Gabi Lardies chats to strippers around the country to bring you this handy guide to strip club etiquette.
Tonight, on Karangahape Road, visitors to BODYHAUS will pause at the “safer space portal” on their way in. A host will hand them a sticker, and then explain the rules of the house. With the stickers still clinging on their pointed fingers, guests will ask any questions they have. Then, the host will ask the guests to take their phones out, turn them around, and place the sticker over the camera lens. Only then will the guests be allowed to climb the narrow stairs and enter the dark room, a silver pole rising out of the stage in its centre.
This is an unusual and exceptional way to enter a strip club. Guests usually stumble in with little knowledge of good strip club etiquette, and the club rules tend to be printed on A4 pieces of paper taped to a dark wall. Sometimes, the door person or bouncer will rattle off the basics – don’t touch, and do tip. “Mainstream strip clubs could do better,” says Kyah Dove, a member of the BODYHAUS collective and veteran stripper, “but it’s also the culture that needs to change”.
Katara, who recently quit stripping, says that a lot of people refuse to listen to the rules or, if they do listen, don’t take them very seriously. “People too easily forget what their job is as a customer when there’s sexy, naked, women walking around everywhere. These girls are walking around naked and they’re creating this magical environment. It’s a privilege to be in the club.”
So how can those who find themselves suddenly transported to a magical world filled with sexy, naked people walking around, be a good guest?
“I think the main thing is to realise that the girls don’t get paid an hourly wage. So they’re performing for tips. And if you don’t tip them, they get nothing. The entrance fee only goes towards the club,” says Anna, who can do the splits upside down while spinning on the pole. “Only go if you’re willing to spend some money.”
“The strip club is a luxury. It’s not a charity,” says Vixen Temple. She’s a stripper, entertainer and advocate, both a member of Fired Up Stilettos and on the board of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. “Think about it like this, you’re performing on stage for about 10 minutes. You’re wearing seven-inch heels, you’re covered in makeup, sweaty and hot. You’re getting naked for strangers. Does it sound like you’d want to be paid $2?”
Vixen recommends paying every dancer at least $10, and using real cash if you want to be a “cool” patron. “If patrons tip real cash, the strippers keep 100% of that.”
It’s also important to tip widely, Katara points out. “Every single girl in this space is creating the atmosphere that is the strip club, creating the spectacle of having beautiful nude or semi-nude women walking around and creating this magical energy. And you’re in this environment.”
If money isn’t abundant in your life it is still possible to be a good guest, says Wellington-based stripper Melody. “Have one drink, set yourself a budget of 50 or a hundred bucks, or whatever. Tip every dancer, and then when your money runs out, you can leave, and you’ve had your strip club experience. You’ve got to see some dances, you probably got to have chats with a couple of dancers. You don’t have to stay all night, it can be really fun for half an hour.”
Strip clubs are for stripping
“We deal with so much coercion from customers to do full service,” says Katara. “We simply don’t do that.”
Look, don’t touch
“She doesn’t want to be touched. You can get in a lot of trouble for doing that, you will probably get kicked out,” says Anna. This also applies to private and lap dances, and it’s the same for everyone. Instead of touching without consent, sit back and let the professionals do their job. “Let her take you for the ride that you paid for,” says Anna. “If you keep interrupting that, it’s just going to be kind of shit, because you’re not letting them entertain you.”
When Katara has customers that have tried to push boundaries in the past, she says it makes the job a lot harder. “You spend your whole time on edge, you spend your time clenching your body, because you’re afraid that they’re just gonna randomly grab or insert themselves somewhere in you. And you’re like, this could very quickly become assault, or rape. A lot of the time, we have to not think about those words in our heads.”
“It’s a basic one, but, for real, sometimes I’m mindboggled,” says Kyah. “It’s real easy – anyone should be able to have a shower before you go, and come fresh. I would put in the effort.”
Kyah says it is easy to tell who is entering the space with intention. “You’re gonna feel that they have a lot more appreciation for you and the space, and it’s just a nicer energy,” she says. “Sometimes people go into strip clubs, and they’re, like, ‘all the girls look like, depressed or something.’ It’s because literally all the customers are just talking to each other, or just not really there to actually watch and be in the presence of beautiful, powerful, sexy, people.”
Anna, who has had the misfortune of performing while people ignore her and make out with their boyfriend or girlfriend instead, says “prioritise, and realise the performance isn’t about you – it’s about the stripper.” She also prefers that people don’t yell and shout and act boisterous while she is performing, and doesn’t need other women to shout “you go girl!”
“We’re here to have a fun, surreal time, you know?” says Anna. “I think Kiwis demand authenticity from people at all times, and it can be quite exhausting. I wish they’d relax when someone’s playing a role.” Strip clubs are slices of fantasy so, if a stripper tells you her name, don’t ask what her ‘real’ name is. “It’s just unnecessary and rude,” says Kyah. “We have stripping names for privacy and safety. And it’s also cool and fun.”
Melody adds that understanding and respecting those boundaries are essential. “No, I’m not giving you my number. No, I’m not going to get a drink with you next week.”
Have proper conversations
“If you’re gonna go to a club, a girl is going to come talk to you,” says Anna. “Treat them like a pretty girl that you have a crush on. Ask them what their hobbies are, what their star sign is. Ask them how their night is going.” But don’t fret too much, because “most strippers will be coming over to you with a plan – they’re not just gonna sit there like a fucking ning-nong.”
Essentially, that plan is to sell you something – a lap dance, private dance, spa booking, or wherever else is on offer. “Be direct and honest,” says Anna. “If you’re not interested in lap dance, you can just say, ‘you’re welcome to sit and talk to me, but I’m not gonna go for a dance,’” says Anna. “That way, the stripper won’t waste their time on you if they need to hustle.”
Also remember to make eye contact and actually engage in proper conversation. Katara recalls some instances where customers “talk to you like you’re a wall” instead of a human. “Your eyes aren’t looked into a lot of the time. And you can tell that people aren’t listening to what you’re saying,” she says. “We’re not considered people.” Don’t do that.
Put the phone away
In the three years Melody’s been stripping, people taking videos on their phones has become more common. It can sometimes happen three times a night – “suddenly you hear a girl screaming across the club, and you know exactly what she’s saying. She’s seen someone with their phone out.”
Club rules on phones are inconsistent, but none allow recording of the dancers. If you need to get your phone out, it can always be done in the reception area or outside. If it is allowed inside, Melody suggests keeping it down flat on a surface, so that the camera lens is covered.
Be a role model
“If you see a customer that has been disrespectful or not tipping, be the person that helps show the other customers how it’s done,” says Vixen. “A lot of strippers get fined if they tell customers off for being disrespectful. So if you want to go in there and impress the strippers, then stick up for us.”
Support stripper’s labour rights
Both Vixen and Melody are members of Fired Up Stilettos, which formed after 19 dancers were told, via Facebook post, to “come and collect their stuff” by Calendar Girls in Wellington. Their transgression? Sending a collective email asking to negotiate a recent change to the percentage of their tips the club was taking. The group have taken their cause all the way to the Beehive, and have a parliamentary petition closing on Sunday. You can sign it here, and begin your journey to being a good strip club guest right now!