Topless Dancing--Fast Route to Independence
by Jack Corbett


There’s been a terrific buildup of the forces wanting to close topless clubs down in the past few years. Heading the charge is the religious far right. I prefer calling it the Mothers for a More Boring Nation.

One of the gravest charges leveled against clubs is that dancers are being cruelly exploited by men. But suppose I could prove the opposite to be true?

 That dancing in a topless or gentlemen’s club provides women with an unparalleled opportunity to become less dependent upon men or anyone else for that matter. Certainly in clubs women of limited education are able to make a lot more money than they could at the neighboring gas station or McDonalds. Theoretically they have more free time to continue their education or to pursue long term goals making them more marketable than they’d be if they worked at nine to five jobs. But do they? The answer would come from the dancers themselves–for this article, two from Illinois and two from Indiana.

Heaven

Frank Marsala, General Manager at Platinum Club, gave me the idea for interviewing four dancers as he spoke to me in glowing terms about Heaven. I remembered her from Dollies Playhouse several years ago as an ex school teacher, and I had taken a number of pictures of her there along with a hundred other girls. What distinguished Heaven from most of the dancers was an aura of wholesomeness that would seem out of place at most clubs.

"Where and when shall we do the interview?" I asked Heaven on the phone. "How about Pierre Marquette?" she suggested. Which really impressed me since Pierre Marquette is a scenic state park overlooking the Illinois River, making it an idyllic spot for the interview and photo shoot.

Somehow before we started I knew that I’d find her to be an idealistic young woman who had been disillusioned by the system. Flicking on the tape recorder in the Pierre Marquette Lodge, I started asking Heaven a series of questions about her preschool teaching experiences and her dancing career.

She loved working with preschool children between two and four years old. When I asked her how effectively the American educational system was dealing with this age group, she replied: "For kids this age there needs to be reform for the way the teachers are being treated. It is in their first five years that the kids are learning the most." Heaven then cited several examples of how the system was short changing kids during this critical formative period of their lives. Particularly perplexing to her is how classes of preschoolers are shuffled from teacher to teacher. "Which is very damaging to their psyches," Heaven continued "since kids need a sense of continuity at this very young age, not an ever changing cast of shadowy of changing adult figures they are never allowed to form long term associations with." Next she mentioned low pay coupled with low state certification standards. "I made five dollars an hour which was just above minimum wage at the time and was making around six when I quit," Heaven said as she subtlety emphasized the word "just". In only a few words she had dramatized that something was clearly wrong. Here Americans offered barely more than minimum wage to these caretakers of their children during the critical formative years.

I had gotten the sense that Heaven would still be teaching preschool if she been offered more than starvation wages. But it was her ex husband’s failure to continue paying child support, not disillusionment with the system, that put a sudden halt to her career as a preschool teacher. Six dollars an hour was simply not enough to pay the little family’s bills.

Dancing would supply the money to make the car payments, pay the rent on time, and to buy food and all the other things necessary to make her and her daughter comfortable. After working at Dollies, Diamond Cabaret, the Jewel Box, and the Crystal Palace, Heaven finally found her niche at the Platinum Club, where she works three nights a week. Having four nights off gives her ample time to continue working on a college degree that will allow her to return to teaching at much higher pay not to mention freeing up more quality time to spend with her daughter.

"Although dancing has a shady reputation, a lot of good things can come out of it,"Heaven continued. "In this club (Platinum Club) there is always somebody to talk to. If you go to a regular bar by yourself a lot of times it doesn’t work out so well. I am hoping a lot of people think I am more of a psychologist than a dancer. One of the men who comes in here to see me was telling me that he’s been going to his pastor for counseling because his recent ex is making his life a living hell. The guy told his pastor: "You know what has really been helping me is seeing Heaven who’s convincing me that I’m not really this horrible person I’ve been made out to be." I found Heaven’s next statement to fly in the face of your average stereotyped notion of the "typical" dancer-customer relationship. "I try to build up all the guys’ self esteem..that is, unless they are being really obnoxious with me."

