The first time I went to New Orleans, it was for three hours during spring break. The second time, it was over winter break and lasted three days. During those three days, I went to a New Orleans strip club on Bourbon.
Now, this wasn’t the first time I had been a patron to an exotic dance club. During my sophomore year of college, I was in an intro to news reporting and writing class. One of our assignments entailed going to a place out of our comfort zone and do a piece of observational reporting. I’d like to say that I’m fairly able to adapt to uncomfortable situations, but this assignment gave me a chance to really step out and doing something I would never do otherwise. So, I corralled some of my friends (all female) to join me for a night at Club Vogue.
I think one of the ironies of this situation is that Club Vogue, which prides itself as “mid-Missouri’s finest gentleman’s club,” is merely a two-minute drive down the street from the high school I attended.
This week’s reading, “Doing Gender, Doing Class” The Performance of Sexuality in Exotic dance Clubs” By Mary Nell Trautner, brought me back to these two experiences. However, I’m not entirely sure my experiences in these two places reflect Trautner’s findings.
Columbia has a fairly high volume of middle-class families and people. We have three universities, one a major state university, and are a relatively growing city business-wise. The location of Club Vogue, however, is more so in the working class areas of town. I found that much like Trautner’s articles, the presentation and demeanor of the dancers onstage were very much variant from the general public’s commercialized standards of beauty. I remember speaking with some friends about how being in the club didn’t make us feel “shameful” about our body types as much as we might have imagined. The women onstage weren’t necessarily the size 2, double-D models that cover the American beauty industry. There were women of color, of varying ages and personalities and styles. A wide array of rap, country and rock blasted from the sound systems, and the dancers were all very laid back both onstage and off while interacting with the customers.
One of the major things that I took away was the athleticism of some of the dancers. I think one of them joked that exotic dancing should be an Olympic sport. I’m not sure what the update on that is, but her muscle strength was probably worthy of a medal.
My experience down in the Big Easy was quite a bit different. If you’re unfamiliar, Bourbon Street in New Orleans is basically a jazz-fest of booze, nudity and all kinds of food that can’t be of any good to the body. The first time I was down there, it was the during March Madness Final Four games. The place was alive. Amid the throngs of drunk college students was a Christian extremist condemning basically all of the sin going down on the streets.
But back to the club. It was a Wednesday night and the street was fairly deserted. My friends and I (again, all female) decided to succumb to the insistent advertising of one woman to check out her dancers, mostly because there was no cover charge and we were curious.
I’m not sure if the New Orleans club would be classified as middle or working class. If anything, it’s a tourist destination and may be closer to that of a middle class establishment.
The thing that struck me most about that club was how unenthused the dancers looked. Compared to the energy and enthusiasm of those at Club Vogue, the New Orleans exotic club was much more of a toned-down, almost buzz kill vibe. The dancing was slower, though still a variety of rock and rap music, and the dancers’ eyes were more or less vacant. At one point, a woman asked what my friends and I were doing there and went on a mini-verbal assault on men. I don’t think she enjoyed her work.
There was physical interaction between the dancers and the patrons though, unlike Trautner’s examples. The dancers were also not of the air-brushed caliber that society associates with commercialized sexuality.
For the most part, Trautner’s findings resonated quite a bit with my own experiences, although they were of course much less extensive. I wonder if these generalizations might vary in places that are rampant with exotic clubs, like Vegas or New Orleans, compared to your everyday, just-around-the-corner strip club. Which type is more common, and how does that reflect our society’s beauty standards?