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November 07, 2012 News » Cover Story

Taking it Off 

Exotic dancing can be a grind

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“No one says, ‘I can’t wait to be a stripper,’ ” says Anne Yeargin about her identical twin, Amy Freeman.

Freeman was at a low point in her life in January 1999—not because of what she would be doing, but because of what drove her there. “I was very helpless,” she says. “My girls were suffering, and I couldn’t get any child support—even after I sent the state after my ex-husband.”

Freeman felt that in her financial bind, she could depend on no one. When she ultimately called a strip club for a job, she was told to bring in a bikini so she could audition. The 27-year-old entered what was then The Million Dollar Saloon (now the Southern X-Posure club at 3420 S. State) shaking with nervousness.

She literally trembled as the music started. When she was asked to take off her top, “the modesty issue was kind of freaking me out, but I’d already developed the ability to shut down in my marriage.”

From the moment her bikini top dropped away, Amy became Sapphire, an exotic dancer named after her birthstone. “I’m a pretty shy person—the last person you would ever think would have the guts to do this. I just created an alter ego and was somebody else onstage. I was terrified the first day, but after a while, it got really easy. Dancing was exciting and exhilarating for Sapphire.”

Long, Hard Road
Before she learned to take it all off, Amy Freeman had worked as a Continental Airlines reservationist, where she got travel perks—but low pay. Working as a licensed massage therapist for a chiropractor also didn’t provide a living wage. Even with multiple jobs, she didn’t pull in enough to support her two daughters. Her former husband was still in the picture but often quit working and stopped sending child support.

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Oddly enough, Freeman’s lifelong dream was to become a professional dancer— a ballerina. She was on her way to meeting her goal when she got pregnant at 18. “I still tried to pursue it, and took the girls to class with me. I really tried, but it was too demanding. I realized this was no way to raise two young children.”

She got to the point where she wasn’t making any money and was desperate. Sitting on her bedroom floor one day, sobbing, she decided to try working as an exotic dancer. “It was a long, hard road for her,” says her sister Yeargin.

The three clubs where she eventually worked had opulent names: The Million Dollar Saloon, The Golden Fleece and the Gold Bar Saloon (now known, respectively, as Southern X-posure on State Street and Duces Wild on 300 West. The Gold Bar Saloon on 3300 South has closed). Arriving for her first shift from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Freeman soon learned the routine of donning a g-string, using a glue stick to attach pasties to her nipples (she would remove them later with a baby wipe) and adding stiletto heels before heading out to dance on five different stages. A bouncer escorted her between the stages. After the fifth dance, she went backstage to put on a dress and re-emerge to mingle with men in the main club area.

She’d heard about dancers in Las Vegas beginning their evenings with a couple of drinks to loosen up and summon courage, but such imbibing isn’t legal in Utah. “If they were high or something,” she says, “they did it before they came into the club. It was never an issue for me; I’ve never been a big partier.”

She utilized her talent as a longtime dancer and never needed to take pole-dancing lessons. “I just watched, and it sort of came naturally. A lot of girls could do amazing tricks on the pole. I could spin around, but I just taught myself.”

Master of Drink Tickets
Freeman discovered she had a knack for letting men talk about themselves and making them feel important. She recalls a broad spectrum of men who worked on oil rigs, drove trucks and owned their own businesses. Occasionally, there was a bachelor party. Her sister Yeargin might stop in to say hello but, mostly, she remembers a lot of solitary men who seemed lonely, were extremely quiet and just sat there. “One guy who appeared to be totally unemotional suddenly handed out a huge chunk of money that seemed to come out of nowhere,” Yeargin recalls. And a man with a foot fetish threw money at Freeman whenever her toes were painted perfectly.

Yeargin saw a man she knew from the business world who jokingly—but seriously—admonished her not to spread it around: “Don’t say anything.” Yeargin saw a wide range of people “who I wouldn’t guess that’s what their habits are.”

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There is a wide age range among dancers, too, from the 18-year-olds allowed to dance fully nude at the alcohol-free American Bush to a 50-ish woman with the stage name of Jasmine who could still do the splits.

Dancing is similar to waitressing, Freeman says, in that each dancer receives a small paycheck—like a food server—and that tips received are an important aspect of being paid. The dancer, in effect, rents out her time when she dances on the stage and receives tips. Her dances are followed up with subsequent mingling with the customers, who buy her drinks as a way of paying for her stage time that night. Two types of drinks are available at the club: traditional drinks purchased from the bar and nonalcoholic “dancer drinks” that cost $5 each.

