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...
Lost Down Under
I left London feeling fragile, with a scorched reputation and a ruined work ethic after one too many nights bickering with the oafish management. I was looking for somewhere where I could rise like the Phoenix dancer I knew I could be – a stripper who had as much fun as her clients and didn’t get fined for chipped nail polish.
Australia was the obvious choice – I was practically giftwrapped a year’s working visa as a British citizen, they spoke English, and it had been raining in London for months. Stripping down-under was big business, with clubs crowding the cities and titty bars in every town. They celebrated bodies and beauty, with pole dancing competitions and bikini clad beauty queens. Most importantly, I’d been assured that my brash brand of cheekiness would fit right in. I wouldn’t be ‘naughty Honey’, continually reprimanded by hard-headed bouncers that didn’t like a woman having an opinion, dumbing down for managers who thrived on the power and confusion of ad-hoc regulations that never made any sense. I’d be free, amongst packs of dancers even more bolshie than me, a fresh face off the boat. That Christmas had been painful – too many girls and not enough expense accounts, so my stripper friends nodded knowingly when I told them my plans for a sabbatical in the sunshine. The house-mum – always my champion – had thrust one of her business cards into my hand. A simple scribble on the back ‘Honey’s one of my favourites – hire her. Love from London.’ I had the address of a club in Perth, the name of its house-mum, a plane ticket and my first weeks accommodation at a hostel already sorted. In short, I had all a grifter needed.
Flying into Perth, for miles and miles I saw the red land pockmarked where the land had been gauged out by mines. Empty roads so dusty they were mere dirt tracks 36,000 feet up made connecting traces. Perth lay at the edge by the water, its skyscrapers and the blue ocean shimmering in the sun so brightly it made my eyes ache. I could feel the heat as soon as they opened the plane doors and I felt the hunger of a frontier town so very different to cool cosmopolitan London.
The club was the smartest place in downtown, with its lick of fresh black paint in a shabby high street filled with sex shops, peep shows and bars that spilled out onto the street. ‘Xotica’ was backlit above the door, the X towering above the rest of the scrawled letters. The business of selling sex revels in bad spelling and punctuation. I thought I’d made an effort with my carefully considered audition outfit of tight jeans and curled hair, but walking into the changing room I knew I’d got it all wrong. Too fresh-faced, too well put together. The girls in here wore bright makeup, knowing that it would sweat off. Their eyes were rimmed with everlasting kohl, glitter was smudged over lids and cheeks, their lips were big glossy balloons in coral pinks and jam red. Hair was pulled up into tight ponytails or left loose and wild, tell-tale blobs of extension glue sticking out for all to see.
I’d walked in from a hot, dusty street to an even hotter club. The heat in the cramped changing room was exhausting, cooled by an impotent air-con unit that dripped festering water on whoever’s bag had been carelessly left underneath. Red walls were broken up by chipped mirrors and smears of make-up accidents. I dumped my bag by an overflowing bin, pulled on a long black dress that had always brought me luck in London but felt frumpy here, and went to flash my house-mum credentials at the management.
The management turned out to be a one-woman tidal wave who worked behind the bar, kept the girls in check, and did the accounts at the end of the night. She worked longer hours than anybody else, pulling tough shifts on a mixture of soda water punctuated by half-hourly shots of tequila. She took one look at my carefully cherished business card before scrunching it up in her hand and tossing it to the side.
“Sure. You wanna get started tonight? You’ll need 4 bikinis in white, red, pink and black for the stage shows – you can buy them off me for $20 apiece but some girls prefer their own – you’ve seen the girl’s room, here’s the main floor, we got two poles on the stage, one static, one spinning – you ever used a pole? They like ‘em fixed in London, we go a little faster here – 3 songs per set, one at the back, one per pole – no nudity on stage, no playing with yourself either.”
She was talking fast, and stepped ahead in boots that didn’t slide on the sticky floor, pointing out features with bracelets jangling up and down arms whilst I trailed behind like a lost puppy. She didn’t see my eyes widening at the bare brutality of a stripclub without airs and graces. None of the usual softcore photographs in gilt frames on the walls, no soft carpet, no velvet drapes concealing nooks lit by fringed lampshades. It was completely painted black – the walls, the floor – the stage a knocked-together expanse of scuffed black boards. The place was set up for drinking and the show – the bar and stage enthusiastically illuminated oasis in an otherwise barren club. ‘There’s dance chairs here’, pointing at some upholstered bucket seats squashed together in a row, ‘then as we go upstairs here’s an ATM and the $100 dance room.’ I peered through the gloom at a wide space dotted around with Chesterfield easy chairs.
“Where are the booths?”
“Don’t have ‘em. Can’t. Licensing won’t allow it – don’t worry, the boys are used to it. You’ll still make money on dances, even if they’re not as private as they are back in London. Which reminds me – no touching – no contact at all. If a bouncer finds a man’s hand even on your leg he’s sending you to me straight away and I don’t give out second chances. You got that?”
“Hey what the fuck, she wouldn’t have sent over any slutty girls, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Come on, let’s get you set up with those bikinis and get you a drink. You’re all pale. You look like you need one.”
