If I’ve ever danced in a club I didn’t expect to see on CNN.com, it’s Whispers in Williston, North Dakota. But here it is, with some pretty amazing claims about the money to be made there. $1500 on a slow night? Damn!
Williston has been a solid stop for traveling strippers for years. But these claims are pretty grand! I know some good hustlers, and I think the best night any of them reported from here was $1200 (which is great, especially in a club with no champagne room and where you keep $15/dance). I don’t doubt there are dancers who have made more, but to claim that $1500 is slow rather than exceptional is like being one of those dancers who says she averages $1000 on weekend nights when really she made that much one time and the rest of the time says it’s just “never this slow.” The reality of these easy money clubs in the middle of nowhere is, sometimes, a lot closer to what one of my favorite stripper bloggers experienced in South Dakota last week.
Williston is remote, expensive to get to, and a tough place to find lodging, so you know that strippers wouldn’t go there without reason. It’s also one of the most colorful* places I’ve ever worked. At some point during each booking I would think “I’m never coming back here again and I am questioning all the life choices that brought me here” and “I am going to try to come back here every two months for the rest of the year,” sometimes simultaneously.
There’s a couple of things this story made me think about. For one, why is the money strippers make such a fascinating topic? This wasn’t the only story I saw this week about it; Susannah Breslin actually has a post up on her Forbes blog called “How Much Do Strippers Make?” The information she links to (mostly elicited by this post on our contributor Story’s blog) provides more context for the individuals if not the economy of their area, which is the single biggest predictor of average earnings. People love to talk to us at work about how much we make, which is tough for an Episcopalian-raised WASP such as myself. I’d much, much sooner talk about my sexual perversions, as Story put it. And yet “How much do you make?” is right up there with “What’s your real name?” and “Are you in school” as one of the most frequent customer questions.
Dancers also tend to exaggerate their earnings. It’s pretty common to hear inflated numbers in the dressing room. So we have two groups who both have a tendency to overestimate/overstate the actual money earned by strippers. This is partly because there’s an investment in thinking that the inherently distasteful act of removing one’s clothing for a roomful of strangers is mitigated only by ridiculous amounts of cash. The truth is not so dramatic: Many of us do the job for merely reasonable money that just happens to come in a bit faster than in other types of work and enables us to work a whole lot less.
So, is this kind of talk good for the strippers or bad for the strippers? I think the biggest danger is 1) the club gets saturated and earnings go downhill for all but this particular club has been hard to book into for years and 2) the IRS uses information like this as a jumping-off point to audit some strippers. The credulity of CNN and other news outlets willing to report totally unsubstantiated numbers is amusing until someone who can actually fuck with your money starts believing what they hear.
I do find it interesting that they didn’t mention that the second strip club (named in the story but not shown in the video) opened up literally next door to Whispers last year because the stripper demand in Williston is so high. You’d think that would be relevant information. Also, CNN is a little late to the Bakken Formation boomtown story. I ran into a photographer working on a story for GOOD at Whispers all the way back in 2008.
*Here’s my favorite Williston anecdote, reported by a friend who’d just been there: “I was sitting at the bar, and it was right at the beginning of the shift. These two guys are up there talking about their dogs:
‘Ya know, you just have to show your dog you’re the alpha of the pack.’ ‘You mean like that Dog Whisperer?’ ‘Yeah, but lemme tell you how I did it. I came home and that little sucker pissed all over the kitchen floor, so I showed him what was up. I pulled my dick out and I pissed all over HIM. That’s how you show them.’
I couldn’t even talk.”