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...
Madame Jojo’s has been running for 50 years. Only the Windmill has been showing nude and saucy tableaux for longer in Soho. It’s twice the age of Stringfellow’s and had a variety of music, cabaret and burlesque nights running 7 days a week. Long running shows with ritzy names; Tranny Shack, Cabaret Roulette. The Neo Burlesque Awards where held at Madame Jojo’s only last week. Now its doors are shut, with staff and promoters desperately looking for alternatives and appeals. Westminster Council revoked their licence following a dramatically violent incident on the 24th October involving a drunk customer, some heavy-handed security, beer bottles and baseball bats. It’s not looking good and shows how the world can change in an instant.
Whisper Soho to me and my mind is filled with images of heels; the leather soled dancing shoes of burlesque performers, the thick wedges of clear perpsex for a hustling stripper, the gigantic stalactites of trannies in multi-coloured PVC, the flash of black leather and red soles as a high class escort flashes by. Memories that the Soho King, Paul Raymond, helped to foster in his reign as the Porn Baron and mass landlord of W1 who built his fortune through sex, sleaze and entertainment. With the gentrification of Soho, his legacy has been ripped apart faster than a cheap pair of fishnets.
Only last week I uploaded a map of all the stripclubs in London, and happily collated the details of the remaining 28. I was looking forward to embellishing my map with more markers covering burlesque nights, pole dance schools, and shops that sold neon G-strings that stayed put until there’s a twenty, but the devastating news that one of Cabaret’s oldest venues has had its licence revoked has highlighted how fragile the striptease as entertainment industry can be. The East End is continually fighting battles against Tower Hamlet’s puritanical agenda, Spearmint Rhino almost had its licence revoked last Spring by Camden Council following concerns over the number of private dance booths (which are a key part of any stripclub and essential for lapdancers to perform in), whilst the Supperclub, a fun Cabaret and dinner venue in Ladbroke Grove also shut last year.
The West End is full of nightclubs which want you to look, act and party in a certain way. Live music and bands are replaced by Instagram DJs and a USB stick. Velvet ropes operate a strict door policy – you need to book a table, you need pretty girls accompanying any large groups of men, shoes only, dress smartly in obviously new or designer clothes. The days of simply being on a guestlist and rocking up seem quaint and simple. Why should these venues be allowed to proliferate when going out and a night-time culture is all about diversity? What about the people who aren’t a size 8 with a fully loaded AMEX? I don’t want to get dolled up like a stripper everyday and listen to the same shit tunes whilst I feel old and poor and glance enviously at VIP areas.
Reading the police report, there’s no doubt that the action escalates swiftly and covers every angle in the book; the original victim is a young black male, he is head-butted and punched by the Security Manager and the club’s taxi operator, the victim returns with a gang hurling beer bottles, before some conveniently placed baseball bats are retrieved from reception and there’s a huge showdown in the middle of the street at one o’clock in the morning. Of course, the whole incident was caught on CCTV, and the police weren’t called until the fight was over.
I’ve worked with many bouncers and yeah – some are scary, a few are quick to judge and be heavy-handed with badly behaved punters. But the actions of a few shouldn’t stop the fun for many. I’m sure CCTV films up and down the country show similar scenes. Security staff need training in diplomacy and people skills so that they can defuse situations, and be constantly aware that in extreme situations the police should be called – the man at the door is not the law.
The consensus seems to be that the incident was used as a convenient excuse to shut down a venue which was occupying prime development space. Soho Estates received planning permission last May for a major redevelopment of Brewer Street and are expected to start building within the next three years. In the proposal, ‘The Box’, a newer but also world-famous nightclub is to be kept open, as it ‘attracts royals and celebrities’.
Perhaps it is a fittingly dramatic end for a club forever synonymous with drama queens and am-dram histrionics – the last song banged out in the battle of the bands. But that cheerful dig isn’t going to pay the bills of the staff, promoters and performers who were no doubt licking their lips at the thought of tills ringing the sounds of Christmas. It’s never seemed fair that councils can shut down huge business operations and the network of people behind them on a whim or legal technicality.
Trannies owe a lot to stripping style and shared interests, but lapdancers should be grateful too – the LGBT are loud and proud in championing sexuality, and by standing up for their rights society has become more accommodating full stop. It’s partly thanks to them that when people ask me about my past, I can proudly declare that I was a stripper, an exotic dancer, a nude artiste. Yes, a STRIPPER! And whilst some eyes roll most are fascinated, telling me about burlesque nights they’ve been too, or do I feel like a drag queen in 8” heels, or how they saw an amazing pole dance at a circus cabaret on the Southbank or Roundhouse.
A petition has been set up, but at the time of writing the signatures are still in the low thousands. I urge anybody who wants London to stay a sexy, diverse and 24hour city to sign it.
There is also a vigil on Saturday afternoon at 12:30 so that ‘London’s Alternative Nightlife venues and its community’ can peacefully protest. Fingers crossed that that I’m free as I’d love to see what people have to say – Twitter and the Guardian comments page have had an outpouring of grief and memories by many passionate people already. Details here.
A few venues remain to enjoy striptease in Soho; stripclubs can be found on the map I made and include Windmill International, Sunset Strip, Platinum Lace and Stringfellows Angels.
You can also enjoy burlesque and cabaret at The Cafe de Paris, The Hippodrome, The Box, the Leicester Square Theatre and the Soho Theatre.