Waterfalls and Lace
As an extended part of this project, Escudero became interested in delving further into the motel’s surroundings. Through a local contact, she met an exotic dancer of Eastern European descent working in a club near the hotel. The following dialogue is the result of a series of conversations between Escudero and the dancer in which they explore her line of work, how she ended up in this particular location, and her personal beliefs, opinions, and aspirations for the future.
What was it like the first time you danced?
I remember feeling very curious and fascinated. I didn’t know what a lap dance was at the time and for the first one I ever did, I just stood in front of the guy and danced. I didn’t know girls sit on guys for that. He chuckled and gave me 20 dollars and left. All the other girls were watching me and laughing at me. I laughed too! I was clueless!
Do you usually drink when you dance?
Rarely. I can’t talk for everyone. I know some girls choose to drink because they need to numb out.
I’m guessing drinking must help if you are shy and have to be on stage.
Correct. Another part is that you are in a place where the men are drinking. You are exposing yourself sexually in a way and exposing yourself to objectification. You are in a way selling yourself and that’s a vulnerable state to be in. So the combination of an environment that suggests that you drink plus the layers of darkness and sexuality make women resort to drinking. To get into the zone, to embrace the darkness and make the best of our time spent there. And just to point out, it’s only dark if you choose to see it dark. I see positive sides to this industry and also I take care of myself, that’s why I don’t need to drink.
Why did you decide to take this job?
I needed some money and a friend of mine was staying at my house for two weeks and she was dancing. It was the beginning of 2010 and on Christmas night she brought home a trash bag full of money.
That must have been so tempting!!!!
I was like, “you know what, let me give it a try!” It’s interesting to observe it from an economic point of view. I danced in 2011 and then I stopped for a couple of years. I came back to dancing in 2015. The men definitely spend less money than they used to. You talk to women that have been dancers for a long time and they say that back in the days you could buy a house with the money. Now it’s less money and it’s harder work. You have to hustle harder and work more.
I started dancing when I was 19. After 8 months of dancing my parents decided to check up on me. I told them I was working as a cocktail waitress. My Dad had given me permission to work in the club with the condition that I give him the address. So, 8 months later, my Dad and my Stepmom crashed my party. I went up to them and said: “Parents, execute me tomorrow. Just go home and sleep on it and we will talk tomorrow.”
So you stopped dancing and returned. Do they know now?
I told my mom and dad a week ago. I was building up the courage to tell them for a whole week and when I did, to my surprise, both of them had a liberal response. They both said they understand that I am doing my best to support myself even though they wish I did it another way. I felt that they trusted that I have a head on my shoulders and know what I’m doing.
Do you feel judged by other women?
By who? I have a feeling right away. I have done a bunch of other jobs. I tell them whatever they want to hear. There is a gut feeling of who I can share this information with and who will not understand and judge. But no, I never had anyone judge me.
Do you have regular people that come every day? Do you have to be nice to them?
Yes, of course, the regulars keep the thing happening. There are some guys you never see again, and some you see and you’re like, “this guy is definitely going to go for a lap dance, going to tip me—or at least there is a high chance.” The thing is, though, it’s never like 100 percent.
Why would you not get a tip?
Sometimes if they come in with another girl, or have a different taste in girls they will not spend money on you. Actually, the job isn’t called a “dancer,” it’s called an “entertainer.”
So whatever an entertainer does, you do. You have to smile, you have to be nice, even if people are not very nice to you. At least that’s what I try to do.
Have there ever been any clients that you felt frightened by?
Sure, but never anyone really bad.
Is there usually security?
Some clubs hire bouncers on what they think will be a busy day. Some don’t bother. I have worked in clubs with metal detectors. Usually, I didn’t stick around for too long. I have worked in about 5 clubs in the whole time of my “experimental” dancing career. Each place has a different vibe, customers and dancers. They also have different, “ethics” of how customers treat girls. There is the dynamic of girls with customers and of girls with girls.
I drove past a fully naked one in New Jersey once.
