Making Ends Meet As a Strippers


Butterfly works in Las Vegas, where the steady stream of tourists makes it relatively easy for her to support her family.

But in the rest of the country, making a decent living as a stripper is no sure thing.

Most dancers do not get paid by the club.

Instead, they're labeled independent contractors, and they earn their money from stage tips, selling one-on-one lap dances, or persuading customers to buy time in a VIP room.

And sometimes in the fiercely competitive world of a strip club -- with dancers chasing after the same customers -- some women can feel pressure to sell not just a sexual fantasy, but sex.

"The business arrangement is such that they are pressured into prostitution because otherwise they can't profit from their work," according to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

But most dancers make much less, sometimes even going home with less money than they started with.

How could you lose money working?

The surprising answer is that dancers not only do not get paid any salary, but they actually pay the club anywhere from $75 to $250 a shift for what is called a stage or house fee.

Jennifer, who dances at a Chicago club, says she's lost money on occasion.

"There have been certain days where you don't make your money back, and they don't pay you. There is no compensation or anything. And you just have to suck it up and hope that the next day is better," she said.

And it's not just the stage fee that dancer's pay.

Most of these so-called independent contractors must "tip out" at the end of their shift -- which means paying money to the other people working at the club -- from bouncers to DJs to the maitre d's in the VIP rooms.

Butterfly says she can end the night shelling out $150 in tips.

On top of all that, the dancers get none of the protections or benefits, like workers' compensation and health care, that are offered to everybody else working in the club.

That bothers Butterfly.

"I have children. I believe that we should get insurance. You know medical insurance, dental insurance, vision, workers' comp. Anything, where we work -- we pay them anyway," she said.

Langin doesn't see this as an unfair setup.

"The busboy goes home with $200 a week, or $300 a week. And the dancer goes home with $3,000 to $6,000," he said.

And for the women who don't bring home $3,000 a week?

Langin said he would tell a dancer who wasn't making much money to consider other work.

"I try to encourage her to -- I call it 'broaden your career horizon a little bit' -- find something that you're good at. … This isn't it for you," he said.

Concern That Dancers Could Be Coerced Into Prostitution

The rules about how intimate the contact can be between dancer and customer can change from state to state and city to city.

At the Sapphire Club, some touching is allowed.

Clients can touch the dancers' arms and legs, Butterfly said, "and our belly if they're careful. If they start moving up, we absolutely have to have to move their hands away," she said.

And that apparently happens frequently. Butterfly said she had ended dances because a client wouldn't follow house rules.

And a new trend, started in San Francisco, could be making it more difficult for dancers to keep clients' hands at bay.

Increasingly, clubs across the country are building private booths where the dancer and customer are alone.

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