If you've ever been to a strip club, you know the difference between striptease as art and striptease as naked jiggling around.
The battle being waged by strip club Nite Moves' owner Stephen Dick, Jr. in front of the New York State Court of Appeals over proving stripping is a form of art protected under a New York state sales tax exemption that covers "dramatic or musical art performances" that are "choreographed" opens up a whole new conversation.
Can we label lap dances as protected artistic expression that shouldn't be taxed?
As a former stripper I know all too well that stripping can be an art form. Depending on the club, the stripper, the customer and the particular day, a stripper's performance can veer sharply from one extreme to the other in a nanosecond.
The first club I ever worked in back in 1989 was in suburban Connecticut and I had the whole stage to myself. I put on a truly "artistic" show that involved my character, Kirea, dancing, teasing and luring the men to give me their money. Because I was young, pretty, an actress and very prudish for a stripper, I became known for my "performances." Kirea, the infamous stripper, who took it all off and soared through the waking dreams of sleeping men. I never came on stage and just undressed. I spun tales of erotic body poetry, sang through my navel, prophesized with my breasts.
As time went on and I moved onto bigger and "better" clubs, expectations and dancing styles changed. New York City clubs' stages were often crowded with at least half-a-dozen dancers at a time, which doesn't leave a dancer much room to be creative.
The last strip club I ever danced in came the closest to strictly "arty" stripping. I thought The Blue Angel would be different because it was touted as an "exotic cabaret" and was located in a dark basement in Tribecca. We get a lot of artsy types who thought it was the cool place to be, but they didn't tip well. We were allowed to do performance art along with our stripping, as long as we ended up nude.
There were a lot of characters: Felicia Blue did a cat act lapping milk out of a bowl and streaming it over her body. The men loved it, but she would get it in her wig, which she never washed, and the dressing room would always smell like rotten milk. Elizabeth, a petite blond, was perpetually stoned and accused others of stealing her drugs and booze. She would only dance to one tape by Electric Light Orchestra. Bonnie was in her late thirties and sang old Broadway tunes while she stripped. The crew-cut girl had a killer body. All she has to do was take her clothes off and shake her breasts to make the most money. Then there was the dancer who dressed like a nun and the fire-eater who set the red curtain on fire every time I saw her perform.
The downside of burlesque for strippers is that you often don't make as much money as you would for the old bump and grind. When we weren't dancing we sat around and hoped for customers. We were only paid by tips and most of the time our art went unappreciated.
But this was also the time and place of lap dances. I was one of the few strippers who tried to keep the creative art of striptease alive and well while doing a private dance. But I can't tell you how hard it was (pardon the pun) to get the men to only want a sexy dance done in front of them without some grinding going on in the lap area.
And while I thought I had some pretty clever routines--like my Strawberry Shortcake outfit, which I teamed with a basketful of strawberries that I would suck and let the juices run down my body--often the chic and cheeky routines went un-admired.
What most men are looking for when they come into a strip club is not art, so what you will see most strippers doing (since most strippers are there to make money and not friends) is what is in demand. And what's in demand is the fantasy of a beautiful woman wanting to be with the man, of wanting to get sexual with him, so that's the dance you will most often see.
Can a lap dance be art? Absolutely! Is it very often? Absolutely not, unfortunately.
And although Nite Moves Attorney Andrew McCullough reportedly said in a court of law: "We say, 'Hey, we are, in fact, an art form.' It's quite likely to be an Olympic sport in the upcoming future," I think we can all appreciate the good chuckle had by all when they met back at Nite Moves later on.
And don't hold your breath on anyone ever lap dancing for gold.