Successful stripping is all about customer loyalty, PhD contends
What are the keys to successful stripping? If you think its all about the bump and grind, then think again. A Montreal sociologist recently studied nude dancers at two bars and concluded its all about marketing and communications.
Shirley Lacasse earned a PhD last year at the Universite de Montreal for a thesis based on 300 hours of interviews and observations at a no-touching strip bar in Montréal and a suburban contact dance club.
She was drawn to the subject after some strippers protested in 1995 against the shift toward contact dances, opening the door to previously banned fondling. Known in Quebec as the danse dix ($10 dance), and often practiced in secluded booths, it has become the rule in most Montreal area clubs since it was legalized by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in December 1999. The top court said community standards are broad enough to encompass fondling in strip bars while excluding contact with genitalia and penetration.
Ms. Lacasse set aside the view that servicing men in this way is exploitation – an approach that is challenged by a Montreal feminist and a University of Ottawa sociologist who take issue with the study’s underlying assumption that so called exotic dancing can be studied without looking at such issues as women as sex objects. Ms. Lacasse looked at lap dancers, more than half of whom were supporting families, as “self-employed workers who set the conditions in which they provide services to customers” Nine of the 31 woman to whom she spoke were married but none was troubled by the nature of their work, she found.
“Its not the sexual dimension of the work that made them unhappy. Its not making money on some nights while others made lots.” she said in an interview.
Ms. Lacasse ended up trying to answer the question: Why did some leave at the end of the night with $50 in their pocket and others with $500 or $600?
“I soon realized the dancer’s age or physical appearance had little to do with her earnings,” said Ms. Lacasse, a teacher at CEGEP Bois de Boulogne.
At the bars, Ms. Lacasse noticed the busiest dancers were those who gave customers the soft sell. “The direct approach asking a client if he wants a dance is the least successful.” The highest earning dancers were those who developed a “customer loyalty”. Regulars tended to keep the dancer busier longer.
“It’s the same strategy for selling goods and services in the marketplace,” Ms Lacasse observed.
The stripper must manage her emotions
The stripper, however, also must manage her emotions – “like the flightattendant who has to smile at all passengers, including the disagreeable ones.” Each dancer will “personalize the relationship” in her own way she added. Some will stress exciting the patron, while others play up the friendship. In the meantime, dancers who demonstrated against lap dancing were right about the threat. Of the dozens of Montreal-area strip clubs, “you can count on one hand those that have no contract dancing,” Ms. Lacasse noted.
Yolande Geadah, author of “La Prostitution, un métier comme un autro?”, a study of the sex business challenges the idea that sex work is “a trade like the others.”
“You have to look at what it does to society when women are used as sex objects,” she said. “It makes it more difficult to defend principles of equity between men and woman when men can buy a lap dancer. This is prostitution, not just a performance, and it changes men’s views about women.They have to see an awful lot of men to make $500. What does this do to their sexuality and self-image?”
Richard Poulin, a University of Ottawa sociology professor, said he, to, cannot accept that nude dancing is “just a job.” “Women are there for men’s pleasure, period,” he said.
Claire Thiboutot, director of Stella, which lobbies on behalf of sex workers, said she was pleased with Ms. Lacasse examining stripping from a sociology-of-work perspective. “She made interesting links between sales techniques, developing customer loyalty, – techniques taught in schools – that women use,” Ms. Thiboutot said. “It helps demystify their work.”
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