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From A Lap Dancers Point Of View

Sophie is in her late 20s and has two young children and a long-term partner. She is also a lap dancer. Alison Goulding reports for the Sunderland Echo.

A Sunderland nightclub has been given the go-ahead to offer a different kind of entertainment. Privilege, in Crowtree Road, was recently granted a Sex Establishment Licence to hold lap-dancing, pole-dancing and strip shows. Mayor of Sunderland and Millfield councillor Iain Kay raised objections, as did Father Michael McCoy, of St Joseph�s in Millfield and St Anne�s in Pennywell.

Joe Sheriff, company director of Privilege said that adult entertainment would only be held upstairs in �a discreet function room� and mainly on match days, and councillors at a meeting of Sunderland City Council�s regulatory committee approved the plans.

But what is it like to work in these places as a dancer?

Sophie started stripping four years ago. She lives in Sunderland but travels elsewhere in the North East to work.

Why did you start dancing? There were these leaflets for pole dancing lessons on the car when we finished work and a few of us went for a laugh. I went for 10 lessons and one of the girls said I was good and had good upper body strength and I should give it a go. I laughed and said No. But then I thought I�d give it a try. I talked to my partner about it and he said if I wanted to I could try it and just see how I felt. He thought I wouldn�t stick it because the first time I went I felt a bit out of my zone. The girls were really well groomed, they looked perfect and I�d never been in an environment like that. When I started I was working full-time in a job I�d trained for. I started pole dancing part-time and then left my �career� job so I could be a full-time mum and work at night. My partner and I both had good careers but we were working long hours and something had to give. Childcare was expensive and we didn�t want to leave our baby with relatives or in a nursery. In the end I wanted an input in my child�s life. I did it to enhance the family life. Then I saved up so I could have another baby. I put money aside so I could have a year off with my second child.

What are the customers like? It varies. In the summer you get a lot of stag-dos. We get a lot of business men, staff nights out, football fans. There are strict rules. If they�re too drunk or in fancy dress they don�t get in. Sometimes they�re rowdy or they�ve had a few drinks but generally they�re not that bad. Customers do comment on the way you look. Sometimes girl�s come in to see what�s what. They think they have a right to say things to you. I�m a size 8 but used to be a size 6 and men have told me I need a good dinner and things like that. Some of the plus-size girls get called fat. I don�t take it personally, I�m there to do a job so I�m not bothered what they think. I don�t come home crushed. If someone�s rude he�s in and out, it doesn�t mean anything to me. The younger girls sometimes say they can�t get a dance, they�re wounded if someone is mean

How does the money affect the dancers? In the beginning they start with next to nothing but as they get more confident they get more money. It depends what kind of person you are, if you�re going to let the money go to your head. Some are saving for the future, or to have a family or for the next pair of shoes. Who am I to say what they should spend it on? If I�d done it when I was younger I might have got carried away.

Have you told your friends and family what your job is? People know I dance. I�m not embarrassed. There�s a lot worse I could be doing. I pay the taxes and I�m not living on benefits � some people get all their stuff for free. I couldn�t do that. I�ve worked since I was 14 and I was brought up with a good work ethic. When I told my dad he was a bit wounded. No dad wants to see their daughter going from a good job to being a stripper, He didn�t want to talk about it at first. I asked him what the difference was between looking at a glamour mag and seeing someone dance. I think he felt I�d worked hard and I was throwing it away. Now he can see how it�s enhanced our lives. My partner couldn�t drive so there was extra money for him to have lessons and learn. We have our fair share of family holidays. I�ve invested in properties for the future. Obviously it has a shelf life. It�s not something you can do when you�re 50. You have to make as much as you can while you can. I�ll do it until I don�t make good money any more, or until I feel uncomfortable. If I knew the time was coming I�d invest in a business.

How much money do you make on an average night? It�s swings and roundabouts but there is money to be made. You don�t make as much if you�re not in the mood. You might not feel well or you might have had a problem in your home life. If you go in and treat it like a normal job and you don�t sit around drinking you can do well. Some of the younger girls who are 18 or 19 lose sight of the fact that they�re there to work. It might feel like a night out but it�s not. If I wasn�t so family-orientated I might buy designer clothes but that�s more the younger girls who do that. I don�t walk around town like I�m in a fashion shoot.