Ironically Heaven would wind up making several times more money counseling grown men in a topless club than she made working with little children for the state of Illinois.

Sexie Jessie

With Dollies Playhouse giving me my beers for a dollar-fifty, supplying me with my very own phone line just eight feet from the stage which I"d use to go online, and letting me take over 1500 digital pictures of girls in the club, it took a lot to get my attention. I probably even had a dancer or two sitting next to me in front of my laptop when I saw her for the first time over four years ago, a constantly moving form of raw sensuality that immediately evoked thoughts of Arab dancing girls performing for the Sultan centuries ago. I found myself standing in front of her stage just watching her. I rarely tip anyone with the exception of bartenders and waitresses but this gal was so good that I not only gave her five bucks but also invited her to have a drink with me at the bar. Her body never stopped flowing to the beat of the music as we sat next to each other in our bar stools. I saw her twice again, once at a half forgotten Metro East Tavern and a second time at a party the new general manager had one Sunday afternoon. Then one night sitting at Dollies while drinking my beer I got an e-mail from Sexie Jessie.

One thing led to another-- the instant messaging back and forth on our computers, the e-mailing, and our meeting up with each other at a club or two, going out to eat in a small group, or an impromptu party. She started to experiment with web site design and showed me a short online video or two she had done, then I had her look at my internet videos. Once in awhile I’d go over to her home where we would exchange computer software or discuss web site design, graphics arts programs and digital photography for hours. I had first seen her and taken pictures of her as a svelte dancer. Later I would visit her when she was pregnant, then watch her new born girl become a one year old.

A transformation took place. She was no longer Sexie Jessie, the enticing and beguiling temptress. She had become, fellow computer nerd and internet junkie, Jessie. I had seen her in clubs making hundreds of dollars in a few hours, scarcely having the time to have a drink even with me. Then I had spent hours seeing her other side. We even discussed taking web site development computer classes together.

She works just two eight hour shifts a week. The rest of the time is hers. Unlike many girls from the clubs, she’s had a stable relationship for more than ten years and has lived in the same place for just as long. She’s done three web sites. First one’s her web site. Second one she does with her boyfriend, Bob, to showcase his music. Third one she spends the most time with and that’s the kiddie web site devoted to her daughter Amanda.

But that’s Sexie Jessie’s value system. Numero Uno’s her daughter and the fact that she centers more of her web site development time around Amanda than she does around her other two sites proves it. Action speaks louder than words and I’ve been around Jessie for just too long to ever doubt that the little girl she brought into this world means everything.

There is no question that dancing provides Jessie with the money and the free time to do some very positive things. Starting with being the best mother she can be. Presently taking a computer web site development course online, Jessie’s polishing skills she’s learned on her own, skills she would never have found the time to master had she been confined to working a low paying nine to five, "normal job".

Enigma

I surprised Sam Stimmel, club owner of Stimmelators and Vice President of INCA (Indiana Night Club Owners Association) with my phone call Friday morning asking for pictures and an interview with a girl who is both a dancer and a college student. Having already taken pictures of Enigma, a trim yet buxomly college student, I was confident she’d be the third girl for this article. But I had forgotten about the Mothers for a More Boring Nation. A Phi Beta Kappa earning at least a 3.5 grade point average in Business Administration and Accounting, Enigma’s got it all-- great looks, an outstanding figure, personality, intelligence, athletic ability, and to top it all off she’s just plain nice. Three phone calls to the club left her wanting to do the interview and more pictures but her head overruled her heart in the end. Fear of losing valuable scholarships by being identified as a dancer led her to tell me: "I’d better not do it, Jack, but I’ll help you find someone else."

