Monday, July 14, 2008

Private Dancers

Last week there was an article in the Tampa Tribune about people tightening their belts in the wake of the slumping economy and rising gas prices. What a revelation! It seems that there are more and more stories about gas prices and our ailing economy. I guess that it is for real and not just my imagination.

The interesting thing about this article was that it covered a sector of the local Tampa economy that is usually not written about in the sense that it is an integral part of the local economy. Yes, they were writing about the Adult Entertainment Industry. In particular, the Strip Clubs in Tampa.

The staff writer interviewed several dancers and club managers. The bottom line is that business is worse than it has ever been. The businessmen (suits) rarely come in to the clubs during the afternoons as they had in the past. These were the best spenders and tippers. Night-time business has also dropped off significantly. The Clubs are still making money but the dancers who work for free (or even kick back to the Club) are no longer making the money that they did a year ago.

Two of the dancers that were interviewed (surprisingly they allowed the paper to print their full names – dancers usually work under an alias) both said the same thing; it’s not like the good old days when they were making more than $2000 per week. They both are now dancing more hours for less money.

The one dancer had just returned to the business after taking a few years off to attend school (in hopes of getting out of the business and getting a Real Job – “you can’t dance forever”). She found that even with the bad times she was making more money than she would be making working a 40 hour a week job. She couldn’t live off of what a Real Job paid.

This is a form of becoming institutionalized.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, I had several servers and bartenders that were still attending college. They worked 3 to 4 night per week during the school year and up to 5 nights a week during the summer break. When they graduated I would throw a farewell party for them. However most of them returned after a few months out in the Real World. Some decided to go back to college to seek an advanced degree and once again became 3 to 4 nights a week employees. Others just worked on the weekends to supplement their income.

At one point in 1983 or 1984 the average education level of my servers was 14.7 years and bartenders were higher than that (my weekend service bartender had his Masters Degree and was teaching High School).

The most classic institutionalization story that I tell is about a girl that I will call Laurie (because that is her name). She was a Legacy! Both her older brother and sister had worked for me in the past.

Laurie began working for me when she was 16 years old as a bus person (we called them busboys and busgirls back then). When she was 17 years old she went off to college but still worked for me on the weekends. At 18 she became a server; one of my best. At 19 she began working 4 nights per week and was still making the Dean’s List at the University of Maryland.

By the time she was twenty she had a new car and was living off campus with a roommate. She graduated at 21 and started to look for a job, most entry level positions were paying a lot less than she was making working 26-28 hours a week waiting tables. She now had a car payment plus rent and couldn’t afford to take that deep of a cut in net income.

Laurie wanted to become a bartender and she asked me if I would teach her how to bartend. I agree but told her that I did not foresee a bar tending position opening in the near future. After I thought that she was sufficiently trained, I call a friend who was the head bartender at a College bar within waking distance of the University of Maryland. He told me to send her in and he would see what he could do. She started work 3 days later. This was in the summer and the tips were not as good as she was making as a server, but she made enough to get by.

When she was 22 years old she went back to school part-time and at 26 she had her Masters Degree. She again tested the job market and found that the disparity in net income was even greater than before. That same year she married, my friend, the Bar Manager. They had a net combined weekly income nearing $2500 (1986). Two years later they bought a bar not far from where they had worked.

After four years of just squeaking by they sold the bar. Her husband went to work in a Southwest D.C. restaurant and nightclub making close to $2000 in tips for three days of work. Laurie applied to Law school and was accepted. She passed the Bar Exam on her first attempt. She was now 36 years old and after 20 years she finally got out of the business and took a Real Job.

The Beach Bum

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Amazing story. Thank you for posting it.

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