Skye, 19, sits at Anthony’s Gentlemen’s Club, her arm draped across a man’s shoulder, both of her legs crossed over his. She opens her red-stained lips, throws her head back and laughs as her short, dark hair falls to the side of her face.
She’s wearing a black sequined, strapless bra, small black bottoms, like a bathing suit, and knee-high stockings. The two talk for a while, but eventually she leaves her post and confidently struts her way to the middle of the club — it’s her turn to dance.
Skye walks up the stairs and onto the stage and positions herself on her hands and knees, smiling at the two men and a woman sitting by the edge. Her hand reaches out to shake theirs and her body slowly sways back and forth. They throw bills on the stage and Skye really starts to move, fingers clutching her bra and slowly lifting it above her head. Her breasts pop out and she glides one hand across her chest, never breaking eye contact with her audience.
She arches her back and swings her legs around, her body flat against the floor. Her torso slowly bounces up and down as her arms graze her face. The patrons throw more money around Skye and she keeps dancing, but after a few songs, they slow down. Soon, Skye’s top is back on and she’s walking off stage, stuffing bills into her small satchel.
Skye, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst whose real name is not being used for privacy reasons, started stripping last April after struggling to pay her school tuition and off-campus apartment bills. Originally from the South Pacific, she hasn’t been home since first coming to UMass in August 2015, and she’s not sure when she’ll be able to visit her family again, given the high cost of travel.
“I’m not there for pride. I’m there to pay my way through my tuition,” Skye said. “You have to be desperate [to strip].”
Though Skye was working 20-30 hours a week on campus, she felt $9 an hour wasn’t enough to live on. She started thinking about her dream of attending law school, knowing that she had to start saving money now. Her financial troubles were weighing down on her and she didn’t know what to do. What job wouldn’t interfere with her six classes for her double major?
She toyed with the idea of stripping, and the more she thought about it, the more she felt it may be the only job that could get her a substantial amount of money in a short period of time. She tried working two extra jobs before Anthony’s, but after taxes and the minimum wage, it wasn’t enough.
Skye had never even been to a strip club before interviewing at Anthony’s. She remembers walking in and seeing a half-naked girl dancing on stage and feeling her eyes widen with shock and curiosity.
When she accepted the job, she was surprised that there was no formal training; dancers quickly have to learn what people like and don’t like based on the money they are making. When Skye first started, she made $100 a night. Now, she makes up to $800.
“Now I’m just up there ripping my clothes off,” she said with a laugh. “Experience is a funny thing.”
Skye is well spoken and carries herself with confidence. She’s comfortable in her own skin and thinks before she speaks, choosing the words carefully before she responds. Though she recognizes that she caters to the objectification of women as a stripper, she considers herself a feminist. She and the women at Anthony’s are doing what they need to do in order to survive, and that in itself deserves some level of respect.
Most of the women Skye works with are in their early to late 20s. Like them, Skye said, she became addicted to the money.
She earns $25 per lap dance, which lasts for the duration of one song. If patrons request a dance, she escorts them to the back left of the club, where big chairs and couches are set up. She sits them down and climbs onto them, her body rolling over theirs. At the end of the song, she’s fully dressed and back near the stage, waiting for her turn to dance.
Skye charges $160 per 15 minutes for the Champagne Room, a private area. There, she said, things can get a little “weird.” Men are allowed to do what they want, but within reason. Skye doesn’t perform any sexual favors, but some of the “more experienced” girls go further than she does, she explained.
“The first few months, I actively avoided the Champagne Room, but I like to think that I’m getting the hang of enticing the men into it within limits,” she said.
Most of the men at the club are between 30 to 50 years old, dressed casually in flannels and oversized jackets. Sometimes the occasional college student slips in, but most are regulars from the Chicopee area.
Skye explained that though the men often think they have the upper hand because they’re paying the women, she and her colleagues believe they are the ones with the real power.
“I quite literally view the men as prey,” she said with a shrug. “I find the easiest ones and prey on them, but men find us to be the victims.”
Targeting a “weak” person helps her make money because it’s easy to manipulate them. If she sees men throwing a lot of money at other girls, she’ll walk over and earn her share. Her personal favorite thing to do, however, is to simply talk to the men.
“When done right, [talking] works beautifully. I like to think I’ve always been pretty good at talking,” she wrote in an email. “I really enjoy breaking the stereotype of stripping being unintelligent and sometimes I like to actually engage in interesting conversation. If you pick well and get your act right, they’ll even pay you to just sit and talk.”
Though it’s easier to focus on the funny or positive memories, Skye said that she’s struggled at Anthony’s. Her dark eyes grew distant as she remembered one bad night in particular.
It was late, and a man strolled into the club holding thousands of dollars, all small bills. His friends followed close behind, watching intently as he approached the stage. He grasped the bills and flung them, one by one, into the air. The men’s eyes were glued to the stage, following the women as they scrambled and desperately tried to catch the money.
“That was one of the most demeaning feelings I’ve ever had in my life. I felt like I was trash,” said Skye, forehead creased.
To deal with this sort of abuse, one must swallow her pride, she said, like she does every night she works at Anthony’s.
Skye believes that she is so comfortable with the job because she has been through things that have given her a thick skin; when she was a child, her father figure abused her.
Only a small portion of her close friends and roommates know about her side job, but that’s not because Skye cares about people judging her. Instead she’s nervous that her dreams of becoming a lawyer could be crushed.
But right now, she sees her job as a means to an end, and believes she’s lucky enough to have a way of getting to that end.
“I don’t mind being flexible with the way I achieve [my goals] as long as it’s legal and does not get me into trouble,” Skye said in an email.
She said she sometimes questions her decision to strip, but at the end of the night, knows she’s doing what she has to do.
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