As the lights dim at Christie’s Cabaret, she prepares herself to take the stage. By day, she is a Kent State student with a 3.2 GPA. Here, they call her Lily.
She glides across the floor in her steel-heeled stilettos, exposing her body to the hungry eyes watching below. If they have money, she’ll turn whoever is willing to pay into the luckiest man in the room for a few minutes. When their hands accidentally slip under her clothing, she pretends not to notice.
Even now, though it has been nearly a year since Lily decided to put her days as an exotic dancer behind her, she still feels numb.
It was four days after her 22nd birthday when Lily’s best friend took her to her first strip club.
“I had always wanted to go to a club but could never really find anyone to go with me,” Lily said.
At the time, Lily said she was looking for waitressing jobs and decided she would apply for a serving position at the club.
“The girls that were dancing for us said I’d make more money doing dancing, so I knew I had to ask my boyfriend at the time if he was OK with it before I would audition,” she said. “He actually told me, ‘Go for it. It will be good for you.’”
Even though she said she failed the dancing portion of the audition due to her “two left feet,” Lily, who wears glasses and has natural red hair, said the club hired her because of her unique look.
“My look was always the ‘naughty secretary’ or teacher because of my glasses; I made more money when I wore them,” she said.
Lily said she had struggled with body image issues and even anorexia, and her boyfriend thought dancing would make her realize she had a good body.
“He was right,” she said. “The first time a guy pays you to have him watch you is a huge ego boost.”
Lily said when she first began to dance, she experienced a “new girl” effect, where she was considered in high demand by the club’s clients.
“Some girls actually move around a lot just to always have that,” Lily said.
In her time as an exotic dancer, Lily said she worked at three separate clubs, Platinum Horse Club and Mars Men’s Club in Akron and Christie’s Cabaret in Canton.
“When you become one of the regular girls, your ego drops quickly,” she said. “I started really questioning the way I looked, so it was really counter-productive in the end.”
Lily said the worst part of the job was when men would try to touch or talk dirty to her.
“I hate dirty talk; you can even ask my boyfriend,” Lily said. “But they were paying me, so I had to sort of suck it up and try to come up with something.”
Even though she had to deal with self-confidence issues and constant stereotyping from friends and relatives, Lily said she had to keep dancing to pay the bills. On a good night, Lily said she expected to make about $200. The most she ever earned was $600 in one night. Lily said girls who were willing to bend the rules made a lot more.
“Some girls would give blowjobs in the private rooms for like $40 to $100, depending on the girl,” Lily said. “I never did anything like that.”
Although she said she never went beyond what her job entailed, Lily admitted it was sometimes hard to turn down tempting offers.
“I had a guy offer five grand for a night,” she said. “Despite how tempting five grand a night would be — I wouldn’t have to worry about money — it would have killed my self-esteem, even when I was single.”
Although the pay was good, Lily said there came a time when she realized she needed to get out. `
“Dancing is hard work. It’s an easy lifestyle to fall into, and for a while, I did,” she said. “I became a very heavy drinker and had to make sure it didn’t affect my schooling. After being called a dumb stripper so many times, it began to sink in.”
Lily said that every day is a struggle to regain the confidence she lost while being a dancer, but her current boyfriend loves her regardless of her past as a dancer.
“She stopped well before I ever met her, and it doesn’t factor into how I view her or feel about her at all,” he said. “From my perspective, it’s just something she did, not something about who she is.”
Even though her days as a dancer have passed, Lily admitted there are some scars she can’t erase.
“My first week into dancing, I had a guy grab me and try to shove his hand down the front of my thong,” she said. “Now when my boyfriend plays with my boobs or touches me or anything along those lines, I’m pretty much numb. I wish I could change that for him. It’s not fair to him.”
As for the future, Lily hopes to earn her MBA and work for the upper management of a web department at a large company. Someday, she’d like to start a family.
Of all her aspirations, Lily said she wants “to be happy.”
“In the end, I don’t know if I’m happy with the fact that I was a dancer or not,” she said. “It had its good points, but it definitely affects your self-image. I’m still working with fixing what dancing did to me mentally, but for the little while I did it, it was a job that fit my schedule and let me pay my bills.”