Yeah, there are all sorts: topless, fully nude, and bikini. Some girls say it’s safer to work in topless because there is more security there and they are really strict about not touching. The clubs that I work in have less security, so even though I don’t show my breasts I have to put up boundaries and really be strict. There is so much to talk about, that is why I want to write a book about it!
Can you talk more about feeling like a nurse?
[Laughter] I sometimes feel like guys that come there are looking for someone to talk too one on one and girls are the healers/nurses that take care of them. They feel revived after interacting with beautiful women.
Do dancers have relationships with their clients or is this strictly prohibited?
I’m sure that happens. I personally have had relationships with my clients. I’ve dated people that I met there.
Were they regulars?
The guy I dated was not a regular, he came in there once, his friend dragged him in and he wasn’t supposed to be there. It was a nice couple of months, dating him. There was another guy who was a soldier. We hung out a couple of times and he was like, “Hey do you want to come see my base in Tennessee?”
Did this soldier go to war?
I don’t think so. I think he worked in the office.
How much money do you make?
Well, a shift is about six to seven hours, and I go in to work three times a week. I make about $300 a week but it always varies, so sometimes I will make $400 in a day and other days I make $150. $1 is a common tip. $20 is a lot, that means someone is trying to get your attention. Some girls make $500 or more, but they have to work hard, text their customers and hang out with them outside of the club. I dance 10-20 minutes every hour for 6-7 hours.
Where do you put the tips? Do the clubs take money out of your tips?
Girls walk around with purses, I keep my phone, gum, and lipstick there too. The club makes most of its money from alcohol. Our club serves food too. Girls do pay a house fee but as far as I know it covers the payroll for club employees (managers, cook, bouncers).
Do you have mixed emotions about your work?
There is a part of me that is really shy about talking about it, that judges myself. I sometimes wonder why I didn’t become a scientist. I got into some financial problems, so it was slightly out of my control because I needed the money. Thank god my first degree was covered by financial aid.
What did you study? How has your degree helped with this job?
I studied psychology. I feel I’ve learned more applied psychology from this job than from school. What you think you want to do at 20 is not always what you end up doing later. Such is my case. Now I am pursuing a degree in film production and feel much happier about this choice.
I have noticed a common stereotype about women working in your industry, that they are victims and are always managed by men that take their money. Can you speak more about this?
Everyone has their own path, but it is not true for dancers and I have never given anyone my money. When I started out there was a guy that would drive me and 20 other girls a week to the club, and he would charge $60. Now I have a better system and I can take public transportation.
Are there any memorable clients? Or stories you heard from other girls?
There are so many. For example, there was an elderly man who came in and called me over and his first question was how much money I make in one shift. He said he liked me because I’m not a shark. As it turned out he knew a lot about this industry and what kind of money girls make. He offered for me to stop working, to move to Jersey, start going to school, and get a monthly allowance in exchange for becoming his girlfriend. I knew it wasn’t an option but wanted him to come back so I said I would think about it. He came back to see me twice before he announced that I had to give him a final answer. After I declined, as a final goodbye he said I could ask for anything I wanted. I decided I really had nothing to lose, so I asked him for $1000. He handed me over ten hundred dollar bills and left. I never saw him again.
Another time a guy came up to me, looked at my nails and said: “Sorry, I don’t like you, your nails are not done”. Some guys come with their own agendas.
Do you feel that technology has affected your job?
There are two sides to technology’s influence on the exotic dancer’s profession. On the one hand, men are now spoiled because so much erotic content is available online as well as camgirl websites that make the experience more real. On the other hand, there is a real human being with her own unique beauty, odor, choice of style and makeup, her own skin texture, body curvature, but most importantly, her responsiveness to a man and the possibility of building a relationship, the two of them experiencing chemistry. I believe that the human-to-human contact beats any virtual reality, and men end up appreciating that aspect of interaction with the dancers more than being one-on-one with a computer.
Have customers tried to film you dancing?
Very rarely. It’s usually not permitted. Surprisingly, women will be caught more frequently trying to sneak a video or picture.
Are lap dances usually private?
In some clubs, the lap-dance rooms are like booths and they are dark so you can do whatever you want. In the place where I work now, there is see-through curtain so you can see everything. That’s one of the reasons I like working there.