a night in the life, part two

(continued from here)

10:30 pm

I walk through the dressing room door and out onto the club floor. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the low light; when they do, I step over to the DJ booth to say hello. I glance at his roster to see who's working, and engage in a minute's worth of small talk. It's worth my time to be friendly to him. He can grant favors, bend rules - in other words, help me make more money. For instance, he can bump me up in the stage rotation, if it suits my purposes - or take me out of it completely. Or, when he tallies the number of lap dances I've done (it's his job to keep track), he can knock one or two or more off, thus requiring me to give the house less of my earnings. He can also go out of his way to buy/download music he knows I'll like, which ultimately helps us both (because he gets a percentage of my tips, too). It's never been a chore to be friendly with the DJs I've worked with, though. They tend to be easy to get along with and very down to earth - probably a result of years of patience cultivated in the face of neverending dancer drama.

I take a moment to get the lay of the land. I'm assessing how busy it is, looking over the patrons, and deciding what tables are my best bet. I profile. I strategize. Finally, I do a lap, walking through the club at a calculated pace and with a deliberate course. I don't saunter. I move with purpose, giving the illusion that I'm busy - that someone is waiting for me. I weave in and out of tables, making a point to walk in front of certain ones and avoiding others. I take care to be seen by the two middle-aged men in suits - the ones drinking what looks like Scotch, and watching the stage. I don't bother with the 20-somethings in Lakers apparel. Their table is strewn with beer bottles, and those that aren't talking loudly amongst themselves have their eyes glued to the TV on the wall.

A girl with whom I'm friendly is sitting with some customers and two other dancers. She calls out my stage name as I walk by, inviting me to come join the group. She's the ideal partner for working customers: shrewd, clever, a great conversationalist, and very pretty. She wouldn't beckon me to the table if it wasn't worth my time, so I take an empty seat next to a man not otherwise engaged.

And so begins the hardest part of dancing, for me: the first awkward moments of trying to make a complete stranger feel like I'm interested in him, not his money. The truth is, there's actually a very good chance that if I can draw him out a little bit, get him talking about himself, I probably will find him interesting. I'm just like that; I like to hear people's stories, hear about their lives and interests. But making a man in a strip club genuinely believe that - particularly when one or both of you is stone-cold sober - well, that, as they say, is part of why we make the big bucks. It's hard.

I didn't used to have to play this game. Where I worked in Arizona, dances were so stupidly cheap that we could simply offer them straight-out, and either give one or move on to the next customer accordingly. But for $20 a pop, some chatting-up is required. It's been the most challenging aspect of dancing in LA: the hard sell. The schmoozing. The sales. And it's all sales. I'm selling my company, my conversation, and, ultimately, if I can convince him to leave his friends and accompany me to the lap dancing area, a taste of my sexuality. And I'll only get paid for the last of these. I can waste an hour or more, sitting and talking with someone, only to be told "Later" or "No thanks." I can spend an entire evening with someone who's strongly insinuated and/or verbally promised me monetary compensation for my time, only to walk away empty handed.

And there's nothing I can do.

And it happens to girls all the time.

That's part of my job, though: to gauge the payoff. And the faster I can do so, the more money I can make. If within minutes of sitting with someone, I get the sense that he's not a spender, the faster I cut my losses and move on, the faster I'll get to someone who is a spender. But there's often no telling. It's a gamble that a dancer must take, sometimes several times a night. And there's nothing to say that the same man who won't get dances after half an hour won't decide to get them after all, after a full hour. Drinks certainly help. But there are no guarantees.

Sometimes I come on strongly, being aggressively flirtatious and suggestive: holding eye contact and occasionally touching his knee. Sometimes I'm chill, putting on the air that it's just a relaxed night at the bar for me: that I love hanging out and drinking with customers (for drink we can), and any money I make is incidental and bonus. Sometimes I wax intellectual, pulling my chair close to his and listening intently to him talk about his profession or his hobbies, and doing my best to hold my own on the subject. It's my job to determine what version of me will most flatter, impress, and seduce him. It's my job to figure out who he wants.

At some point, though, turkey will have to be talked. At some point, I'm going to have to remind him, either directly or obliquely, that I'm there to make money, not conversation. At some point, he's going to either have to pony up, or I'm going to have to move on.

(to be continued)