Lap dancing venues in Leeds recently survived a change in licensing laws which threatened their businesses. Rod McPhee met women at the Wildcats club to get an insight into what their work entails.
WHY do they do it? Well, there’s the money for a start. A lap dancer at Wildcats on The Headrow can rake in anything up to £2,000 a week – the most any of the four women we spoke to earned was the equivalent of £60,000 a year.
They also don’t feel exploited or forced into their night job. This quartet, aged 20 to 22, all study, or have just finished studying at Leeds University or Leeds Metropolitan University. Some of them want to be nurses, others journalists, one wants the rather unsexy job of being a health and safety inspector.
Notably, very few seem to want to dance for money forever, though they all admit they don’t just do it for the cash.
“It can be complete ego trip for us,” says Felicity. “Having people stare at you and just say ‘Wow! You’re a great dancer’ or ‘You have an incredible body’. And that’s just some of the women that come in!”
Yes, it’s not just men who visit strip clubs. The girls sometimes perform for couples who want to give their love lives a kick start. But in the main it is a mixture of the predictable lads on stag bashes and married men determined not to let anything wander except their eyes.
“It’s their way of not cheating,” continues Felicity. “They come in and get a private dance and they’re not actually cheating on anyone in any way.”
Of course it works both ways, although visitors are supposed to observe the ‘no-touching’ policy (or find themselves ejected) they do sometimes get touched, though they’re given warnings by the women. And sometimes, rarely, that does lead to verbal abuse.
“That’s the downside to the job,” says Poppy, “If someone says something horrible to you. That’s their way of having an ego trip, by putting you down. But what’s funny is that we aren’t the ones who are being exploited. Actually we are the ones with the upper hand.”
But what about the argument that stripping for men – and charging anything up to £260 for a 60 minute private dance – objectifies and demeans women?
“But plenty of women do that anyway and they aren’t judged,” says Monroe “They go out dressed in all kinds of sexy clothing, then get drunk, end up in a bar and if a guy grabs their bum, well, that’s just one of those things. If a guy does that in Wildcats he’ll get told he’s a naughty boy and if he does it again he’ll probably be asked to leave.”
Felicity adds: “I know other women think we give them a bad name in some way, but no one judges other girls who might go out having one night stands all the time and then wake up in the middle of nowhere the next day and have to do the walk of shame? Yes, we take our clothes off, but we get paid for it and when we leave here we walk out with pride.”
They are all discrete about their identities, however. All four girls offer false names and two don’t want to be photographed. Although all four have boyfriends who are aware of what they do for a living, not all of their families know.
Naomi has a particular dilemma: she’s a single mum with two kids under five.
“It’s not an issue at the moment,” she says “They’re too young to understand at the moment – I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.”
The girls insist they aren’t ashamed of what they do, but are wary of the reaction of the wider society and how that could impact on their nearest and dearest. Hence the discretion.
That reaction is defined by certain preconceptions, the big one is that lap dancing is diluted prostitution and just one step away from selling actual sex for money.
“That might happen in some places,” says Felicity “But it only happens in a very, very small minority of clubs and it tends to be foreign girls who come to the UK for money and end up being exploited.”
On top of Wildcats, most of the girls have worked at several other clubs in Leeds and maintain there is none of the dark underbelly we might suspect there to be.
The women are free to come and go as they please and are effectively self-employed, hiring a space inside venues and taking whatever the profit they make as their own.
They determine their own hours, working 40 hours a week sometimes, then at other times taking three months off, whatever fits around their childcare arrangements, love lives or studies.
All of which makes the job of a lap dancer sound much more civilised than we might imagine – enough, perhaps, to counteract the recent campaign which might have seen clubs like Wildcats close or, at the very least, have to move to a more appropriate location.
“Even just moving would have been stupid,” says Monroe “It’s not like there are images and words on the outside which indicate this is even a lap dancing club.”
“Exactly,” says Poppy “And if anyone did know what we are you have to ask the question: how do they know?”