At the end of the night, each dancer has to turn in five drink tickets, or pay $25. “Every time they would buy you a drink, you would get a drink ticket. I would sit down with a man, order a drink, excuse myself briefly, saying ‘Just a minute,’ then go sit with another guy. I was a master at getting drink tickets. Whenever somebody came up short, I gave them away.”

Freeman usually worked Thursday through Saturday nights, bringing home anywhere from $50 to $400 a night. “A lot of girls go down to Vegas where you can make more money,” she says. "You can touch the men and climb on them." Dancers also drive to Wyoming to make more money because  lap dances are allowed in bars where alcohol is served—not so in Utah. Also, oil-field workers there are known to leave big tips.

“I know that some men will pay $1,000 for a private dance,” when a patron pays to have time alone with a dancer at a private stage where only he can sit. “There are golf tournaments where they pay girls hundreds of dollars. It is quick, easy money.”

The Furniture Is Here
One man came in day after day, buying her costumes until she finally told him she had a boyfriend. She adds, “There were a lot of men who came in search of somebody to sleep with. A lot of girls would go with the men. Girls can make a lot more money if they will put out. A man threw lots of dollar bills on my stage until he found out I wasn’t one of those girls.”

Freeman estimates that dancers can earn about $4,000 a month—without “extracurricular activities.” But if they put out on the side, dancers can earn at least twice their salary, and Freeman speculates about half the dancers participate in interactions beyond the club setting. “There are a lot of sex addicts out there,” she says.

A multimillionaire who owned a national sporting-goods chain offered to buy Freeman a house and car and to pay all of her living expenses if she would sleep with him on the side. “It wasn’t my thing. I do have my line in the sand. But I’m sure he found someone who said yes,” she says.

Besides being a dancer, Freeman was, in effect, an actress. “It was our job to entertain them and make them feel good about themselves as kind of an escape,” she says. “There were men whose minds weren’t right. What was actually just a show became real in their minds, and they couldn’t distinguish the role-playing from the reality.”

And while many leave the club knowing it was fantasy, others leave and won’t let it go, obsessing over and stalking dancers. One night, a man followed Freeman as she left the club, “I drove halfway home with him right on my tail.” She then turned her car around, drove back to the club and waited until he left.

There were the regulars, too. “We called them ‘the furniture.’ We’d say, ‘the furniture’s here.’ They were married and had families, but this was their separate life and they couldn’t stop. They only tipped the girls they knew would sleep with them.”

She saw plain-clothed vice cops who drank only water, didn’t give tips and enforced Utah’s exotic dance-club rules.

Andrew McCullough, an attorney and recent Libertarian candidate for Utah attorney general, has included strip clubs among his client list for many years. Some of Utah’s more unique rules, he says, are that instead of the traditional scanty g-strings, Utah dancers wear “t-backs,” where the narrowest part in back is 2 inches wide.

McCullough notes other features of Utah strip-club regulations, such as: “They require three feet of separation by a barrier. This is done by the traditional brass rail. The barrier is 3 feet high, but not solid. American Bush, one of my prime clients, does not serve alcoholic beverages, so there is no distance requirement for them.”

In clubs where Freeman worked, “You had to wear pasties, they couldn’t touch you and [they] had to [remain at least] three feet from you. There was a girl who pulled aside her g-string and flashed everyone—a big no-no.”

They Have Demand; We Supply It
Phil Henderson is the area manager of the three Southern X-posure bars in Salt Lake City. He began his career as an Ultimate Combat nightclub promoter who climbed the career ladder to become a manager. He came to Southern X-posure in search of a less-stressful environment “that was less trouble-making. The strip-club industry is actually calmer and more regulated than nightclubs, which have a shorter shelf life because of all the chaos that goes on there.”

He describes Utah strip clubs as being “PG-13 as compared to California. It is a much more regulated and down-to-earth situation.” Rules requiring that potential dancers pass a background check have made his job easier. “Women who have had drug issues or have been prostitutes can’t get a bar card [from the city business regulatory agency] and can’t work for us,” he says.

Even in the downward economy, he says their business has continued to grow. “This leads me to believe that people who are saving for their car and house payments are still wanting to drink and be entertained with adult entertainment.”

Some women in the Southern X-posure clubs have worked there 15 to 20 years, Henderson says. “This is something that you can do for an extended period of time and have a happy career if you can focus on yourself and not get involved in a ‘rock & roll’ lifestyle,” Henderson says.

He says that lifestyle might include “burning out and drinking too much or getting into drugs. But we don’t allow that—our regulations include drug and STD checks.” As Freeman herself will vouch, Henderson says there are a lot of single moms in the business. “With this economy, this is a job where you can make enough money to support your kids when you are barely out of your teens. My 18-year-olds who are right out of high school are making more money than their parents. You can set your own hours and make $200 to $400 dollars a night. You can’t make that much at Walmart.”

