
Exotic dancing does not require any sort of formal education. Most clubs allow you to dance once you reach 18. The flexibility given to ecdysiasts is one I have never encountered in another industry. Generally, you can work as little or as much as you want — as long as you are a good ecdysiast and always, always, always make the club money. You see, ecdysiasts are independent contractors. They pay “rent” to dance in a club, fees to use [private/VIP/champagne] rooms, and “tips” for the DJ, dressing room manager (house mom), bouncers, hair professional, makeup professional, hosts, and (occasionally) the bus boys.
How much does it cost to make a fantasy come to life? Again, this varies by state, city, borough, and neighborhood. Some clubs require an ankle-length gown ($100.00), and others don’t mind cheap lingerie (~$50.00). Heels that are at least four inches high and hair that reaches your shoulders (at least) are cheap in comparison. The ecdysiast herself gets to decide how much to spend on makeup, accessories, and everything else that makes her prepared to confidently tell a stranger, “The private room is 500 dollars per half hour.”
When you’re an ecdysiast, you walk into work saying a prayer. Either you leave the club a few hours later with $2,000, or you stay the entire night and leave with less money than you entered. This is true whether you do or don’t include the cost of upkeep an ecdysiast must spend to maintain herself and the illusion she sells. It is entirely possible to work an entire week and come out in the negative.
In my three and a half years as an ecdysiast — not necessarily brief, when you consider most ecdysiasts quit after five years — I’ve seldom returned home in the negative. On the contrary, I’ve been able to firmly cement my own financial security, financially assist friends and relatives, and go on vacations. Lots and lots of vacations.
I don’t write this piece to glorify or demonize stripping as a profession. However, there is plenty of misinformation regarding sex work, and I intend to clear the air. Exotic dancing is a side hustle that some turn into a career. It is a way to make money.
Sayoni is a Kentucky born, Philadelphia raised, Colorado educated, wannabe novelist and MFA candidate living in New York City. She is especially fond of Japanese food.
Image via Pexels