Thursday, May 31, 2007

RIP The Drake Showlounge

After months and months of harrassment from police and liquor inspectors, and a constant battle to keep the doors open, the Drake Showlounge has given up. The city made running that club a horrible experience and now they've offered to buy it. If that isn't extortion, I don't know what is.

Although I am not dancing anymore, I am devastated. Most people probably don't realize how heartbreaking it is for industry members to see so many BC strip clubs closing. We are one of the few provinces left where dancers are consistently paid for their stage shows and women who need options for financial independence can work without crossing any physical boundaries.

If strip clubs in BC hadn't offered no-contact dances and paid stage shows, I don’t know what I would have done ten years ago when I was living on $350/month working in retail and conducting a futile and depressing job search. It's hard to describe how this industry saved me because so many people assume that it is degrading and exploitive. But for me, it was the light at the end of the tunnel when I was barely surviving financially or emotionally. Stripping gave me both - money and happiness - when I was at one of the lowest times in my life.

As the clubs continue to close down, there are less and less options for women in our province. Sex industry work is the only option for many women. I'm not just talking about women who are drug addicted or uneducated, although it is an important option for them as well. I'm talking about single moms, women with disabilities, women who are supporting their parents or sick loved ones - women who are poor and need the money to survive. I am an educated, resourceful, intelligent woman, but if I had to do it alone right now, there isn't a straight job out there that I'm qualified to do that would compensate enough financially to pay my rent, bills, car, food AND cover my daycare.

Strip clubs are a safe sex work option for women, so each time another club closes, it is one less safe place for women to work.

Clubs like the Drake that have been around for a long time are landmarks. No one sheds a tear for the closing of these clubs except for industry people. It's a tragedy that others don't see the value we see in these clubs as a part of the history of our towns and cities.

Strip clubs are a place of refuge for many lonely men. They are a place where people go and know they'll be accepted. Some people consider strip clubs to be the underbelly of society. Well, I for one think the underbelly of society is the most honest place you can be – a place where stretch-marks and cellulite are part of reality. You can't airbrush a real live woman. And men can be men. No one is judging them for enjoying the beauty of women or platonically indulging their sexual appetites free from remorse and shame. More and more women are learning how freeing strip clubs can be. But if things keep going they way they are, BC won't have any strip clubs left.

But strip clubs are more than that for those of us who've stripped in them. They are our homes away from home where we take new names and play sexy games. They are the livelihood of BC strippers. Every time a club disappears, it means a dancer has to work one more week far from home. Regular customers and deejays are displaced. House dancers are suddenly unemployed and in crisis. It breaks our hearts to say goodbye to another and another and another strip club. These places are full of memories for us - friendships and laughter were born in them.

The closing of the Drake, for me, has even more implications. I worked there many times when I was dancing - so yes, the memories and nostalgia are part of it. But it is also the place where we have held our Exotic Dancers for Cancer event for the last two years. Nick, the manager/DJ there, has been incredible to work with. He donated the price of the shows, got silent auction items, sent letters to his suppliers for donations, talked to the media, participated in the planning and so much more. We raised the most funds ever at that venue. It was a perfect size and layout for our event. I have no idea where we will hold the event next year and Nick has no idea where he will work from this day forward.

Jobs are lost and hearts are broken.

On June 9th I will sit in the Drake Showlounge for the last time on its last day open and pay my respects to a club that will forever live in my heart and in my memories. Gone will the be the Drake, just like many other clubs that I loved – the Marble Arch where I did my first show (and quit my abusive day job the next day), the Fraser Arms where I chose my stage name and met my daughter’s dad, the Barnet where I did my first show after my daughter was born and we held three fundraisers, the Golden Ears where I worked the most after my daughter was born so I wouldn’t have to do long shifts, the NBI where I showered every show in the summer because they had no air conditioning, and the Tudor where I worked as a dancing waitress when I was transitioning out of the industry – to name a few.

I was contemplating these precious memories while driving to the Alder Inn (a strip club in Aldergrove) to teach pole dance lessons, last weekend. I pulled into the parking lot in tears and wrote a poem that tumbled out of me. Here it is to share with you.

Landmarks in my life. Legends in our towns.
One by one we say goodbye to the Barnet, the Arch, and the Arms.
The loud music, stage lights, and laughing faces fade.
The dens of evil we know and love where we welcome the sexually depraved.
No more naked, shaking breasts – we sadly say goodbye
To the Lougheed, the Ears, Delaneys, the Duck and the NBI.
We weep to witness our strip clubs replaced.
The Coach House, the Tudor, and now the Drake.
One less place to work, one less place to escape in the night.
One less option for women not born for the straight life.
The disappearing act in a show that shows it all.
Abracadabra – the strip club becomes a strip mall.
All the world blind to our pain and our precious paid stage gains
As we desperately try to save what of our industry remains.


Tyler said...

I find the way you speak amazing. You voice your feelings and are able to touch those who don't have the same experiences with you.

I know it wont affect everyone and I know I haven't been around as long to have memories like you but to loose a place like you said that has been a part of Vancouver for sometime is sad.

I applaud you and those who help you and help others.

Ryann said...

*crying again*

It just makes me sick.

Anonymous said...

I left dancing 4 years ago. I am coming out of retirement in two weeks to find out that there are hardly any strip clubs open. shortly after I left my favorite job ever, my favorite safe spot (The Barney), closed down right to the ground. I am sad that there is hardly anywhere to go to express myself. Dancing has always been a way to express myself (not ness. naked). Not everyone sees it that way, but to me closing the strip clubs is killing some of BC's best talent. I have said it before and I will say it again.....strip clubs should be owned & run by dancers. It will be interesting to see what the exsisting strip clubs come up with to accomidate the men seeking beauty and talent.