Dancing

Erotic dancing takes many forms – such as striptease, pole-dancing, table-dancing (a dance for one customer, at their table) and burlesque. It is legal in the UK, although if there is any physical contact prostitution laws apply (hence ‘lap-dancing’ – a dance on the lap – is officially banned). The vast majority of dancers are women performing for a male audience.

There are striptease pubs and clubs all over the UK, with a concentration in London and the other big cities. Strip pubs are a British tradition. American-style table-dancing clubs arrived in the mid-90s and despite frequent local council opposition, most large UK towns now have one.

Laws regarding nudity have changed frequently over the past half-century, from the post-war days of nudity being allowed if the dancer was not moving, to topless in the 80s and early 90s, to the current situation where full nudity is allowed in most areas of the UK, assuming the venue has the appropriate license.

There are no figures for number of dancers in the UK, and the majority – particularly in London – are in the UK on student visas and not registered as workers. Officially dancers should be registered self-employed and pay tax.

Issues
The dancing industry has boomed in the past decade in terms of number of clubs, but the situation for dancers has deteriorated. In the early days of strip pubs (1970s) the dancers were paid. Gradually pay dropped until dancers were simply keeping the money they made from the customers in the pub. Then house fees started being introduced – the justification being that dancers are ‘renting’ the stage, lighting etc. in which to do their work. Now there are only a small handful of venues which do not charge the dancers a house fee, and in the big table-dancing clubs the fees may be as high as £100 per shift.

In paying house fees, dancers should be protected as consumers buying a service, but as the introduction of fees has been unregulated the reality is dancers receive nothing in return. In pubs there may be no security personnel, stages may be filthy, and the ‘changing room’ is often the ladies’ toilet. As the dancers themselves are increasingly seen as a source of guaranteed money for bosses, more girls have been booked per shift, leading to less dances (and less earnings) for each girl. Fees, rules and fines are implemented or changed without notice.

At the table-dancing clubs, contradictory rules may be in place. Health and safety regulations may dictate dancers do not drink alcohol at work; the club’s rules may dictate dancers have to order champagne if a customer offers to buy them a drink.

While dancers are officially self-employed and legally should be registered as so, they are subjected to employee-style rules. Clubs may insist on dancers working a minimum number of shifts per week, including certain quiet nights. Dancers may be threatened with getting no more work if they do not make themselves available to work certain nights. Fees may be charged if they arrive later than the time the club dictates or if they need to cancel shifts.

There is little incentive for the situation to change as, for every dancer who leaves the industry, there are many more wanting to work, believing the sustained media hype in the UK that suggests dancers earn thousands of pounds each night.

As dancers have become seen as key money-making figures for the bosses (with the house fees coming in as cash, not into the till or necessarily through payroll), and more and more dancers are booked, quality standards have dropped in the pubs and clubs. Along with several other factors this has led to a decline in numbers of customers in the pubs and clubs… leading bosses to book even more dancers, as each dancer represents a guaranteed house fee.

IUSW Recommendations
The legality of the house fee situation desperately needs to be clarified, along with the associated issue of whether dancers are employees or self-employed agents.

Strip club and pub bosses who provide working conditions not meeting health and safety requirements, or who are responsible for bullying and harassment, need to be brought to account for their actions.

For the situation to really improve dancers need to speak out, and most do not feel able to do so (also many dancers in the UK – and the vast majority in London – are not British nationals and have little interest in improving longer-term conditions, or bringing themselves to the attention of the authorities). Dancers are fearful of being branded trouble-makers and being barred from their venues, and having nowhere else to go. If a dancer chooses not to work at any venue charging a fee or with less-than-satisfactory conditions, she has to find another line of work – there are literally only a handful of decently-run clubs.

This is where having a Union can bring about change, to represent dancers, give them a collective voice and inform them of their rights. A positive course of action could be for a good club to set up, paying the dancers and treating them properly. All the dancers would want to work in such a club, which could therefore be choosy about its performers and offer high quality to its customers. Such a club would therefore gain a good reputation, and become busy and successful, providing encouragement for other clubs to improve their conditions.

Getting into the industry
If you want to get into striptease, contact a strip agency for pub work or go direct to clubs if you would prefer that environment. They will want you to audition, and be prepared to work that night if they accept you. Many club and agency contact details can be found on Trash City (see Links section).

Generally, as a woman, you will need to be physically attractive and aged 18 to mid-30s, although many established dancers carry on beyond that age. Specific striptease training is not essential, although will help to build confidence, and you will make some contacts in the industry through the teachers.

The London School of Striptease offers group courses and one-to-one lessons (www.lsos.co.uk). Pole-dancing classes are now widely available across the country – do a search on the internet for classes near you.

For men, there is far less work, although some strip clubs have ladies nights with male performers, including Stringfellows in London. The Whoppee Club (www.TheWhoopeeClub.com)– a London-based burlesque night – is always looking for new male burlesque performers. Local strip-a-gram agencies also look for male strippers.

Links
A comprehensive overview to the British dancing scene (with a focus on strip pubs), with history and links to subjects such as the introduction of house fees, is at:

http://www.trashcity.org/STRIP/INTRO.HTM

London School of Striptease – www.lsos.co.uk

Polestars – run pole-dancing classes throughout the UK – www.polestars.net

Exotic dancer discussion forums – www.stripperweb.com

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