For a city known for its strip clubs, it’s almost surprising that Portland didn’t have a cohesive red carpet-style industry awards show before last year. The PDX Strippies are the brainchild of LA (by way of Portland) occasional stripper/current burlesque lady, Hezzy Tayte, and Portland stripper and “one-woman production company” (not to mention Tits and Sass contributor), Rocket. Rocket happens to be one of the busiest and nicest people I know.
With a Halloween variety show that she single-handedly organized out of the way, we were able to sit down together at our favorite secret brunch spot. Over homemade pie and surrounded by octogenarians, we talked about what goes into putting on a stripper awards show. The first Strippies, held last December, had a slightly experimental DIY vibe. This year I can tell she really means business. No more portable stripper poles!
What did you learn from last year and what’s going to be different this year?
We sold out at last year’s venue. We had people waiting at the door. It was at capacity. I think about 750 people can fit into that place. Another thing I learned, well, I didn’t know if people would take it seriously or think it was silly or a joke. I’ve learned that people have taken it really seriously because a lot of people in Portland consider exotic dancing to be almost like, an art form. And Portland loves its strippers, and so I got a really positive response from that. People who were like, “I’m really glad you’re doing this show ‘cause I feel like there’s a lot of talent in Portland that’s just not recognized because a lot of times people don’t take strippers in general seriously.” In Portland they deserve to be because they put on actual show. They don’t just walk around. They dance. They do pole tricks. So, that was really cool. That gave me more of a push to go bigger and better this year.
How’d you decide on the categories?
Hezzy and I sat down and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t cover bases that were already covered with things that are already done in Portland. For example, we don’t have best pole dancer because there is a big competition that centers around that every year already. We also wanted to include other areas of the strip club industry, not just dancers. So we have best bartender, best bouncer, best strip club DJ, so that all those people could be honored too, in part because the dancers can vote for those people as well. So it’s a reward for someone doing their job well. We just kinda wanted to cover a little bit of everything. For example, we have Miss Congeniality. That’s not a physicality-based award. That’s more about your personality than anything else. We have best stage performance. It’s not necessarily like, best ass, best boobs. Most sensual is another one.
Is best face the only body part category?
We have Best Physique, Best Hair, and Most Beautiful Face.
I noticed you added a male category this year. Are you trying to be more inclusive?
I’m trying to be more inclusive, but also, I had never really been out to the strip clubs that had males at them…
…until this past year. I realized—I think there’s at least three. That part [of Portland] is really growing, not super fast, but it’s growing so there’s more and more male dancers. And I had seen some of them and I was like, “Wow these guys are really talented.” I went to Silverado and there was this guy doing handstands and flexing and doing all these like, break dancing moves in a thong. He was really ama—he was really talented. It was really cool. I was like, “They deserve their own award.” I feel like they’re not recognized enough. I wanted to make sure that was covered.
How do you decide who’s going to perform at The Strippies? Are you only having winners from last year perform?
No, not necessarily just winners. Those were obviously the first people that I asked. We’re still working on the lineup. [...] I also like to hear feedback from customers. I’ve had a lot of customers come in and ask me about The Strippies and they kinda give me feedback. Like, one person that I’ve been hearing a lot about is um, she calls herself Soren High. She’s a tiny little girl, she’s really athletic, she’s really good on the pole and she then she also has an LED light-up hula hoop and she’s gotten a lot of attention just over the past year since she started dancing. I’ve had numerous customers ask me, “Is she performing at The Strippies?” I booked her because there’s so much public interest in her that I feel like she’ll bring a lot of people into the door ‘cause they want to see her perform.
Yeah, I’d like to see that.
I feel like if you hear a lot about somebody, that they’re obviously working hard to make a name for themselves and I want to give them the opportunity to perform in front of a larger crowd. We did that last year with a fire dancer named Lark. […] Most of the performers are people who won last year. And of course, I didn’t win last year, but I really like performing so I’m in the show, too. [laughs]
Oh yeah, are you still ineligible this year?
I kinda felt like there was a conflict of interest last year because we actually counted the votes ourselves. It was voting done by email and we were counting the votes. […] I don’t want anybody to doubt that it’s a legitimate thing where we’re actually counting votes and tallying them up for the winners. I wanna make sure that people realize that this is an honest thing and it’s real and it’s not rigged, so we took ourselves out of the running.
This year we have a sponsor that built the website for us and a computer is counting the votes. They’re going to be verified by a third party. It’s not us counting the votes and I felt like it were more fair if we were in the running. That said, Hezzy doesn’t live here so she’s not really in the running. You have to be somebody that lives and works in Portland regularly.
So if someone lives in Washington State, but works in Portland, is she eligible?
Basically, you just have to be working regularly at a Portland club. For example, at Union Jack’s we have girls that rent a room in Portland, and they’ll come stay in Portland three days a week and work in Portland three nights a week and then they go home to Seattle. Which is a new thing, because a lot of Seattle clubs have shut down. So yeah, they’re technically eligible.
