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The economics of stripping

The seaside town of Bournemouth is popular with hen and stag parties. It is not a large town, but it has at least five strip bars, including Wiggles, Spearmint Rhino and For Your Eyes Only, so you would assume the industry of stripping to be in rude health.

In a local newspaper interview ‘Lucy’, a stripper, says strippers can be put into categories of the single mum, university student, lookalike, kiss-and-tell and the Glamazon, who tends to be Brazilian, and not well-liked by Lucy, who says they are too good-looking and arrive penniless, driving prices down.

There are also different types of customer, including those who stay all evening with a single drink and the Prince Charming, who isn’t sure he should be enjoying himself.

The Economic & Social Research Council has published a report saying strippers’ earnings are going down, not just because of the Brazilians. A lap-dance is very much a discretionary purchase, and men, quite simply, have less money than they used to.

Professors, Teela Sanders and Kate Hardy, interviewed 197 dancers for their paper, The Regulatory Dance: Sexual Consumption in the Night Time Economy. They were not told of any cases of forced labour or trafficking, but did find that there are now more erotic dancers charging less and less.

Lucy says she has been performing for 10 years and estimates her takings today are down a third on five years ago.

The professors found the lap-dancing industry is an oddity because its growth has been driven by the providers, rather than the customers.

Lucy says even wealthy customers are showing financial restraint; “Men are so much more cautious. They used to blow hundreds, thousands, now once they are heading up to £100, you can see them getting nervous.”

Lucy comes from a nice middle-class London family and started stripping at 19, to help fund her course in politics at university. After that she worked in client relations for a property company. She left this job because, “it was the most boring thing I’ve done in my life” and she foresaw a property crash.

She went back to dancing because she enjoys it. She says: “I’ve got cash and a good social life. I’ve danced for rock stars, footballers and famous people I had crushes on.”

Lucy explains the economics of stripping: the stripper pays the house a fee of £15-85 to dance, you generally keep cash payments and give up 20% of card payments. After taxis, drinks and outfits have been paid for, Lucy estimates a night of £300 will leave her with £150, but she normally does better than that.

She says: “If you have a bad night, you can come home with nothing, or even lose money because you always have to pay the house fee. Bonanza nights are rare and getting rarer. A friend once got £14,000 from a loaded customer, I made only £50 that night. Gutted.”

She says some strippers save and become career women with property portfolios, others fund their education or modelling ambitions. “Some use their earnings to support a kid, or get a drug, shopping or plastic surgery addiction. Getting paid in cash tends to breed an awful attitude to money. Many dancers will spend £500 on hair extensions, but are late with the rent.”

Lucy says: “You have to have a really thick skin. You get a lot of compliments, how beautiful you are, but you also get abuse, about your hair colour, or your breast size. You have to be confident. I am arrogant, I admit it.”

She says strippers struggle to make relationships work and often marry bouncers. She says: “At first they love you, you’re a beautiful confident woman and they get to tell their mates they’re dating a stripper. They treat you well, you fall in love, but at the start of year two, they start on at you to get a different job and by the end of year two, you’ve broken up.”

The appeal of the stripping lifestyle lies in its flexibility and freedom; Lucy and her friends tour to cities they like the look of and find a suitable club to audition in. She says Miami is popular (good for boob jobs) and New York is good to meet famous people.

In the UK they travel to find the customers and Lucy says: “Summer is a great time to migrate to the coast; Bournemouth, Brighton, as there are loads of stag dos. In the run-up to Christmas, it’s best to work in London or Birmingham. We have low overheads, I just have to look good.”

The strippers are freelance, but clubs make them sign a contract, called a “licence to occupy space”, which outlines the extensive code of conduct. They are also subject to random drug tests. It is the industry’s attempt to clean up and distance itself from prostitution, a business it has long been associated with.

Lucy says some dancers do double as prostitutes, but some also double as teachers. She says: “I’ve never had sex for money. I’m kind of like someone in prison going, ‘Well I didn’t murder anyone, I’m not a real criminal.”

Nigel Phillips

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