Student by day, dancer by night
Published: Monday, April 11, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07
Out one night with your friends, you might decide to go to the strip club in College Station, The Silk Stocking. As you walk in and glance on stage, you see the woman that you sit next to in class. Does your opinion change of her?
"It's frustrating because I'm not just that," said Summer, who paid for her education by working at The Silk Stocking. "You're not just that person that works there, that's not your whole life, that's not your whole story. You are somebody else. There are students there that are smart and have opinions on politics, religion, etc. That's what people do to dancers, they define you by your job."
Summer, whose identity is being withheld for privacy, began working at The Silk Stocking in 2006 after visiting with a group of friends. At the time, she was a retail manager at a clothing store, with goals of achieving her degree, but she was low on funds. After asking a shot girl how much money she made, she realized she was earning in two weeks what the shot girl made in one night. She applied for a job before heading home that evening.
The change from manager to dancer was a tough transition. Summer came from a small town and wasn't used to the club atmosphere. But one month into the job, Summer said being a dancer became routine. She learned to mentally escape, so when she was done performing a lap dance, she could not even remember the customer's face.
"The truth is, when you dance you seem to block that out of your mind," Summer said. "I just did my thing. In my mind, I was somewhere else."
The clientele at The Silk Stocking includes prominent businessmen in the community, college students and bikers. There are men who come in regularly, and groups of men and women who come in to have a good time. The majority of the performers at The Silk Stocking are college students, which means women can be dancing for their classmates, professors and men the same age as their fathers.
"There have been guys that come in and say ‘You're the same age as my daughter,' then they still pay for lap dances," Summer said. "You're kind of thinking in your head, ‘What would you do if you daughter did that? Would you be so inclined to support it?'"
Jamie Rentfro Kohn, a former graduate research assistant in the psychology department, said men can see women at the clubs as objects.
"[It] dehumanizes them a bit and keeps them from distressing [about the dancers' age]," she said.
Due to the number of college students and professors who enjoy The Silk Stocking, many of the women face discrimination on campus. Disapproving looks, condescending whispers and crude name-calling are common.
"We were leaving [Northgate] and a guy tried to grab my friend, and we pulled her back. Then he said ‘You work at Silk Stocking, you are nobody,'" Summer said.
This leads many women to seek work dancing in the surrounding big cities, which comes with more money, but also more risk. The Silk Stocking provides its employees with protection, and has rules against employee-customer relations outside the club.
While many cities have laws that specifically apply to strip clubs, College Station does not. Houston has laws that require dancers to be a certain distance from the customer. When it comes to The Silk Stocking, College Station defers to state regulations, which do not address some aspects of what goes on inside the club.
"There's not any state laws that have the distances; nobody in our area has [a distance law]," said Sgt. Randy Field, a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent in Bryan.
Despite the lack of strict regulations, Field said they receive few complaints about The Silk Stocking.
At some venues in the bigger cities, protection is not provided for the women. Summer left College Station to work at a club in Austin for one night. She acted as her own bouncer, meaning little protection from men who grabbed her or treated her inappropriately; in bigger cities, men expect increased physical contact with the dancer, she said. The Silk Stocking forbids this contact. There was also minimal protection outside the club, which allowed men to see the car she was driving.
The dancers at The Silk Stocking work in a rotation, each woman dancing for two songs on the stage. While on stage, clients will approach the dancers requesting a lap dance after her shift on stage is over.
A lap dance is the moneymaker for dancers. Each song a woman dances, she gets $20. Summer said she could make up to $1,000 in one night.
One of the biggest problems faced in any strip club is the line between fantasy and reality.
"You can get lost in the game. Partying, drinking, talking to the customers so you're not actually making money," Summer said.
A strip club straddles the line of intimacy and business, which can lead to out-of-place emotional attachment. Some women have their "boyfriends" in the club, who can forget they are paying for the dancer's attention.
"You get guys in there that only want you, and then when you give attention to other guys they get upset. They want you to stay with them, be their girl, even though you're not," Summer said.
Kohn said the men begin to seek relationships in the club because they wish to avoid the needs of their wives at home.
"You're not going to be asked to do the household chores, it's not really a reciprocal relationship," she said. "They can be the center of attention; he can tell her all his problems and not listen to any of hers. That can be really gratifying and very intense to the point that men think they are in love with the dancer they go see. It can be easy for guys to get caught up and forget that she is being paid to give attention … it doesn't have to be genuine for her."
Likewise, women might get caught up in attention they get from a regular, and many seek relationships with them outside of the club.