Decoded co-author dream hampton once mentioned that Jay-Z never enjoyed strip clubs because he felt like the dancers could be his daughters. I must admit I haven’t always been that enlightened about it. They were never my haunts of choice, but I’m hardly a complete stranger to the so-called 'gentlemen’s club.' As a brother who's part B-boy, part boho…the B-boy side definitely has a curiosity about sexy thick-snack dancers twerking naked underneath the strobes. Personally, sultry lapdances weren’t really my thing before or after I tied the marriage knot. But what is it that leads men to make it rain in these jiggle joints on a regular basis?
My first introduction to the 'skrip club' came in college down in Atlanta. As Hotlanta MCs from Big Boi to T.I. attest, the Georgia capital is serious when it comes to its nudie hotboxes. And you never forget your first time. A bodacious Magic City dancer stalking the runway stage on all fours, bent over and pulsing her rosebud like a heartbeat to N.W.A, had me sprung for days. Once, my crew of horny frat-bruhs even bumped into our math professor getting his weekend eyefuls. Every Saturday night, exotic dancers put on over-the-top routines like a ghetto Cirque du Soleil—balancing on their heads with slowly draining Heineken bottles between their legs, for instance. Strip clubs don’t exactly attract male feminists, and by unwritten code, what happens in the strip club stays in the strip club.
Exhibitionism and nudity also thrive way outside of these skin bars, of course. Just consider New Orleans’s annual Mardi Gras, South Beach’s Urban Beach Week (née Freaknik), the Girls Gone Wild spring break franchise, even relatively tame wet T-shirt competitions nationwide. Many a nightclub’s “bare as you dare” contest in my college days ended up with drunk female freshmen taking it all off for the grand prize of a hundred bucks. Wherever women are baring breasts (and more), guys will be there to ogle the goods, even if it means paying for the privilege.
The thing is, strip clubs tend to be nests of raging insecurity once you get mature enough to see past the G-strings. Many exotic dancers come to the pole with a history of sexual trauma in their pasts; others have attention and/or abandonment issues. That's not to discount the women who make the choice to strip from a healthy emotional space (or to say that the others can't have happy, healthy lives as dancers), but our society doesn't encourage women to be exotic performers and I'd venture to say that many of those who are are working from a somewhat unique set of circumstances.
And then there's the male clientele and their issues. After the novelty of nakedness wears off, you’ve got to be sort of a (intensely insecure) douchebag to enjoy spilling dollar bills over the hot bodies of what most men tend to regard as emotionally-damaged young women. The lapdancer and her client attract each other like magnets in dimly lit champagne rooms. After a certain age, what Jay-Z always knew to be true finally sinks in.
I have an ex who stripped once or twice—Bangladesh, in fact—before realizing it wasn’t the life for her. She’d give me private dances at home to Fiona Apple’s “The First Taste.” And I grew up in the Bronx, from elementary to high school, with three girls who ended up dancing for dollars in their garters. Lacey* was a Jehovah’s Witness whose strict mom was the neighborhood crossing guard. Genevieve had a fast reputation, a friendly free spirit who unfairly ended up as a sexual punchline for a lot of my teenage homeboys. Lacey and Genevieve both started short-lived careers at the Golden Lady club in the Bronx’s seedy Hunts Point (see HBO’s Hookers at the Point) while I was away in the ATL.
The third, Maritza, was the Latina little sister of my tweener best friend way back when. I won’t say much about Maritza because I don’t want her remotely recognized. But after decades of no communication, we spoke recently about the type of men she encountered in her time dancing at Lace up in West Nyack. She had this to share on her typical clientele:
The Long-Term Customer: “A person looking for a romantic relationship. He is filling a void. He can be single or, very possibly, married. The dancer creates a ‘marriage’ of sorts that makes this type of customer feel important. This also gives the girl exclusivity. He becomes committed to her, and that is usually encouraged (by a well-paid dancer). This person is looking to be loved. I felt genuine love for my customers; I pulled it from love I felt for others and allowed them to feel it emanate from me. I felt attraction as well. Sometimes it was actually real, and only lasted the duration of the dance.”
The One-Nighter: “He can be part of a celebratory bachelor party, an office outing impressing a client, etc. This guy is looking for flair. He wants the most spectacular experience. For these guys pole tricks, proper stage music and dancing worked for me. They only want to play. Sometimes a relationship guy gets tossed in this crowd and is good as a temporary Long-Term Customer. He’ll come back a few more times to see if anything comes of a feeling that seemed like it might’ve been mutual.”
The Abuser: “This is the man who is there to punish the dancer in some way: verbally, sexually. Often he’ll use money, drugs or the potential of money to ‘hold the girl hostage.’”
The Regular Guy: “Which they all think they are. The Regular Guy may or may not truly understand the dynamics of the game. He won’t spend money, but will buy a drink and hang out. He may get a dance occasionally, just for the fun or beauty of it.”
*All names changed. Obviously.
Do you enjoy strip clubs? Why or why not?
Miles Marshall Lewis is the Harlem-based author of Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises, There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Irrésistible. Lewis is a former editor at Vibe, XXL and BET.com. Follow MML on Twitter at @furthermucker, and visit his personal blog, Furthermucker.