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Section Header
Censored Lives

By Jessica Suarez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday May 6, 2003

The secret lives of UA students who strip to earn money for college

Exotic dancers carry with them a certain reputation: They're easy. They're dumb. They have no respect for themselves. They don't know how to do anything better with their lives.

But what you probably haven't considered is that dancing may be the ultimate after-school job. It pays well. The work is easy. And if you aren't too shy or self-conscious, you can make a hundred bucks an hour and still have plenty of time to study every night.

That's right; study. While it may be hard to think about an exotic dancer as simply the girl next door, it might be even more difficult to think of her as the girl at the next desk. But as exotic dancers get smarter about their jobs, two examples being forming unions in San Francisco, and writing documentaries about their jobs for HBO, it would seem to follow that exotic dancers may be a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

Keiko (her stage name) began dancing when her after school job was paying her too little, and not allowing her enough time to study. Her boyfriend at the time brought her to a strip club; establishments she said she never even knew existed because she had come from a small town.

"I was pretty na•ve," she said. Keiko said her naivety made it easy for her to become a dancer.

She already held one degree in molecular and cellular biology ÷ and was working on a second degree in computer science. The job offered her enough time to study and enough money to pay the bills.
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"They know they're beautiful, they know they're smart, and they know how to talk to people"


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But she says her story isn't rare, especially in a college town like Tucson.

"It's not unusual to have dancers that are going to school," she said. "Over half of the dancers are in some sort of educational program."

Two of Keiko's friends, also dancers, left exotic dancing to become an architect and a filmmaker.

Essence, another local dancer who is a graphic design student at Pima, said that negative stereotypes bother her.

"They're easy, they're sluts.' But it's not like that; it's just girls that are comfortable with their bodies," she said.

One problem Keiko encountered was the fear that someone she knew from school might show up when she was working.

"I had a couple of scares when I thought I saw professors," she said. She said she didn't worry about fellow students showing up because they don't really have enough money to be strip club regulars. Other dancers have seen people they know in the audience, and simply decided to stay backstage and take the night off.

When it came to her friends, Keiko says she only told the ones she thought could handle it.

"If they object it's their loss. They're probably not someone I'd like to associate with," she said.

Keiko said that over the four years she worked as a dancer, she could make up to $400 over a five-hour shift. Since then, though, she says that pay has gone down to about $150-$250 a night.

"There is no average, you either win or lose," Essence said of stripper's current earnings.

At school, she wouldn't really discuss what she did unless the subject came up, which she says didn't happen too often.

"My advisor knew about it," she said. "In the academic setting, unless it comes up as a discussion in some sort of women's studies class, it doesn't come up."

Essence said dancing for her is just a means toward her goal of transferring to a university, after she finishes getting her general education requirements completed.

"It's a job. The people I work with and the manager are great, but it is just a job" she said.

Keiko also recognizes the difference between career dancers and those who are just in it while working on their future careers. She says veteran dancers have three things in common:

"They know they're beautiful, they know they're smart, and they know how to talk to people," she said. Why do dancers have to know they're beautiful to succeed? One reason, said Essence, "Because you're walking around naked."

Keiko quit dancing when she got an on-campus job. She finished her second degree two semesters ago and has since taken a job as a software engineer.

She's adjusting to her new, somewhat less exotic career.

"Dancing was fun. I miss it," she said. "For one thing, I hadn't realized how different it (software engineering) would be. I'm still getting used to it."

She also said dancing was a nice break from challenging classes.

"The dressing room was pretty funny. You didn't have to think a lot. My brain was tired after homework," Keiko said.

Now as a software engineer, she said she's become more wary about revealing what she did to pay for college.

"Now I'm more careful, since it might impact my future career. In college if a professor fails you because he finds out you're a dancer, there are recourses you can take," she said. "In the outside world, there's no recourse. Corporate America is more conservative."

One thing that she finds funny is seeing old customers at her new job.

"There's this atmosphere of mutual respect in not talking about it," she said.

"I think they're more embarrassed about it than I am."

Although there are risks in exotic dancing (Keiko never told her father, who she says is very conservative and wouldn't have approved), Keiko said the benefits make it a job she recommends to other students who need lots of time and money, as long as they keep one thing in mind.

"You have to have a goal," she said. "For me it was a job that pays better than dancing."

Now that's sexy.

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