Sassy by name, Sassy by nature, I write to explode the myths which surround the lapdancing profession - standing up for the clubs, the girls and the customers. Its not always drinking champagne and playing with my tits - it can be hassle, hustling and hangovers. At heart I'm just a regular twenty-something posh cockney living in London who likes taking her clothes off...
People are pulling down shutters and puffing fags outside pubs. I keep my bleached head down, aware that I’m too peroxide to be coming from the office. A summer of endless interviews and ‘you’re not quite what we’re looking for’ had left me in a jaded catch-22; rejection from recessionary job-seeking by day and rejection from male punters at night. The nine thousand a year I’d spent pursuing ‘Art History, BA’ had left me able to differentiate between Titan and Giorgione but failed to materialise in the gallery job I’d aspired to. It seemed that the art world didn’t need me either to watch the paintings, sell the damn things or even create my own. I was now a stack of CVs crumbling into Dante’s damned flower, a shepardess student made hustling wolf. It was as counter-productive an exercise as filling a Styrofoam cup with fat-free milk before piling aerated fat and sugar on top. Still, whipped-cream tastes sublime, and with any luck, I’ll burn a million calories off with all the bending and flexing my aching limbs will pull off tonight.
I sprint up the escalators like I was a born Londoner but then a kerfuffle by the ticket barrier trying to find my wallet has wasted valuable minutes. Checking my watch, those hurried steps slow down. It’s two minutes past seven. Annoyance mingles with the sweat on my brow as I realise I’ve missed the early shift deadline by a staggering two minutes. The familiar façade of the vocation I had hoped to have left by now beckons me with white footlights, neon sighs. To me it now screams not Times Square showbiz, but the tawdriness of Vegas action and Soho filth – beware, all ye who enter!
Resigned to paying the more expensive £85 fee, and suddenly feeling exhausted, I swerve into a Starbucks. The place smells warm, with toasted coffee and amaretto biscuity smells wafting around. The aroma of home comforts are all too much for my sensory intake, so like an idiot, when the barista asks “Do you want cream with that?” I immediately nod my head before the dieting voice of reason can kick in.
I get to the doors. Two big burly guys stand either side – the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of the sex industry I guess.
“Alright?” says Tweedle Dee.
Dum stands silent, scowling at the street ahead. I’ve noticed that he’s only genuinely friendly to the muscly girls with boobjobs, but I think that something to do with him being a bodybuilder. I can’t hold a conversation on protein shakes or sets of reps for the life of me. My tits don’t turn the corner before I do either.
“Hello boys!” I trill ironically in return, although irony may be lost on these two. It’s not that the Tweedles are stupid, it’s just that their faces are set in the stern stares of customer supervisation mode.
I hurry inside, sign my name off on the list, feet scurrying down some steps till I reach an inconspicuous door labelled ‘Private’. I open it up, and step from the quiet, anonymous corridor into what we call in the industry ‘the henhouse’.
I’d arrived before the punters had, but backstage the changing room was already full up. There were women everywhere – balancing on impossible perspex heels, tugging hair into feline manes that cascaded down their backs and moulted onto the carpet. Glitter and hairspray coat the air, chemical plumes rising to the burning hot bulbs which screw in above the wall-to-wall mirrors. Overflowing lockers stink of stale feet. Sequins and lace, pink and red and white and black netting to be stretched over taut bodies. The gleam and soft scent of cocoa butter, its sweet sheen glistening over beads of sweat.
I look around for a spare seat. Simone was squashed into her usual place and looked up, smiling, shrugging her shoulders in way of apologising, ‘but, hey, what can you do?’
After a day spent largely by myself with a neurosis-inducing hangover, a cruel remnant of yesterday’s shift, I longed for the luxury of a spare plug point and a square foot of my own so that I could then emerge, chrysalis-like, a bouncy vision of imitation Page 3. Just enough of a twinkle in my eye and sparkle on my breast to convince random strangers to stick their hands in their pocket for a VIP ‘experience’.
A space opened up near the lockers, and I caught the eye of my neighbour as I sat on the still-warm seat. Amongst the groups of beautiful and raucous women, she stood out with her quiet, almost nervous concentration, squinting up close to the mirror before carefully applying creamy concealer to a violent looking spot on her cheek.
“I thought I’d never find a seat! Have you ever seen it so busy?” I asked, scattering a plethora of make-up and bedraggled hair extensions across the counter.
“Isn’t it always like this? I only started last week.” She replied.
I harrumphed at her naivety. “It’s not a hundred girls a night every week of the year sweetie. I’m Lucy – been here all summer. How small was your old club?”
She was brushing smudgy brown hair that fell just below her shoulders in a heavy cut. I noticed that she was lacking any highlights – not in her hair, not in smears of shimmering fake tan across her skin. Her look was a blank canvas – washed out and plain. Like she was going to work in an office. I wondered how she expected to stand out on the floor amongst the Amazonians who barged brashly from man to man, skin and frocks all tinged with a radioactive glow.
“You’re new aren’t you? New to stripping I mean.”
