Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show
Stacey Clare of East London Strippers Collective discusses the issues facing London based Strippers and her work through the ELSC to give power back to the Dancers.
What is the East London Strippers Collective?
ELSC is a group of professional strippers who have come together through a shared grievance over poor working conditions and exploitative business practises in the industry, and licensing legislation that does nothing to help, but in fact further stigmatises and marginalises strippers. ELSC aims to promote the self-organisation of strippers and lap dancers in London and the UK, to challenge societal attitudes about strip club activity, and to bring about changes and improvements to working conditions at an industry level.
By organising events that celebrate their chosen profession and provoke wider public discussion and debate, ELSC hope to challenge stereotypes, smash through stigma, promote gender equality and fair business practises within the industry, and create a powerful alternative to the current status quo.
Tell me about the exploitation you are seeing in clubs?
The most exploitative thing about working in clubs at the moment is being expected to pay house fees that are often unrealistic and unfair. Because strippers have no real employment rights, either as employees or as independent contractors (we don’t get given contracts) club owners and bosses can run their businesses as personal fiefdoms, discriminating against girls over body type, skin colour, breast size, sacking whomever they choose, favouring others. There are some good clubs that are well run, but it’s harder than ever to get work and keep hold of it once you’re in. Because of this tension, you’re more likely to accept poor standards like cold changing rooms or sleazy DJs, because to speak out is to be fired.
Do you have a plan of action to redress the balance of power between Dancers and Club Management?
I don’t think there is much we can realistically do about work standards in the industry until the law changes. There is currently no law that dancers can invoke to protect themselves against discrimination and/or unfair dismissal as employment law has somehow skipped over us – until we are legally acknowledged as workers, instead of victims of abuse as we are currently defined by present day licensing, then clubs aren’t going to change the way they do things.
The way ELSC hope to change things is by creating a more positive alternative, where dancers are treated as equals and respected for the work they do. By running our own events, ELSC members are beginning to organise and work as a team, instead of competing against each other as we have to in a club environment. Once we can show an example of a self-organised, fair business model where profits are distributed equally, and most importantly is run by the dancers themselves, then we have a better chance of influencing change.
What is the biggest issue facing modern Strippers?
House fees are a major problem, as there seems to be no controls over clubs and how much they charge – in most cases they will just take as much as they can get away with. Licensing legislation is also extremely detrimental, and has caused further stigmatisation of our workplace and chosen profession.
What kind of reaction have you had from people through your social media?
It’s generally been amazing. We’ve had lots of attention and lots of support. We are obviously benefitting from the platform, as it seems as if we are one of the first groups of strippers in the UK to begin collectivising via social media. For example all the members of the ELSC use facebook as the main point of contact and medium for dialogue. We’ve been able to use it to promote our events, and it is really beginning to gather pace – and we are always particularly happy when other dancers get in touch to ask about us. We totally welcome other strippers who feel the same way to get in touch and join the cause.
What do you see as the future of Stripping?
Well, my personal ambition is to open Europe’s first ever strip club cooperative, owned and run by the dancers themselves, following in the footsteps of the Lusty Lady in San Fransisco. Our manifesto outlines some pretty clear objectives, such as disturbing the patriarchal conventions on which the industry has been built, promoting gender equality, encouraging and supporting the prospect of male dancers, female viewers, mixed audiences and trans/queer participants. Stripping culture needs to keep up with progressive ideals, and while society is becoming more accepting of sexual diversity, strip clubs should reflect that.
Do you see the role of Feature Dancers making a return?
I don’t even really know what that means, I’m guessing that term comes from a previous generation when strip clubs used to be places where the stageshow was everything, and dancers could make a living from travelling from club to club performing a specialised routine. I’ve come from the lap dance generation. Dancing on stage has always come naturally to me, and I’ve always resented not being paid for it, but having to hustle for private dances instead. There are a few remaining strip pubs where dancers can still do jug collections before their stage shows, it’s still a novelty and can occasionally be lucrative. But the days when clubs paid the dancers to turn up are well and truly gone. It seems as if the industry has lost respect for the dancers’ actual skills and is only now preoccupied with what dancers look like – which doesn’t seem right. I guess we are kind of beginning to reintroduce the tradition of Feature Dancers with our ELSC events – lets see what happens!
What effect have recent licensing laws had on you and your work?
This is a long story, and very complex. But to try and simplify it, current licensing laws effectively classify strippers as victims of abuse. Section 27 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, places strip clubs and lap dancing venues in a category of law that deals with sex offenders and trafficking. This is outrageous, because by reclassifying us as sex workers and lumping us in with this list of offences, the wider impact of licensing has served only to further stigmatise us. It seems as if there is a moral campaign that seeks to stamp out all forms of sex work by criminalising it, and it looks like the latest licensing reforms are a step towards eventually criminalising lap dancing. The current licensing is setting very dangerous precedents – by conflating all forms of sex work with sexual violence it becomes increasingly difficult to discern and distinguish real victims of abuse from those who aren’t. Instead of offering any real solutions to the problems within the industry, licensing has only pushed us further out to the fringes of social acceptability, leaving us even more vulnerable. Academics Teela Sanders and Kate Hardy at Leeds University offer the term “empty shell” licensing, which is a perfect description. All that has been achieved has been to give councils greater powers to close clubs down, which they can now do on moral grounds – so prohibitionists now have the upper hand.
Do you think the rise of Neo-Burlesque has had any impact on Strip Clubs or the way Stripping is perceived?
I think Neo-Burlesque is cool and I am a fan of some amazing performers like Kitty Bang Bang. I dabbled with burlesque when I first began stripping, but it didn’t pay as well. But I think there is a definite tendency among the burlesque scene for performers to look down their noses at strippers by dismissing them as cheap and tacky. This kind of attitude doesn’t help anyone, it only creates more stigma around people’s choices – it’s bullshit. I’d like to think burlesque performers are my allies and fellow artists, but anyone who wants to place themselves above another group is only creating further problems later on. The current pattern with licensing is looming over other industries, as proven by Last Tuesday Society founder Victor Wynd’s latest brush with Hackney Licensing authority. We all need to work together if we want to turn back the tide of moralistic licensing, not be discriminating against each other in a fight for supremacy.
Where can we find out more about ELSC?
What’s your next event?
Saturday 8 November 2014 we are having our next pop-up strip club party in Bethnal Green. (Click here for more info)
Thursday 20 November 2014 our first public talk in Aldgate. (Click here for more info)
Quick Fire Questions!
Best moment Stripping?
Being naked at the top of a pole having Happy Birthday sung to me on my 30th was a highlight.
The lead female character in the film The Wrestler. She is a pretty accurate portrayal of a real life stripper, and her stage show near the end of the film is brilliant, regardless of whether she is an actress playing a role in a film – she is hot! I also love Courtney Love playing basically herself in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Favourite dance shoes?
For onstage, my thigh length black pvc 8 inch heel boots that lace up the back, even though they are a bitch to wear. But for a whole shift working the floor, my little 3 inch heel clear plastic mules are the only shoes that don’t leave my feet in agony.
Bucket list club to dance in?
Obviously, the Lusty Lady in San Fransisco was the mecca of the strip club industry for me. Now that’s gone I’ll have to open my own bucket list cooperative strip club to dance in!