Rachel Aimee

Rachel Aimee

Rachel Aimee is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She co-founded $pread Magazine, where she worked as editor-in-chief for four and a half years. She was a stripper for many years and continues to organize for strippers’ rights via the outreach project We Are Dancers. Find more of her work at rachelaimee.com.


image from License to Pimp Kickstarter

What would you do if the strip club you worked at became a brothel? That’s the question Hima B. asks in License to Pimp, the feature documentary she is currently raising funds to complete. The controversial premise is that, by charging house fees, strip club are essentially pimping out the dancers, leaving them little choice but to become prostitutes in order to pay the house and make some money for themselves. License to Pimp follows the stories of three San Francisco dancers as they negotiate the changes in their workplaces and respond in three very different ways. 

I was excited to hear about Hima’s film, but I also had some tough questions for her. Although she and I have many things in common—we’re both former strippers who share a hatred of house fees, and we’ve both been fired from clubs for trying to fight labor violations—we haven’t always seen eye to eye. So I figured it was time we sat down and had a proper conversation.

I agree with you that house fees add a huge economic incentive for dancers to turn to prostitution, but there has always been an overlap between stripping and prostitution. The premise that house fees “turned strip clubs into brothels” doesn’t take into account the dancers who would be working as prostitutes anyway. I also think the idea that dancers shouldn’t be “doing extras” in strip clubs is unrealistic, and it prioritizes the needs of the more privileged women in the industry—those who can afford not to turn to prostitution.

I think we disagree on that matter. I started working in 1992, and for the first three years you’d hear about dancers who were prostitutes, but they would leave with the customers instead of having sex in the club. Then the stage fees started going up. At first it was pretty gradual—the fees went from $5 to $25 over about five months. It went from being fully clothed lap dancing where they can’t touch your boobs to, OK, they can touch your boobs, to, now you can get fully naked. And then the stage fees spiked. I distinctly remember it went from $25 to $200 in one day at the Market Street Cinema, and when that happened it was no longer about lap dances. It became survival of the fittest. [READ MORE]

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Jennifer Hayashi Danns says she wrote Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing “to give a voice to women who have direct experience of lap dancing but are often unheard, and to peel away some of the gloss surrounding this industry”—a laudable goal in an age in which pole-dancing classes are offered at every gym but the exploitative aspects of the strip club industry go largely unexamined in the media.

Danns is herself a former lap dancer and the first section of the book, “Experiences,” includes a series of personal stories by dancers, all of which speak complex truths about working in the industry. Most of the contributing dancers started stripping because it was the only way they could pay for college, and their stories chart familiar trajectories: starting out clueless, learning to make decent money, getting burnt out due to exploitative management, poor security, competitive new girls, and/or pressure to push boundaries, starting afresh at a new club, etc. Most look back on their stripping careers with mixed feelings, appreciating the financial benefits and maybe the friendships, regretting much of the rest. Some of them reflect that in hindsight they could’ve—should’ve—avoided the industry and gotten through college by taking on more debt or living more humbly—a tough choice that many people face on a daily basis. [READ MORE]

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