This is one of three responses to Josephine’s “An Open Letter to the Extras Girl” that we’ll be running this week. First up is M, a dancer who, like Josephine, works in Detroit.
On a sweltering August afternoon in 2012, I walked through the impossibly heavy glass doors of the glitziest strip club in Detroit. I had done copious amounts of research on the strip clubs in the area, spending nearly a month scouring reviews online and taking trips to clubs in the area. This particular club was the shiniest and it was filled with executives, physicians and lawyers. Promises of riches sparkled like the strobe lights overhead. Even though I had never stripped before, I forged ahead, fearless. Go big or go home, that was my motto.
Looking back, I was somewhat naïve. I had no particular urgency to my sales pitch. I was simultaneously working my “normal” job and stripping. It wasn’t as though I couldn’t pay my bills. So I started with the thought that I would only dance, no extras whatsoever. Perhaps I was conceited enough to think that my pretty face, tight body, and educated mind would be enough to make me money. Unfortunately that notion was completely false.
That day, I shed my clothes in favor of a sparkling bikini and knee length skirt. I painted my lips crimson and set out with false courage. I’ll never forget the words of the man who was to become my first regular. “You’re a goldfish in a sea of barracudas, aren’t you?” Initially I thought he was trying to tell me I was too kind. However, over the next few weeks, I came to know he meant something entirely different.
I was discouraged and not making much money. I had men left and right asking me for things that I told myself I’d never do. I don’t think I was morally against doing extras, I just felt that I didn’t want to expose myself to the risk. Beaten down and frustrated, I started to contemplate dabbling in extras. First, it started with blowjobs. Our dances start at $25 per song. A customer offered me $200 for a blowjob. There is no question as to the economic efficiency of this. I would have to dance for half an hour to make the same amount. Of course, once you have a foot in the water, it’s hard to resist jumping in. Sex came soon after.
It was understood that almost every dancer did some form of extra and what we did wasn’t particularly discussed amongst one another. However, when in the VIP, we’d take our stilettos off and place them outside the curtain to signal the bouncer to stay clear. You could clearly see the VIP section when walking toward the dressing room, so one could infer what services a dancer offered based on how often her shoes were sitting outside that curtain.
Prices varied and each stripper kept her prices secret. Some girls could get away with charging $400 for sex but others could only get $200 or so. The closer toward tip-out time, the lower some women’s prices would get. Our tip-out is $125 per shift and sometimes dancers would be scrambling to pay the fees. Those of us who make top tier prices would get pissed if we found out another dancer was charging much less. This had the possibility of deflating our wages. Men would say “well, Dancer X will give me the same thing for a hundred dollars less” and instead of a smooth business transaction it became a heated bidding war.
There was a certain hierarchy. I make no judgments as to the beauty of an individual but the male patrons are paying for their ideal, their fantasy. This ideal would generally take the form of a young, Caucasian, blonde, curvaceous woman. So those of my ilk would command top dollar. But the end of the day, for some men, pussy is pussy. It doesn’t matter how beautiful, smart or fit you are. I don’t get angry about other women charging less; I understand some have bills to pay and children to feed. The recession has definitely changed the game and I wouldn’t fault anyone for trying to make a living.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think critically about giving everything away for nothing and the type of customer base that you might be attracting. In my experience, if a dancer cannot garner a solid base of regulars, she might as well throw in the towel. If a dancer is flitting from one customer to the next and not making conversation, only asking for a private dance, she is sending a subliminal message to the other customers. Without a single word, she is shattering the fantasy, she is exposing the gritty truth that we are only there to make money. If a customer can feel that he is special, that you hold some concern for the minutiae of his life, he will keeping coming back to spend money.
I never feel ashamed of offering extras because it doesn’t define me; it’s just one of my charms. Most of the dancers were supportive and we’d make sure everyone had condoms. Initially, I thought I’d be angry at myself for compromising my position. Soon, I felt empowered. I could just walk up to a man, chit chat with him, have a drink and make him drop hundreds of dollars for my attention in the private rooms. I found a certain type of freedom in unleashing my sexuality for financial gain. However, I have danced occasionally at other clubs in the Midwest and I do abide by their rules and abstain from extras. I personally don’t find it to be fair play to offer extras in that environment.
Now, one could say offering extras in a club that forbids such activity is just part and parcel of being a shrewd businesswoman. I, in fact, would be offering a service that others don’t which could be more profitable for me. However, rules are rules. I tend to relate it to my day job. We get thirty minutes for a lunch break. I would be extremely irritated if a co-worker decided that she was going to take an hour for lunch. She effectively robbed me of my lunch because of her selfishness. I am quite certain there are plenty of clubs across the country that are brothels masquerading as strip clubs. If a woman wants to offer extras, I think seeking out one of these clubs is the only decent thing to do.
M is a healthcare professional who started her journey into sex work in her mid-twenties by stripping in Detroit. She is now an escort and a freelance stripper.