Dancers can work a full-time schedule if they choose. “People want to see girls Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They have the demand, and we supply it,” Henderson says. Women in his clubs have the choice of being an employee who receives a paycheck in addition to tips or an independent contractor.

Dancing Is Just Who I Am
Before her life took a downward turn, Freeman was raised LDS and danced ballet through high school and in college. A man she met at 13 later became her first husband. “He was very good looking, charming and good at getting inside your head—I fell head over heels,” she says. She adds that her ex-husband was also a heroin addict who was both physically and mentally abusive. The couple married after she became pregnant at 18. They moved to Wisconsin for the next six years. As he went through rehab “about six times,” their life filled with chaos. “He was like other abusive men,” she says, “in that you believe what they say, and they convince you it’s your fault if you leave.”

Enrolling in massage school, she found strong, supportive people who helped give her the courage to divorce her husband and get custody of her two girls. Returning to Utah, she tried to work and go to school at the same time, but it was hard on her kids. When a dance professor at the University of Utah told her not to quit, the thought of leaving tore at her. “Dancing is just who I am—it is my heart,” she says.

While it may not have been a solo with Ballet West, exotic dancing did give Freeman the outlet she needed. She originally began dancing in January 1999 and worked for eight months. She took it up again for another six months in 2004.

When she started, she got icy stares from the other dancers. “Their hackles will go up on other women right out of the gate, and they hate each other,” Freeman says.

She approached another dancer whose skills she admired, saying, “Hey, I’m going to start here, and you dance so well, can you tell me how to do stuff?” She still remembers the other woman’s dismissive look. She later learned that “when a pretty lady walks up to your stage, it’s either because you’ve been with her boyfriend and she’s going to kill you, or she and her boyfriend are really kinky and want you to participate.”

That interaction was an early exposure to the judgmental mentality of the exotic-dancing business. “Between attractive women, there is instant competition. It’s icy stares and attitude,” Freeman says. Some dancers stole belongings from others. “My friend had a huge trunk full of costumes and kept a padlock on it.

Freeman describes herself as a warm individual who likes to keep peace. “It’s really like a sisterhood where you have to earn your way,” she says. “Once I proved to be nonthreatening and kind, the women started to thaw. You may have a lot to offer each other friendship-wise, especially when you need support. We need to exemplify the kind of things that women are known for—nurturing, endurance and strength.” The woman she initially asked for advice later became one of her best friends.

Backstage, she found a lot of moms like herself. “We were back there in our g-strings sharing recipes.” A mother with the stage name Diamond stitched on a quilt, ran out to the stage when it was her turn to dance, then returned to pick up her needle and thread again.

Freeman also saw women who were addicted and students paying their way through college. Others turned to drugs to “get the weight off so that they would have a good body for the stage. One got so skinny that you could see the bag for her implants,” she says. Another dancer was dating an addict and basically supported him. Still another was sexually assaulted as a child, and “was reliving her abuse—now, she controls the men rather than the men controlling her,” Freeman says.

The Happy Ending
Eventually, Freeman started to feel dead inside. “I felt that I was more than a piece of meat,” she says. “The men come in to have visual sex, and there is that element of being objectified.”

And maybe she had just grown beyond it. “There is ... excitement, where you dress up and have men fawning all over you. That will feed your ego for a while, especially if your self-esteem is shot,” she says. “It was probably a little endorphin shot for me until I realized I was more than that.”

Freeman eventually left her work as a dancer for a massage-therapy job at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. On one of her final nights as a dancer, Bob, a man who had placed lots of dollar bills on her stage, approached her with a friend of his. After she’d finished dancing, his tall, dark-haired friend made a strange request of her: “I would just like to pay you $100 to stand on my porch when my ex-wife shows up.”

To be sure he wasn’t “some psychopath,” she asked the other women backstage about Clint Freeman. They said, “Oh, he’s so nice.” They said he was always respectful to the girls.

Looking back, Clint describes the time after his divorce as “my sabbatical. A time when I worked hard and played hard.” Though he says he would have preferred going to a sports bar, he ended up hanging out at The Million Dollar Saloon with friends who liked to go there. The first time he saw Amy, he remembers thinking, “Wow. I thought she was absolutely beautiful. She had long blond hair and was very thin and very tan. I could tell she had had training as a dancer. There was something that made her different from the other dancers that I didn’t know how to put into words.”

