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Taking it Off

Exotic dancing can be a grind

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The Furniture Is Here
One man came in day after day, buying her costumes until she finally told him she had a boyfriend. She adds, “There were a lot of men who came in search of somebody to sleep with. A lot of girls would go with the men. Girls can make a lot more money if they will put out. A man threw lots of dollar bills on my stage until he found out I wasn’t one of those girls.”

Freeman estimates that dancers can earn about $4,000 a month—without “extracurricular activities.” But if they put out on the side, dancers can earn at least twice their salary, and Freeman speculates about half the dancers participate in interactions beyond the club setting. “There are a lot of sex addicts out there,” she says.

A multimillionaire who owned a national sporting-goods chain offered to buy Freeman a house and car and to pay all of her living expenses if she would sleep with him on the side. “It wasn’t my thing. I do have my line in the sand. But I’m sure he found someone who said yes,” she says.

Besides being a dancer, Freeman was, in effect, an actress. “It was our job to entertain them and make them feel good about themselves as kind of an escape,” she says. “There were men whose minds weren’t right. What was actually just a show became real in their minds, and they couldn’t distinguish the role-playing from the reality.”

And while many leave the club knowing it was fantasy, others leave and won’t let it go, obsessing over and stalking dancers. One night, a man followed Freeman as she left the club, “I drove halfway home with him right on my tail.” She then turned her car around, drove back to the club and waited until he left.

There were the regulars, too. “We called them ‘the furniture.’ We’d say, ‘the furniture’s here.’ They were married and had families, but this was their separate life and they couldn’t stop. They only tipped the girls they knew would sleep with them.”

She saw plain-clothed vice cops who drank only water, didn’t give tips and enforced Utah’s exotic dance-club rules.

Andrew McCullough, an attorney and recent Libertarian candidate for Utah attorney general, has included strip clubs among his client list for many years. Some of Utah’s more unique rules, he says, are that instead of the traditional scanty g-strings, Utah dancers wear “t-backs,” where the narrowest part in back is 2 inches wide.

McCullough notes other features of Utah strip-club regulations, such as: “They require three feet of separation by a barrier. This is done by the traditional brass rail. The barrier is 3 feet high, but not solid. American Bush, one of my prime clients, does not serve alcoholic beverages, so there is no distance requirement for them.”

In clubs where Freeman worked, “You had to wear pasties, they couldn’t touch you and [they] had to [remain at least] three feet from you. There was a girl who pulled aside her g-string and flashed everyone—a big no-no.”

They Have Demand; We Supply It
Phil Henderson is the area manager of the three Southern X-posure bars in Salt Lake City. He began his career as an Ultimate Combat nightclub promoter who climbed the career ladder to become a manager. He came to Southern X-posure in search of a less-stressful environment “that was less trouble-making. The strip-club industry is actually calmer and more regulated than nightclubs, which have a shorter shelf life because of all the chaos that goes on there.”

He describes Utah strip clubs as being “PG-13 as compared to California. It is a much more regulated and down-to-earth situation.” Rules requiring that potential dancers pass a background check have made his job easier. “Women who have had drug issues or have been prostitutes can’t get a bar card [from the city business regulatory agency] and can’t work for us,” he says.

Even in the downward economy, he says their business has continued to grow. “This leads me to believe that people who are saving for their car and house payments are still wanting to drink and be entertained with adult entertainment.”

Some women in the Southern X-posure clubs have worked there 15 to 20 years, Henderson says. “This is something that you can do for an extended period of time and have a happy career if you can focus on yourself and not get involved in a ‘rock & roll’ lifestyle,” Henderson says.

He says that lifestyle might include “burning out and drinking too much or getting into drugs. But we don’t allow that—our regulations include drug and STD checks.” As Freeman herself will vouch, Henderson says there are a lot of single moms in the business. “With this economy, this is a job where you can make enough money to support your kids when you are barely out of your teens. My 18-year-olds who are right out of high school are making more money than their parents. You can set your own hours and make $200 to $400 dollars a night. You can’t make that much at Walmart.”

Dancers can work a full-time schedule if they choose. “People want to see girls Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They have the demand, and we supply it,” Henderson says. Women in his clubs have the choice of being an employee who receives a paycheck in addition to tips or an independent contractor.

Dancing Is Just Who I Am
Before her life took a downward turn, Freeman was raised LDS and danced ballet through high school and in college. A man she met at 13 later became her first husband. “He was very good looking, charming and good at getting inside your head—I fell head over heels,” she says. She adds that her ex-husband was also a heroin addict who was both physically and mentally abusive. The couple married after she became pregnant at 18. They moved to Wisconsin for the next six years. As he went through rehab “about six times,” their life filled with chaos. “He was like other abusive men,” she says, “in that you believe what they say, and they convince you it’s your fault if you leave.”

Enrolling in massage school, she found strong, supportive people who helped give her the courage to divorce her husband and get custody of her two girls. Returning to Utah, she tried to work and go to school at the same time, but it was hard on her kids. When a dance professor at the University of Utah told her not to quit, the thought of leaving tore at her. “Dancing is just who I am—it is my heart,” she says.

While it may not have been a solo with Ballet West, exotic dancing did give Freeman the outlet she needed. She originally began dancing in January 1999 and worked for eight months. She took it up again for another six months in 2004.

When she started, she got icy stares from the other dancers. “Their hackles will go up on other women right out of the gate, and they hate each other,” Freeman says.

She approached another dancer whose skills she admired, saying, “Hey, I’m going to start here, and you dance so well, can you tell me how to do stuff?” She still remembers the other woman’s dismissive look. She later learned that “when a pretty lady walks up to your stage, it’s either because you’ve been with her boyfriend and she’s going to kill you, or she and her boyfriend are really kinky and want you to participate.”

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