Edinburgh strip club dancer speaks about what it's really like to work as an exotic dancer

Before her shift starts at 7pm exotic dancer Sarah slaps on a bit of fake tan, skimpy bra, thong and high-heeled platforms.

By Jolene Campbell
Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 4:55 am

The 37-year-old says the rituals of getting ready remind her of how stripping gave her back the body confidence she’d lost after having a baby.

But the real buzz of dancing comes from showing off her skills both on and off stage, she says.

"After I had my son I thought I would have to stop. I had hang ups about my body. But my husband reassured me. He respects my choice. Dancing is the best job I've ever had.

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“Guys treat me like a queen. I deserve it. I put a lot of time and effort into looking good. I work out a lot. I’ve had a little botox. You need to look the part. Guys often say they are intimidated by my confidence.”

Working a few shifts a week Sarah can pocket thousands in a month – up to triple her salary from her day job in financial services.

She claims self-employed work as a dancer has also given her the independence she always wanted, after years on the breadline working menial jobs as a student.

“I used to work 2 jobs and was just getting by. After my son was born I went part-time in my day job to spend time with him. Now we have a home, car and stability enough to have a bigger family.

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"I can't stand it when people say we're victims. That’s demeaning. The worst is when a guy says oh you’re so lovely, I wish you didn’t have to do this. Give us some credit. I have the right to choose.”

Strippers and club bosses are gearing up to protest to save their livelihoods, following the council’s vote to shut the Capital’s four ‘sexual entertainment’ venues.

Some campaigners say the clubs objectify women for profit, contributing to wider social problems which threaten women’s safety, and have accused some venues in other parts of the UK of rape and sexual abuse.

Sarah, who has been stripping in Edinburgh for more than a decade, rejects the arguments and is angry at the move which she fears will worsen stigma and marginalise women further.

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“I'm using what I’ve got. If you consider that exploitation, then it’s mutual. I’ve never been assaulted or harmed. If guys cross the line they get shown the door.

"They haven’t looked at the international evidence, strip clubs are not violence against women. It’s sexual entertainment. The stigma is unfair and it will only get worse. I don’t see them going after Magic Mike.

"We’re all sexy servers. Customers get cheap drinks while being around attractive, confident women. For me, when guys get turned on I find that a compliment, I feel powerful. I like it. Especially, if he’s hot.”

Strippers protest the closure of lap dancing bars in capital PIC: Mina Karenina

Clients on an average night include businessmen, married men, tourists and stags. There's no cap on private dances so guys can get into a bidding war for the up-close experience with their favourite stripper.

Reviews by punters online claim the women sometimes ‘let you touch them’, but Sarah insists there is a strictly enforced safety policy.

She said: “99 per cent of guys treat me with respect. Some are lonely and just want company. We chat about all sorts, even politics.

“It’s sales, so you need to be a good listener. I’ve even made friends with regulars and some who chaperone friends but don’t get a dance. I care about my regulars but always have my head screwed on.

“Sometimes customers think you're interested in them and ask to meet after but that’s strictly a no. I’ve seen younger guys show off, call me a dirty slut. Just bravado. If someone acts like a twat their mates call them out. Customers police each other.”

There's CCTV throughout the bar and in the cramped, black-curtained booths where customers get private dances.

Sarah says if a guy gets ‘gropey’ he’ll be shown the door. But at a venue she worked in previously she felt she had to put up with ‘weird’ customers - even if she felt scared of them.

Now she feels entirely safe, she says, at the Burke & Hare club where she works.

And if clubs shut, she fears it will undermine the ways dancers can protect themselves and each other.

“In here I feel safe to be a character, a fantasy for customers. I can go to the manager and the bar staff and they have our backs. I can say I told this guy I’m not dancing for him and that’s my call. They back me. It’s a sisterhood. In the past I’ve had staff telling me don’t talk to the customers like that.”

If clubs are forced to close Sarah wouldn’t feel comfortable offering services online. But she would consider carrying on dancing at private events and believes many women will put themselves in danger.

“In these days of OnlyFans and so many experiences online, we are all selling our looks and constantly sexualised, in one way or another. I can screen customers in here. And it’s more real. It’s contained. We look out for each other. But I wouldn’t get into online work. Then it’s out there. I’m not ashamed of what I do. But I wouldn't want my son to find something online about me.”

She added: "I would consider carrying on dancing. I did a couple of events with regulars in B&Bs. But I'd be wary of doing that with strangers.

"Guys can get the wrong idea if you meet them in flats or hotels. So it is more scary. You don't know if you can trust people in that sort of situation, there's a fine line. Guys could treat you more like an escort.

"People get used to a certain lifestyle. Some will carry on stripping at private events or go into prostitution. That’s the reality. We all have commitments based on what we earn, like anyone. You can’t just drop it. I’ll keep going as long as I can.”