An Auckland strip club night that prioritises safe spaces for QPOC (queer people of colour) dancers returns tonight, following its debut last year. Ruby Clavey (she/her) spoke with Sarita Das (they/them), one of the masterminds behind the show.
Sarita Das became frustrated with the lack of body diversity and queer representation in traditional strip clubs, so they made one of their own – Bodyhaus, which tonight returns as Bodyhaus 2.0.
Das says there’s little room for diversity and queer acceptance on the mainstream strip scene, and it can become really stressful to dance for just one demographic – one that isn’t always respectful of queer bodies and existence.
“You get a lot of men who are excited by the idea of ‘girl on girl’, but don’t actually respect your sexuality,” Das says.
Das and their co-creators, Kyah Dove and Nikolai aka Brown Boy Magik, dreamed of creating a space for people like themselves, who don’t fit within strip clubs’ heteronormative lens. A place where queer people of colour could thrive, having their talent and bodies consensually appreciated.
Between the three of them, they are well equipped to create a flourishing safe space for queer people. Das is a sex educator, whose top priority is making safer spaces, encouraging agreements and consent.
Before patrons enter Bodyhaus 2.0, they are put in groups of 10-20, and are read the rules of the event: no touching, no photography, no phones, no getting on stage, no homophobia, no transphobia, no sexism, no misogyny and respect the performers’ privacy. Patrons are then given stickers to cover their phone cameras.
“Even that simple act of them putting a sticker on their camera, even if they end up using their phones later, it’s a reminder of the contract they have signed coming into the space.”
But most patrons never pick their phones up once in the venue, Das says, as they become entranced by the dancers’ energy.
Bodyhaus’ objective is to keep people safe, while allowing them to explore, expand and embrace their sexualness. Das’ past experience in clubs and strip clubs have left them eager to do their part in changing Auckland’s club culture.
“I’ve been groped at most venues in Auckland, to be honest. Even by women, without my consent, even in spaces designated for people of colour, even in spaces designated for queer people.”
Queer people know the deal. LGBTQIA+ venues in Auckland have become hot spots for non-queer people – leaving dwindling options of safe places for queer people out at night. Sitting on Karangahape Road, Family Bar used to be the gay bar in Auckland, but now it is densely populated by straight men – isolating the queer community for whom the bar was designed.
“Family Bar is a cesspool of filth, and you can quote me on that,” says Das.
To ensure that nothing but consensual fun happens at the event, Bodyhaus 2.0 has “safe space workers”, both inside and outside. If any rules of the contract are broken, such as inappropriate touching, the safe space workers in hi-vis vests are right there, ready to step in.
“My biggest problem going forward into the idea of Bodyhaus was we can’t stop anyone from entering the event – but we can make damn sure that people who are a risk factor are being watched and that they feel watched.”
With that being said, Das isn’t expecting much trouble following the success of their first show in 2019. “Based on the last event, where everyone was entranced by the magic happening on stage, I think even the dickheads can’t stop but be amazed and just throw their love towards the performers.”
Bodyhaus wants to raise awareness that traditional strip clubs often don’t pay their dancers an hourly wage. Bodyhaus pays its dancers a generous base fee, on top of tips they earn during the night.
“I’ve been part of so many events where the door person doesn’t get paid or the front of house person doesn’t get properly paid. We’re not about that, we’re about paying people for their work. I wouldn’t feel good about shortchanging anyone,” says Das.
Das says queer-liberating events are an opportunity for the queer community to celebrate themselves while reminding each other that that they belong to a supportive community, which “isn’t going anywhere”.
“In this really interesting political climate, where racist and homophobic people are coming out of the woodwork and very vocally showing their true colours — all I want to do is fight back with everything I have. Instead, I’m just going to create a beautiful space with my friends and show the queers how amazing we are,” says Das.
“It’s a celebration of queer bodies.”
Bodyhaus’ sold-out event is on tonight in Cross St, Auckland