This article by Dottie Dynamo first appeared on Fit Showgirl.
Time and time again, I get asked, “How did you get into burlesque?” No one ever asks, “How did you get into stripping?” The assumption seems to be that women don’t decide to get into stripping, the same way they do burlesque. Clearly, no woman would choose to work in a strip club without some sort of external pressure, like finances, drugs or an over-bearing man in her life. With these assumptions come a lot of myths and stereotypes about stripping, burlesque and the types of women who choose them.
Well, I have a few confessions and the first one is that I love being both a burlesque dancer and a stripper.
[clickToTweet tweet=”People ask “How did you get into burlesque?” No one ever asks, “How did you get into stripping?”” quote=”People ask, “How did you get into burlesque?” No one ever asks, “How did you get into stripping?””]
How I went from Cardigans and Dress Pants to G-strings and Glitter
I discovered burlesque shortly after getting out of an emotionally and at times physically abusive relationship. After seeing burlesque live for the first time at Duane Park in NYC, I knew instantly this is what had been missing from my life. This was an environment that would allow me to be the woman I was shamed for being in my last relationship, an overtly sexual woman.
Immediately I went online and found The New York School of Burlesque. After a few classes, Dottie Dynamo was born. I juggled the day job/night gig lifestyle for two and a half years before I started working in a strip club.
I got into stripping for the sheer fun and freedom that came with it. On the occasional Friday night a handful of friends and I would go to Pumps Bar and I fell in love with everything about the place. The girls take their stage tips between their breasts and I remember thinking to myself, I want to do that.
A year later I auditioned and started working the Saturday day shift while maintaining my nine-to-five Monday through Friday. I was a year into juggling my day job, burlesque and stripping when I reached my boiling point of misery at my day job and quit. I knew I could pick up extra shifts at the club while I figured things out.
It has been three years now and I have been stripping full-time for two. Time has gone by faster than I ever expected. While I don’t intend to strip forever, I am happier and have the freedom to travel for burlesque in a way that wasn’t possible with a day job.
I have no and I mean absolutely zero dance background
There seems to be a misconception that burlesque dancers have some formal dance or theatre training. While quite a few people come from a dance background it is in no way a requirement. I couldn’t tell you what first position in ballet is and counting out my choreography is downright laughable most of the time. Being confident and captivating is more important on stage than years of dance training.
Burlesque and stripping is not as glamorous as the photos
All those glittery, glamorous photos you see on Facebook and Instagram, that is the shiny side of the coin. Backstage, that is where the real glamour is. That is, of course, if you consider a tiny bathroom, a liquor closet or maybe even a cramped corridor off the kitchen as a glamorous place to get ready. There is no air conditioning in the “dressing room” in the summer and no heat in the winter. I hope you brought warm socks and a parka!
Let’s not forget the schlep. Life as a performer in New York means also being a pack mule and lugging heavy bags all over the city. Oh, and I hope you don’t have an aversion to peeing in front of your friends and fellow cast members. We are already in the bathroom, after all.
Pole tricks? You mean those 4 spins I can do?
Before I quit my day job I was taking a few pole classes. I wanted to be able to do all those impressive pole tricks. Well, like not needing a dance background for burlesque, it is not vital to be able to do pole tricks to be a stripper.
What a relief because extensive pole tricks were out of the picture for me because of my herniated cervical disc. There are plenty of women I work with who float like angels in the air when doing pole tricks. It is mesmerizing to watch and customers will cheer and throw money in awe of their sheer skill.
Over three years working in a club, I have learned that like performing burlesque, the most important thing I can do is make eye contact. Engaging your audience, be it a theatre full of people or the one guy at the end of the bar does more than any pole trick.
I get to travel the world and meet amazing people
Having a day job severely limited my ability to travel to perform in Burlesque Festivals and I wanted so badly to be a traveling showgirl. When I finally quit and started working more at the club I realized it opened up so many freedoms. I could make my own schedule and taking off work whenever I wanted.