Clint said he needed a pretty girl to stand on his porch when his ex-wife arrived to show her that he didn’t need her anymore. “I had moved on and just kind of wanted to throw it in her face,” he says. The woman he was dating then lived in California and wouldn’t be around when his ex-wife stopped by. So he hatched a plan of hiring someone to stand on his porch.

Amy agreed to do it. “So I went and stood on his porch, and he always said that that was when he fell in love with me,” Amy says. That day, Clint says he noticed how Amy interacted with so much compassion with his younger son, who is severely disabled.

He kept coming to the club. A week or two later, he asked Amy, “How much do you think you will make tonight?” When she said $200, he offered her to pay her that much to go boating with him instead. “I knew she was struggling for cash and wanted her to be able to go with us. It was absolutely not a prostitution kind of thing. Nothing was expected. I knew she was going to miss work and wanted to know what she made at work for the day. At that point, that kind of money wasn’t a big deal for me.”

Amy says, “I was starting to get to know him and be comfortable with him, which doesn’t usually happen in the clubs. You never hear of someone meeting someone at a strip club.”

Amy later moved to Las Vegas, and Clint flew down to see her. “We would walk the Strip and talk and talk, and that was when I realized I was in love with him.” She says they met when they were both in a low place. “Separately, but around the same time, we both fell on our knees and [prayed], ‘Send me somebody nice.’ ” They met a short time later.

They’ve been married for 12 years, and Amy is now an aspiring novelist.

Worlds Collide
The majority of her family members don’t know about her former career. “My dad doesn’t know and would have a very hard time with it, because he is very devout LDS. My twin sister was very supportive.”

Today, Amy feels that her dancing was a significant part of her life and helped create who she is. “If other family members found out, those who know me and love me would still know me and love me.”

She did resent her ex-husband for telling her daughters about her stripping when they were young. “I had dancer friends who kept their two lives very separate. What was he hoping to gain by that? By trying to involve them in that world? It doesn’t hurt me—it would hurt them. There is a stigma to it.”

Amy’s two lives crossed one day when she was taking one of her children to Primary Children’s Hospital and saw a patron from the club. “He called out, ‘Sapphire,’ and I just walked in the hospital quickly.”

Now 41, she feels that Amy and Sapphire have combined to become one person. “Sapphire was another person who was bold and fearless and didn’t care.” The previous version of Amy “had crushed self-esteem, was terrified of everything and so low about myself. I wouldn’t recommend my previous life,” Amy says. She sees her experience as a dancer as making her “more empathetic and more human. It contributed to my life and helped me become a compassionate person. I enjoyed it while I did it.” 


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How Utah Takes It Off

1. If you’re at a strip club that serves alcohol, no nudity or lap dances are allowed. Dancers must wear pasties and maintain a 3-foot distance from customers. At Trails and Southern X-posure International (3420 S. State), for example, there are multiple stages that allow limited interaction with the dancers, but the upside is you can drink until last call at 1 a.m.

2. If you are at an alcohol-free club, lap dances are allowed, but dancers must be covered with a top and bottom. Also, if lap dances are allowed, no nudity is allowed onstage (dancers must wear pasties and maintain a 3-foot distance from customers).

3. At Southern X-posure Showgirls location (3055 S. State), the club has only one stage with a VIP section of the stage for lap dances. Lap dances are done in the open and in no case may customers touch the dancers.

4. The American Bush offers a semi-private area of the club for lap dancing. Customers cannot touch dancers but dancers can give a more traditional lap dance (while wearing a top and bottom).

Where They Take It Off

In & around Salt Lake City
Must be 21 or older except where indicated

The American Bush
18 and over
2630 S. 300 West
South Salt Lake
801-467-0700
TheAmericanBush.com

Club Wet
2706 S. 1900 West
Ogden
801-393-2281

Duces Wild
2750 S. 300 West
Salt Lake City
801-467-4600
DucesWildSLC.com

The Bears Den
8785 W. 2700 South
Magna
801-250-6616

Pinky’s
4141 S. State
Salt Lake City
801-261-3463
PinkysTopless.com

Southern X-posure International
3420 S. State
Salt Lake City
801-467-4600 MySouthernX.com

Southern X-posure Showgirls
18 and over
3055 S. State
801-486-0100
MySouthernX.com

Southern X-posure Downtown
18 and over
1737 Beck St.
Salt Lake City
801-355-1488
MySouthernX.com

Trails Men’s Club
921 S. 300 West
Salt Lake City
801-363-2871
TrailsClub.com

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About The Author

Carolyn Campbell

Carolyn Campbell

Bio:
Campbell has been writing for City Weekly since the 1980s. Her insightful pieces have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists chapters in Utah and Colorado.

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