Dancing. Again.

Figuring out where to dance in LA was like deciding which of Chaucer's turds to scoop up first. I didn't like any of my options, so I more or less held my nose and just picked one.

Yelp, online dancer community forums, and the club websites themselves were my only guidance. But each of those resources has pitfalls. Yelp tells me everything about what it's like to be a customer at Club X, but nothing about being an employee. Dancer forums are unreliable and largely outdated. Club websites tell me about the owner's taste in web design, not what I can expect from his actual business.

I chose based mostly on two factors: proximity to my apartment and positive Yelp reviews. I don't want to get any more specific than that for safety reasons. Suffice to say the club I'm at is within both train and biking distance.

I called the club one evening to ask whether they were hiring (though this is a formality - clubs will take on as many girls as they can). I was asked three questions: Have you danced before? Are you in really good shape? Are you over 19? I answered in the affirmative. I was told to come down the next day, and to bring everything I needed to work that night. When I hung up the phone, I stood in front of the mirror running my hand lightly over my stomach. I can do this.

The next day, I started getting ready at four in the afternoon. Buffing, shaving, oiling, lotioning, primping, preening, curling, and making up. I only packed one outfit in my bag. Seven inch acrylic heels with clear bases and black patent leather uppers, a pair of thigh high argyle socks, ruched black panties, and a sheer red Cosabella bra. I stopped at Wallgreen's on the way to the train station to buy gum and a padlock.

Auditioning to be a topless dancer is two parts depressing and one part hilarious. As with everything else in dancing, a sense of humor and ability to not take one's self too seriously is essential.

Here's how it goes: A girl takes off 97% of her clothes, and someone - almost always a man - evaluates her body with varying degrees of scrutiny, depending on, essentially, how high end the club is, and how attractive the other dancers. Sometimes girls will be asked to perform on stage. That's never happened to me. The only other "audition" I gave was in Las Vegas years ago. I, along with two other girls, changed from street clothes into our costumes, and walked in front of the club manager. That night, I was the only one asked to stay. That's not to say I was (as arbitrarily determined by one man's subjective gaze) any better a physical specimen than the other women. But I was extremely young and fresh faced, and that was the vibe of that particular club, at that time.

It's a weirdly matter-of-fact exchange of power. A girl is sized up, valued/devalued. Commoditized. How much money can this girl make me? In this way, the manager has the power to determine her fate. But I'd argue that the dancer potentially has some power, too. If she's pretty, if she has a great body - and, bonus! a great personality - he'll want her as an employee. It's in his interest. One great looking girl will attract another great looking girl to work there, and so on. Better girls (better should really be in quotes) = more customers, and wealthier clientele. And pretty dancers who are smart will leverage their looks not just against patrons, but against their employers, as well. More on that later.

While I stood there making polite small talk with this man - a pretense for him to surreptitiously check out my body - I couldn't help but feel like I was cashing in my chips. Collecting a blank paycheck for the weeks of amped up workouts, the nutritious eating. Even the social graces I've acquired over the years. I'm in pretty good shape for a 36 year-old woman; I won't discount that. But my smile, combined with an ability to put men at ease and get the conversation focused on them...that's where the money is. And honestly, it's not as deliberate and manipulative a maneuver as that sounds. Most of the time, I'm genuinely interested to hear their stories. I pride myself on having a cocktail's conversation worth of knowledge about a lot of topics (thanks, NPR!), so it's actually kind of fun and intellectually stimulating to engage with men of different professions and walks of life. In the past two weeks I chatted up a civil engineer (who was tickled pink when I could discuss light rail and the specifics of the LA metro), a graphic designer (!), an artist, and a tortilla factory owner, among others. To be a successful topless dancer, one needs to channel her inner geisha. And this is one aspect of the job I genuinely enjoy.

Anyway. I got the job. I very much like the club itself, if not the location. Again, I don't want to get too detailed lest I give away where I work to any would-be stalkers, but it's clean, large, well-appointed (as these things go), and fascinatingly high tech. The managers are extremely nice and easy to work with, and the girls are some of the friendliest I've ever met. (In fact, small world - one of the girls and I worked at the same place in Arizona, years ago. She's super, super cool and down to earth. Older, like me, no children, huge dog freak.) The only things I don't like are the clientele, which, with a few notable exceptions, is not my target market (more on that at some point), and the tip out rates, which are insane. The club takes a huge cut of our earnings. It's a complicated system, and I don't want to get too specific (because, again, that could give away my location), but as an example - if I earn $200 with one customer, the club takes $60 of it immediately. But when I talk about my earnings, I will always talk about what I walked out the door with.

In California, there are two types of adult clubs: fully nude, where no alcohol is served, and "bikini bars", where alcohol is served. At these clubs, girls are only allowed to take their tops off onstage (and have to remain at a remove from any tippers near the stage). Tops stay on at all other times, including during lap dances. This is completely different than Arizona and Nevada, the only other places I've danced.

I did not know this. No one told me this.

So, here I am on my first night, doing my first round of dances, boobs free and clear, la dee da, feeling all psyched to be making $20 in 2.5 minutes, when the DJ coughs meaningfully behind me. "____," he says (my stage name). "You need to leave your top on, hon."

This was my first performance review, in other words. My customer service was too good. I am such an overachiever.

I'm sure I'll be relating many an anecdote about work, so I'm not too worried about getting out every detail about the place, about how dancing works, etc. right now. But I'll summarize how things have gone. I've worked two of what I consider "long weekends" - Thursday through either Saturday or Sunday. The first, I made just under $1k in four days, working 4 hour shifts. Not terrible at all, and nothing to complain about. But the whole point of doing this is to be able to do so little of it that I can get a 2nd job - a REAL job. I need to have enough time and energy to be able to mount a professional life more or less from scratch, at 36, with nil experience or marketable skills. I have my work cut out for me. Dancing is exhausting, truly exhausting, especially at my age. So while I don't want to seem ungrateful to make $250-300 for a few hours of working, the fact is, I need to make at least that, if not more. The next week was much better. I made just about $1200 in three days. So I hit my goal and could take Sunday off, which I did.

So! Thaaaaaat is where I'm at, and what I've been doing in that area of my life. More updates on the remaining corners of my universe soon...