How does it work? You�re self-employed. You have to pay club fees and they vary. You could start off paying �30 and by the end of the night hand over �145. On a week night the club gets �5 for the first five dances you do and after that, depending on who comes through the door, they can take a top up. It�s �20 for a fully nude dance and �15 for topless. You can�t undercut the other dancers. You have to be motivated enough to work. There�s no point sitting about because the fees can be high.

Do looks matter in the job? You�ve just got to be yourself. Originally I thought most of the other girls would be models, size 6 to 8 with massive boob jobs. In reality, some look like glamour models, but some are size 14 and make good money � it�s what the customer wants. A lot of men prefer curvier women. The younger lads prefer the skinny blonde birds. Women look at women and think they look nice but it�s different from the man�s point of view. It hasn�t got anything to do with looks. You could be what I would say was fat � some girls don�t wear make-up, but they have a good sense of humour. If you�ve got a decent personality Then some guys just want a laugh. Sometimes it works against you if you�re glamour model-style because they feel intimidated. They wouldn�t talk to you in the street so they can�t in the club.

What�s it like in the club? I�ve stayed at the same club for four years. It�s table service. The customers get escorted to their table, they can�t just wander about. The guys don�t move � the only time they stand up is to go out to the toilet. And there are cameras to keep an eye on you. I�ve been into other clubs to see what�s what and the men were walking about with the girl�s in their underwear. It didn�t have that same safeness.

Is a lap dancing club a good idea for Sunderland? I think in Sunderland people are more careful with their money. Strip clubs have been around for years but in Sunderland they don�t seem to last long. There�ve been a few but the novelty wears off. I�ve been in some where they�re only charging �10 for a dance. There�s not as much disposable money. If it did work it would help industries in the city, especially the beauty industry. Hairdressers would benefit.

Why do people object to strip clubs? I think the older generation might turn their noses up but you wear a bikini or a dress and you do a dance in a booth. You�re never really left alone. I think maybe some people have the same view I did, they think it�s the same as you see on the telly � seedy. They might be insecure that their boyfriend might be going out and having sex in a back room. I�d say come and have a look. I think people are scared of the unknown, they don�t know what goes on.

Do you think lap-dancing clubs encourage men to see women as objects out in the real world? I don�t really think they would actually think that. I think some people might have low esteem and they wouldn�t approach a girl in a bar. They buy a dance but they know they�re not getting anything else. In a normal case the girl wouldn�t spend time with them.

Do you think you�ll ever regret it? The only thing for me is I�ve got children so obviously that might have some bearing. Maybe one day I might have to sit down and explain myself, when they�re older and if someone at school says something. We�ve got an honest relationship though. My oldest knows I�m a dancer but just thinks it�s like on MTV. I�m not lying, I�m just not telling the whole truth. When they�re older they might know but at the moment they�re never going to be in that kind of environment to know it exists. Me and my partner have had that conversation - what would we do if our daughter said �I want to be a stripper�. We�d just have to support her. If she did decide to do it then fair enough. I wouldn�t be happy. I�d prefer her to get a career, but I can see the positives of the industry.

Do you argue with your partner about your job? More so recently. We have a baby and I�ve gone back to work so he looks after the baby while I�m at work, but if he�s been up in the night he still has work the next day.

How did you feel when you first danced for a customer? I�m a loyal person. I don�t really talk to lads when I go out so that first night I felt like I�d cheated. It was just topless but I felt like I�d done something wrong. I think it was because I lacked confidence. Over time I understood that the dance is as far as you can go. That�s as plain as it is. And really what�s the difference between looking at a magazine or watching a film on the telly? The customer is in front of you and they know that a dance is all they�re going to get. They can�t touch you, they can�t do anything. Our club has strict rules, in some, people go further, but I�m happy doing what I do.

Sophie is not her real name.

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