Gia

Several hours later Sam called me. "I have someone here for you to interview." I wouldn’t be able to take the pictures this time since I lived 380 miles from the club and had put everyone on short notice. Luckily Keith Miller was more than up to the task. Within moments I was on the phone with Gia, a twenty-six year old mother of two, who expects to receive her four year degree in psychology in December. Gia started dancing just several months ago after separating from her husband, a High School teacher. Dancing just two weekend nights a week gives her ample time to be an effective mother while taking a full twelve hours of college classes at Indiana University in South Bend. Uncertain of what her next career move will be, Gia informed me that a Masters in Psychology is a distinct possibility.

Considering that time is in short supply given her course load at the university and family commitments I wasn’t surprised to hear Gia say: "What other thing can I do where if I needed an extra couple hundred bucks I can just work an extra night? A lot of people say: "How could you do that? Why can’t you get a legitimate job like being a waitress?" and I look at that—and, I’ve never been a waitress and I’m thinking why? I know some people think it’s really crude for me to dance naked in front of people and take their money."

Gia’s later comments on the subject continued to echo what many dancers had been telling me for years about all those "honorable legit" jobs available to them--- working at the gas station, as a waitress at Dennys or flipping hamburgers at Wendys. After all, when a box of cereal costs six bucks how can we expect them to make it as Single Parents at low end jobs?"

Devin

One half hour later Sam’s on the phone with me again. "Want to interview another of my dancers?" he asks. "Her name’s Devin. She’s been "Miss Nude Galaxy, and best legs for 2001". " Devin doesn’t have any children, is just 22 and has the whole world in front of her since she has to be responsible only to herself. During the school year she teaches pre-school in the morning, "just for practice" she laughs on the other end of the line. Her afternoons are filled with classes at University of Indiana South Bend where she’s in her third year of taking certification classes to teach kindergarten. She’s been a dancer for three years, starting in the South Bend clubs before moving onto Stimmelators in North Webster where she dances on weekends. With school no longer in session, during the Summer she will increase the number of nights she dances.

"What do you prefer doing, teaching or dancing?" I ask her. "I’ll do more dancing," she replies, "If my dancing career accelerates." Devin then tells me how Continental Agency expressed an interest in her along with her craving for travel and new experiences. Featuring is definitely a strong possibility for her yet her desire to teach continues to exert its pull. "Teaching pre-school is fun," Devin replies to one of my questions. "And I think I can make a difference. This is the most important learning period in childrens’ lives.

Gia clarified the difference between the four dancers in this article (five if we count Enigma) and the stereotyped dancer of the movies when she said: "Some people dance as a lifestyle. I have a goal." Although there has been some improvement on how Americans view women (eg. They can vote and they are definitely in the work force now) mothers and fathers for the most part still teach women from girlhood on that everything’s going to be right with their world once they find a man. It is a sad fact that too many women rely upon men to look after them and the children they help bring into this world since millions of men fail to pay child support. I personally believe that these men should be held more accountable for their responsibilities, but I don’t think that is going to happen. Since our society lacks either the guts or the means to inflict more stringent punishment upon these low lives, how can we fault Gia for saying: "How else can you make money when you need it? Just go in and pick up some cash. I feel a lot safer now." In a nutshell, Gina’s talking about self-reliance and independence for women instead of their having to depend upon a man as the breadwinner, who too often lets both "his" woman and his children down. Where else can a woman make a thousand dollars a week for just sixteen to twenty-four hours of work? So before you join the Mothers for a More Boring Nation who are trying to convince you to close clubs down, think of Enigma studying for college during slow periods at Stimmelators. Or of Heaven trying to raise her daughter on a six dollar an hour job teaching pre-school. Think of Devin having to pay her college tuition from her earnings as a pre school teacher’s aide. Imagine Sexie Jessie not having the time to learn about computers and web site development or to be at home with her one year old girl because she had to work forty hours a week at Steak and Shake while putting in another fifteen hours at Amoco. And remember that there are thousands of dancers across the U.S. who view dancing not as a life style but as the opportunity to achieve worthwhile long term goals, such as learning marketable skills for a new career, that would be out of reach the moment clubs are closed down.

 

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