Why did you choose the unlimited daily voting thing instead of one vote per IP address?
Because I felt like it would be a way to get people more excited about the show if they could vote every day. You won’t know who’s in the lead, there’s no leader board that pops up when you vote because there’s lots of things you’re voting for on the voting page. You do it once a day, and then on the 24th it officially shuts down. We’re going to have a couple days to go through the votes and tally everything up. Then we’re gonna announce the top four finalists in each category online on November 28th. So that you have time between the 28th and the 5th to make arrangements if ladies need to get that night off if they’re a nominee.
I just felt like it would get people more involved. It would get people more excited about it if they could vote every day. It’s also a promotional angle, you know, if they’re constantly being reminded about the show, then they’re going to look forward to it more.
What steps have you taken to be impartial and not affiliated with any clubs?
The venue is the Bossanova Ballroom which is not owned by anybody that owns a strip club. It’s not affiliated with the strip club industry at all. I decided to go there, just because it’s a huge venue. It holds over 800 people. It was a really big awesome stage and they built a pole especially for us. I think it’s a great place to have a show. […] We don’t accept any sponsors that are individual strip clubs, so there’s no bias there. That’s part of the reason that we did—actually the entire reason that we started the show in the first place. Hezzy and I weren’t really jazzed that a lot of quote unquote stripper competitions in town, you know, you can purchase votes.* That doesn’t mean that everybody can come see the show and everybody can have their preferred performer win. If you don’t have money to spend on votes, then the person you want to win can’t necessarily win. They base it partially on audience applause too, but we wanted to make it so that everybody could vote and that everybody had a fair shot and that it wasn’t how many votes were bought for you.
Are you going to have a ballot of finalists at the show?
We’re not doing that this year. We’re gonna probably have the nominees perform or at least come up and say a few words for Stripper of the Year which is the biggest prize. There’s no voting that’s actually going to be taking place at the event. What we’re going to have our third party counter do is tally up the votes and we won’t even know who the winners are until we open the envelope on stage. Like, even the hosts aren’t gonna know.
That’s kind of exciting. That’s like people who give birth without knowing the gender.
It is really exciting. They’re going to give us the top four so that we can post them and those people can come to the show, but we’re not going to know the winner until we open up the envelope ourselves so that’s pretty cool. [laughs]
What are your long term plans for the show?
I’m doing it every year. Even when I’m not dancing anymore, I will still run this show. I will still have something to do with it even if I’m just back stage kinda running the behind the scenes thing. I know Hezzy, eventhough she lives in LA, loves Portland so much and is here a lot and was part of the dancing industry for so long that we both have a personal interest in it. I know that I will, in some way, always, probably for my entire life, be involved in the entertainment industry in Portland putting on shows whether they’re strip club-oriented or not. I would love to stay involved in the industry even after I retire from being a dancer myself. I feel like Hezzy and I both have a very vested interest in keeping it running. And Hezzy owns the rights to it, so…
Is it trademarked? How does that work?
It is copyrighted. Hezzy has the copyrights to that. We basically have our own business contract with each other and we’re partners in it. A show this big is really hard to do solo. Both of us knew that we couldn’t run it on our own. She’s a great business partner. She’s got a lot of the great ideas behind it and then I’ve got the workaholic attitude to make sure that everything gets carried out to fruition, so we work really well together.
Have you experienced any backlash from club owners or other people in the industry?
I didn’t receive backlash. A couple people that will remain unnamed kind of made comments like, “Oh, I didn’t think you could pull it off” or like, “I was surprised it did so well.” And I was like, “Oh, well thanks for the vote of confidence. We’re going to do this every year. And it’s going to get huge. In your face.” I wanted to make sure that it was something that was done by the strippers, so.
Obviously it’s competitive, but I think it’s more about fun than anything else, right?
More than anything, Hezzy and I wanted to make it something that was celebratory of the industry. A lot of the times, the people that are making the most money off of the dancers don’t really treat them that well, just to touch on the politics of the industry. In a lot of ways, the dancers are little bit exploited. They’re not treated as fairly as they should be. And even beyond that, just in the general public, for a long time there’s been a stereotype of the way dancers are and I don’t think that that’s fair. This show is more geared towards honoring the industry and recognizing people that are actually talented and that take their work seriously and that do a good job. It’s focusing on the positive aspects of the industry in a big night of fun. […] You’re going to see some of the best performers in town for twelve bucks. And their boobs.
*That’s something I mentioned here.
The Second Annual PDX Strippies are December 5th at the Bossnova Ballroom. There will be a raffle at the show to benefit Swaay and Planned Parenthood. Go to pdxstrippies.com to start voting today. For more from Rocket’s production company (including the David Lynch-inspired burlesque night, Black Lodge Burlesque), check out the Go Go Rocket Productions facebook page.