Now I’m able to apply to and attend festivals from New Mexico to Amsterdam and everywhere in between. I can take off for a week to go to Vegas every June for The Burlesque Hall of Fame and spend time with the legends — the women who paved the way for me to do exactly what I do, be a stripper. I’m able to reunite with and continue to grow my glitter tribe — the crazy cast of naked individuals I call family.
I make so much money! – HA
Oh man, do I love the misconception that I am loaded and never worry about money. Admittedly I work at the club three days a week, perform 5-10 shows a month and survive. While I may work fewer days a week, I have to make more money in a month than I did with my day job to have a similar style of living.
Strippers making thousands of dollars a night is a thing of the past. The reality these days is an average of $250 on a weeknight and $400-$600 on the weekend. Stripping is a game of averages. I can’t vouch for every stripper in every club in every city as I’ve only ever worked at one place, but over three years the numbers haven’t changed that much.
The majority of burlesque gigs I do pay a base rate of $40-$70 plus tips. I know! It’s so profitable! Cash income may have perks but being paid under the table can also be more costly in the long run. I pay more for my Obama Care a month than I did health insurance through my day job. No company is matching the amount I put into my IRA. Yes, I have an IRA.
Let us not forget about self-employment taxes. Yes, I also pay taxes. Plenty of strippers don’t but I would rather pay my $1,400 quarterly than whatever the IRS seems fitting when they track me down in ten years. Oh and no, I don’t get a tax return. Yes, I could work more days and not have weeks where I’m flat broke but I rarely see my friends and boyfriend as it is and a social life outside of work is vital.
I don’t have any Daddy Issues!
Are you ready for this confession? I have a great relationship with my father! Always have. This stereotype is one that never seems to fade — that women choose sex work because they are seeking some sort of validation from men they never got from their father.
I am not going to say this never happens, because, for some women it might be true. But not for all of us. In fact, it is insulting to those of us who did have well-adjusted childhoods with loving parents and choose stripping as a job.
So no, I don’t fit your stereotype. I am a smart, college educated woman who recognizes my body and sexuality are a power and a beauty that I can get paid to express. So take your daddy issues and shove them.
Stripping is hard work
“Stripping isn’t like a real job, you just hang out and drink all night.”
Yes, drink tickets and customers buying you drinks are a perk of working in bars but that doesn’t make my job easy. While burlesque is a bit easier on the night of a performance there are months of rehearsals and costuming that go into an act before ever hitting the stage.
Stripping involves a lot more emotional labor. Being a sex worker is a lot like being a therapist, only you wear less clothing.
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My typical night at work involves being — albeit a lot of time faking –perky, fun and interested in what the customer has to say. Once I walk through those doors no one cares if I had a crappy day or if I am in an off mood. Men and the occasional woman come to forget about their lives, they come for the fun and the fantasy.
My job is to be sociable, entertaining and to deliver that fantasy. Not only is my body tired after seven hours of walking and dancing in seven-inch platform heels, I am mentally exhausted.
I love my job
Sure it has its ups and downs, every job does but I don’t think it is much of a confession at all that I love my job. Stepping off stage after an act and having people tell me I inspire them and what I do is amazing — I am so grateful for that.
The club I work at is quite possibly the best job I have ever had, with the best group of bosses and coworkers. I love being an entertainer. I love the empowering feeling of invoking my rights as a woman to be a sexual creature. I love the fellow strippers, ecdysiasts, and performers I call friends.
Whether I am on a stage or not, I am a stripper. It is who I have always been and burlesque enabled me to fully embrace it. Plus no more waking up at seven am to begrudgingly go to an office job I hate and people I don’t fit in with.
Nightlife people are my people.
Written by International Burlesque Performer and Exotic Dancer, Dottie Dynamo who does her best to live the hustle life as fit and focused as possible. She is studying to receive her fitness certification while balancing multiple jobs, little sleep, lots of tequila and numerous food issues.