Dancing Through College: Life as an Exotic Dancer

Lap dances and pole tricks can pay for school, groceries, bills, or create financial stability before graduates are handed a diploma and shuffled into the nine to five.

By Madison Amirehteshami 

(Names are altered to protect “Jazmine’s” identity)

We all know college is expensive. From paying for books and classes to gas and parking permits, admittedly or not, many college students have probably thought of dancing for money. 

No, not dancing in the musical production of “Hamilton,” but the raw, naked, ass shaking, titty bouncing type of dancing.

Some may laugh at the thought, while others will feel an immediate rush of shame for even considering exotic dancing for financial stability. This could possibly be caused by the negative presumptions of this profession: the inconsistent pay, the sleazy customers, catty girls, late hours, and not to mention objectification. 

But is it really better than the alternative: serving burgers and fries part-time and breaking your back at the nearest fast food joint for minimum wage? No thanks.  

Is dancing really the worst option when considering the cost of higher education?

Jazmine

Jazmine, a fourth-year student at CSUF, shared her experience as a dancer at Satin Topless, a small club in the City of Industry.

Aside from the occasional young party-goers, Jazmine described her usual customers as middle-aged married men. According to Jazmine, dancers are usually not interested in their clients romantically or sexually, and are often subject to harassment. 

Men often make offers to ‘save’ her, claiming she’s ‘too pretty’ to work in a strip club, while others will press for sexual favors they call ‘extras.’ Jazmine, like most strippers, said she is not interested in either.

The Cash Flow

It’s easy to see how dancers could easily blow their cash, but according to Jazmine, a savings plan and mental strength can lead to a stable flow of income.

“Working a six to eight-hour shift I can make $100 an hour on a good day,” Jazmine said. “It’s definitely hard to stay mentally strong, but I like to put my money into my savings instead of spending it. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in a certain lifestyle and potentially drop out of school.” 

Exotic dancing is often glamorized by rap songs like Juicy Jay’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance” and Yo Gotti’s “Rake It Up,” featuring Nicki Minaj. 

Although unconventional, dancing seems to be a popular side hustle among celebrities like Cardi B and Lady Gaga.

Media Stereotypes

Hunter Hargraves,  CSUF assistant professor of cinema and television arts, gave his expert opinion on the misrepresentation of sexuality and dancing in media.

Strippers are usually depicted in Hollywood narratives as destitute and desperate, because of the mainstream assumption that strippers are uneducated and often forced into the job, Hargraves said in an emailed statement. 

Hargraves said that this form of representation in films and television has seen major changes in recent years with the rise of sex worker empowerment and activism, using Amazon’s series Shrill, as an example.

“As we move forward towards more and more streaming platforms that cater specific shows to specific demographics (feminists, youth, women) — it’s probably a safe bet to say that we’ll see much more diversity in terms of the representation of sex work in general, including strippers,” Hargraves said in his email.

Despite this newfound appreciation for dancers, Jazmin said she still faces constant judgment. She has only been open about her job with a select few but does not view dancing in a negative light.

“It’s something I’ve thought about in the past,” Jazmine said. “I watched a lot of Youtube videos about how to start and I love dancing, so I thought this was something I could really be good at.”

The Roommate & The Boyfriend

Those closest to Jazmine, like roommate Dee, said they recognize the hard work that goes into dancing.

“I see that she loves it and isn’t doing it out of necessity. When people judge it’s out of jealousy because she is confident and free to express her sexuality. Sometimes men may objectify her, but she ultimately has power over her clients,” Dee said.

 

Jazmine’s boyfriend, Andy, also remains supportive. He said that while other guys might have an issue with their significant other making money based on sex appeal, he trusts Jazmine’s choices and supports her work ethic.

Jazmine reiterated this when she explained that much like any other place of business, money is being exchanged, but management prioritizes the comfort of the dancers over the paying customers. She said that while she may be topless while dancing for older men, she feels in full control of the situation.

“I feel completely safe when I’m giving dances on the main floor or the private champagne rooms. Anytime a guy has tried to touch me inappropriately, I tell management and they’re really good at getting rid of creeps,” Jazmine said.

More Than A Dancer

The bruising on her legs shows the physical toll of pole dancing but remains the only outward indicator of her line of work. Exotic dancing does not define Jazmine as a woman or a student.

Jazmine often shares her love for food on Instagram. She was brought up in a stable home that stressed Catholicism and higher education. Jazmine is currently working toward her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and planning to graduate this spring.

Strippers are real people with real lives outside of their highly stigmatized work. A young woman like Jazmine can take her clothes off for money on a Saturday night and study for an exam in the Pollak Library on a Tuesday afternoon. Does this make her any less human? No fucking way.

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