career

Financial freedom, self-discipline and married men: I was a stripper during university.

I’ll never forget the first time I put in the long hair extensions, painted the smoky eye and lipstick, and stepped into the black-laced lingerie set. The way I could barely walk in those seven-inch platform heels, I laugh now. But back then, in the beginning days of my dancer career, I felt incredibly sexy. I had never felt like that before.

I had friends who were all dancers, who were all going to college, or finished with school completely. Yet, dancing gave all of them such freedom that not one of them rushed to settle down and get a 9–5 job using their degree.

And it’s funny how everyone outside of this world looked down at them for stripping. Yet, these young women were amazing.

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They were intelligent; they were saving all their money. They were cultured; they were travelling as often as they could. They were independent; they didn’t rely on anyone to pay their bills. They made so much money, more money than they’d ever see working a regular job with their university degree. They were smart; they stayed away from drugs and the wrong crowd.

And I admired them for everything they were.

They knew their youth and looks wouldn’t last forever, so they capitalised on their temporary advantage in the world to live a stress-free life. One where money was never a problem. Where work schedules didn’t exist. One where they could be happy — at least for a while.

I was halfway through with my master’s degree when I seriously considered auditioning at the strip-club my friend danced at.

My friends had suggested it many times before, and I always laughed it off. I didn’t have big boobs or a nice butt. I didn’t exercise much. And I had no rhythm. Picturing me dancing near a pole would make me burst in a nervous laugh.

“I would be so awkward giving a lap dance,” I’d tell them.

And they’d always tell me the same thing. “You don’t have to be a good dancer to be a great stripper. You have to be smart; you have to be confident, and you have to be good at making men want you. That’s it. You can make them want you with your eyes, your body, your words, whatever. But once you’ve hooked them, you’ve made yourself a customer.”

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“Not all the girls in there are those things — but they don’t know how to keep customers long-term. Sure, some girls have bigger boobs, bigger butts, and long blonde hair. But if they’re not smart like you, they’ll always have to work harder, and their customers will never stick around for long. Beauty and sexuality, while this industry lives on it, is important. But being able to connect with a customer is, and always will be, more important.”

And even after hearing that, I’d always reject their advice. There’s no way I could be sexy in front of strangers in a room full of hungry, horny, men.

There’s no way.

But I had no idea just how good I would be at it.

The day I auditioned, I sat in the parking lot of the club, with my Victoria’s Secret duffle bag on the passenger seat of my car, asking myself, “What are you doing here? You should get a job at a family centre, or a counselling site. Why are you at a strip club?”

I was so nervous I became nauseous; I had no idea what I was doing. After 10 minutes in my car, I texted my friend, “I’m gonna leave. I can’t do it.”

And she didn’t pressure me, which I’m so thankful for. She replied, “It’s your choice. When you feel it’s right, it will be right.”

And her kind and casual response gave me the push.

“I’m sexy, I can do this,” I said to myself.

And I walked in, terrified as ever, and got hired on the spot. This decision to give up the search for a conventional life, and instead, take risks and live a life outside of the box, changed my life for the better.

I will never, ever regret stripping in my twenties. It opened my eyes to a world I’d never know. I met such amazing people, I travelled, I enjoyed financial freedom; I enjoyed my youth. I loved my life — for a while.

I worked there for two years before moving to another larger club.

The night I graduated with my master’s degree, I went to the club to work a shift and celebrate with my regular customers. They all had my phone number and were excited that I was taking the next step in my career. They said they were proud of me, and I really believed them. I knew they meant it.

These regular customers were nothing like what everyone thinks a “regular” at a strip club would be.

These men were educated and kind. In fact, one of my regulars became a mentor. He would regularly bring me books and recommendations for psychology podcasts, as he was a psychology professor at the big university in town.

My regulars never pushed me to do things I wasn’t comfortable doing. They never invited me to come home with them. Most of them were married — they just wanted to go somewhere to have a drink and be surrounded by beautiful women. I didn’t blame them, and I still don’t.

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I continued dancing for almost four years before quitting.

When I was at the end, I could feel that I was done. My body was telling me, time was up. The job didn’t excite me; the money didn’t satisfy me; I wanted normalcy.

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I wanted to answer the question, “So, what do you do for work?” without having a panic attack. I wanted to be uncomplicated and have a work schedule. I wanted to be a part of society again, and while dancing, at least in my last year, I felt like an outcast.

I never became involved in heavy drinking and drugs I steered far, far away from. I made friends with women who were smart, and just dancing to travel or pay off their homes. I stayed away from the girls who snorted coke in the bathroom. No judgment, it just wasn’t my scene.

Dancing was one of the smartest decisions I ever made for my life. While it slow tracked building my work experience and career, I don’t regret it for a moment. It taught me more than I could have ever learned at any other job.

I learned self-discipline — no one tells you when to come into work or how long to stay. You make all of those decisions on your own.

I learned self-control — no one tells you to stop drinking with the customers either.

I learned the power of women — the way I could carry a conversation and make a man follow me into a VIP room without promising anything sexual gave me such confidence in the real world.

And when I left the dancing world many years ago, I learned how to love and accept others different from us.

I was unconventional in my journey, but when I found myself out of the club, I became a regular person again. And I hated the judgment that strippers received, even though I was no longer an active dancer. I hated that people gave them a blanketed opinion, like all strippers were the same dirty, cheap, home-wrecking sluts.

When actually, it’s completely the opposite. Some of the smartest, most loyal, most athletic women I ever met, I met right there, sitting in a club full of smoke, surrounded by loud drunk men, wearing two-piece laced lingerie and seven-inch heels.

Those women left more of an impact on me than anyone I ever met in my master’s program.

Feature Image: Getty. 

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo.

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