Her wide eyes caught my bloodshot ones in the mirror and she nodded slowly. “I guess I’m new. To all this…” She swept her hairbrush across the room of half-undressed women and lowered her voice, “this…strip-ping thing.”
I began to run a comb through the bird’s nest of fake hair I wore like a helmet.
“Just needed some cash. Only got a year and a half left at university you see – but I can do stripping part-time till then, I think. I’ll try…” Her sentence hang in the balance.
I ripped at the strands, nodding for no reason.
“You should get some highlights.” I replied, my comb caught in an awkward knot.
“You think my hair’s boring?” Miss Blankety-blank jerked round to face me, a pained expression on her face. Head on.
“No, no – it’s not that.” I backtracked, fearful that my mouth was now full of the proverbial foot.
She raised an eyebrow at me in a practised arch. All the girls in London seemed to be able to do this, this look – a piercing stare of instant disdain – whether it was a raised brow or a lip sneering through layers of sticky gloss.
The comb was stuck in my bleached tresses, leaving my sagely style advice look idiotic. “Your body. Face and body in here I mean. The strip-club look.”
Both eyebrows went up, as if she was humouring the village idiot. “Bodies in a strip club. Riigghhhhttt….”
“Exactly. It’s kind of hard to put but – you need stripclub skin. You need to glow. To shine. It’s the lights you see, and the men when they get drunk – well, they don’t see as good, and shiny bits catch the eye.” I fiddled with the tangled comb and let it clatter to the table as I teased the knot out with my fingers. Keeping my hands busy was always therapeutic, allowed me to think. “I had mousy hair – a dark blonde I guess – when I began working here last summer. It was nice – lots of sunkissed streaks – but then when the sun disappeared I got into trouble.”
“You got into trouble?” Her eyes widened and I went on, my discomfort emboldened by her sudden interest.
“Yeah, the house mum…”
“Don’t tell me you were gonna get sacked for having brown fucking hair! Guy’s don’t always prefer blondes like you, ya know.”
“No, no, it wasn’t like that. She just took me aside and said I needed to make a bit more effort. The management have an image they want to project, a certain look.”
“A certain look?” She laughed. “No offence, but you can’t even brush your hair. Is that what they wanted – a mess?”
I grabbed a big fistful of hair and looked in the mirror. Just like every time I’d looked at myself since my makeover I saw a frazzled Barbie doll staring back.
“Trust me,” I laughed. “This is not what I wanted. One of the dancers here – Michelle, she’s really sweet actually – she dyed my hair and I guess the bleach worked a bit better than we expected.”
“It looks like you’ve been electrocuted!” She cried, grabbing a straggled strand and running her fingers over its dry edges. “You’re a walking fire hazard.”
I shrugged. “We didn’t have time to change it and I haven’t been able to make it round to hers for a week now. I bought some of that conditioner that you leave-in overnight but it doesn’t seem to do much.”
“You need oil babes. This is afro-hair territory. The girls round where I live always use coconut oil after a shower.”
“Coconut oil? Isn’t that for cooking?”
“It’s for more than just cooking! Where did you grow up, Siberia?”
“Devon, actually.” I explained, not for the first time sinking into a dumb out-of-towner betrayal.
“Well I guess you don’t get much Afro-Caribbean markets down in Devon then.”
“I love hair and beauty and all that. Here, let me see if I have any oil.”
She pulled things randomly from a large tote that had been shoved underneath the dressing table. Little dirty tubes and tubs of make-up, a scrunched up red G-string from a high street shop and a slightly mismatched red dress from the teenage mecca on Oxford Street. A slim leather wrap full of brushes. Her fingers crossed round a purse and she shoved back inside, deep and safe.
“My name’s Amy by the way,” she smiled as she rummaged. “And I am pretty new – it’s my third night.”
“No, well – yeah. It’s my third night dancing full stop.”
“How you finding it?”
“Pretty hard actually. It’s not as easy getting guys to go for a dance when there are so many girls rushing them as soon as they walk in. Most of the dancers seem pretty cool though.” She gave me a wink. “You’re OK – giving me a bit of advice straight-up like. Stand out huh? Not with hair like that though – it’s way too – AH! There it is.”
Amy pulled out a clear plastic bottle and squirted a thick spunky mixture into her palm. It smelt sweet and yeasty, but as it began to melt I could smell the aroma of coconut. Hoping that I’d smell more like a Hawaiian than a Thai curry I swivelled my head in Amy’s direction. I winced at first but ignoring me she rubbed her hands together and began to work it through my tangles.
Her hands were confident, if not entirely like a professional she certainly had been practising in front of a mirror. “I love playing with different looks, different hairstyles, ya know?” She babbled on happily, as I nodded whilst my head got yanked around all over for the second time this week. What was it with girls and makeovers?
I grinned my best snaggle-toothed smile. This random new girl was turning out to be just the kind of stripping buddy you need in the club – helpful and sweet, and a student too. I threw her my Sun Shimmer with a wink.
“Now we can sparkle together.”
This is an extract from the novel I am writing. It follows three people in their early twenties who work and play in a stripclub in London’s West End. Lucy, the main character, is a struggling London art graduate who can’t find work in the recession so begins working as a lapdancer.