I got told that I looked pale every day after that, the same refrain each shift, until I’d spent at least a fortnight catching the relentless sun and found a tanning salon to even out the bits it couldn’t reach. I got bought a lot of drinks too, sweating out vodka, lime, sodas or JD and cokes until my burnt skin was soaked with perspiration. It took me a while to get used to dancing out in the open, balancing precariously on 6” Perspex heels shot through with rods of steel, no booth walls to lean on for support. The rush to the airless room backstage as we all cleared the floor for the four times a night line-up, two dozen girls jostling for space on stage in our matching bikinis. At midnight we wore black, white at one, red at two and at three the neon pink came out, presumably because punters were too drunk at this point for subtler shades.
There was one problem though. I couldn’t get used to the customers.
They were miners mostly, and split into two camps. Either ‘here for the day’ or ‘here to stay’.
The ‘here to stay’ had finished their 3 or 6 month shift and had come home till the next one started. They wore white Ed Hardy T-shirts pulled over brawny muscles and creeping beer guts. Skin was scrubbed till it was pink and shiny, greased and oiled like their slicked back hair. Large workman’s hands hid their swollen knuckles and callouses under thick clanking jewellery. The men here wore more gems and silver than I’d seen on the rich oligarchs in moneyed London streets, but then it was their job to dig them up I supposed. They were nicknamed ‘Bogans’, known for flashing their cash and spending it quickly, irresponsibly, because in a few months they’d be driving down a monotonous road in the middle of nowhere for a $100k pay-cheque but no woman for miles and miles to squander it on .
The ‘here for the day’ were the grubby brethren of their primped comrades. It took time to wash off the red soil of the Australian outback. Hands, raw from washing and scrubbing would still be stained. Their fingers, ingrained with dirt, would leave smears on the frosted beer glasses. Stubble would sprout from folded faces, the creases of a life burnt into the skin by the sun. Snowflakes of dried-up complexion would drift off ruddy cheeks as they scratched themselves with beer-soaked hands.
“You need a bit of Aussie miner in ya. I’ll dig you a mile deep.” Coarse words of sexism and sexuality came from shocking tongues that didn’t bother toning it down if a lady was present. Instead, they were all dizzingly over-talkative after being cooped up in the silent sauna of a ten tonne HGV.
The first time I heard “Come home with me and I’ll smash your back out”, I was shell-shocked. To my British sensibilities, molly coddled by political correctness, smashing my back out sounded painful and violent. I soon realised I’d be hearing the same ten, twenty times a night, by a different big, burly man each time, his jokes falling harsh and abrubtly on my unaccustomed ears. Far from being a working holiday in the sun abroad, soon after starting my new life in Perth I began to lose confidence in my normal self. A barrage of witticisms and bar-room jokes about how the Brits were ‘limp limeys’ and ‘how I need a bit of Aussie in me to make me a woman’ had ground me down. In London, the managers had been the problem. Now I found myself in Perth, recoiling from the customer’s cruel jokes. I felt as small and vulnerable as ever.
After three weeks, I no longer said no to the hard stuff, drinking the tiny thimbles of plastic filled with cheap tequila. It would flush though me, an alcoholic heat to match the thick atmosphere inside the club.
Then one night I was working and everything changed. I met a God among men.
Huge lips dominated his face, with long cheekbones sluicing down and his eyes! His eyes were stunning. Clear cold blue – as if arctic ice had been implanted there as SPF protection. I glanced at his hands. Large hands and long fingers, red dust collecting in the joints, hiding under nails. He wasn’t a god. He was just another miner.
I perched on the edge of his seat, starting up a conversation immediately, steeling myself for any insults to come. It was just a job. It’s just a man’s opinion. But he didn’t start, and never did, and instead listened, and asked questions, and was clearly fascinated by this girl from London who had strolled right up into his life.
His life. It was so very, very different to mine. He grew up in a tiny town with a few hundred people. He knew everybody – every resident was his neighbour. When he turned 18, he moved to the ‘big town’.
“How big is the big town?”
“About 5000,” his lips paused in an awkward smile. A tongue pierced with metal lay behind his mouth. I wanted it in me.
But instead I laughed out loud, grabbing him in a hug which thrust his head against my breast, and as he lay there for a moment in my well-intentioned ‘accident’, I said softly;
“That’s so sweet. But still tiny.” But I was suddenly curious, pulling him away to ask questions about a life that was so quaint, so simple. So far away. “Don’t you all just date and fuck each other? You must be able to count the number of hot girls on one hand. Can you? What was it like?” For his part, he’d never met a girl like me – never met a girl from London. He was smitten, thought I was the cutest, most beautiful thing he’d never ever seen in his dusty towns filled with 5000 dusty people.
He spent money on me, but I wasn’t caring for the money. I was excited for the act of spending – he was spoiling me, showering me with his adoration. We spent a long time in the $100 dance room, then went downstairs to the bar, then upstairs again, and again. The poor boy must have spent $700 on me that one night. But his loss was my gain as I felt my confidence returning. For the rest of my trip down under, I hugged that returned confidence in tight.
Sometimes in a stripclub it takes a chance encounter to rekindle that sexuality and power that a stripper wears as her amour. In his innocence I felt alive, and dominant – I was in control, I was the sophisticated worldly one. I could tease him! I could tease this big man for being so innocent, I could turn the tables and talk about how he needed a real woman from the real big city to sort him out.
Lost Down under? I should never have let the swagger go in the first place.