Jade* has an almost three-year-old daughter with a body similar to her own. However, she hopes her little girl will never dance for cash in a strip club like she did in college from 2010 to 2012.
Jade, who graduated with a degree in business marketing from an Atlanta college, is one of many young women who resort to exotic dancing to keep a few dollars in their pockets. Most exotic dancers are female, and can earn more than $46,000 a year, according to Payscale.com.
“It was just for extra money,” Jade said. “I come from a family that doesn’t have a lot of it, and calling home was not an option.”
In 2014, the average college student spent over $2,500 in out-of-pocket expenses, according to SallieMae.
Jade’s family found out about her dancing when she wore her pink Strokers t-shirt home during the winter break of 2011. She said she told her devout Christian grandmother before her mother.
“My mom was like ‘What is Strokers?’ I was like, ‘It’s a strip club, mom.’ Then she said, ‘I see why you haven’t been calling home for money lately,’” Jade said.
By 2013, most students at four year colleges in the U. S. paid more than $17,000 a year for undergraduate studies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Also, about 85 percent of students at four year public colleges received some form of financial aid, and more than 83 percent of students at private colleges received financial aid by 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Jade said she went to school on scholarship, and maintained a 3.8 GPA. When she wasn’t with friends or at band practice till 9 pm, she was doing schoolwork to get ahead in class, in case of a late night at the club.
“The scholarship requirements were to keep a 2.8, but I left high school with a high GPA,” she said. “It’s a waste of money, time and energy to not pass your classes.”
The other side of the pole
Thankfully, Jade said, she’s never witnessed any sex trafficking in or around the clubs she’s danced at.
But Georgia legislators have taken steps to aid sexually exploited people by taxing adult establishments, such as strip clubs.
Georgia Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), passed in last July, placed a 1 percent tax on adult entertainment businesses — or $5,000 annually; whichever is greater, according to Georgia Legislation. The tax funds The Georgia Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Commission.
State Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, sponsor of SB 8, said sex trafficking occurs in adult entertainment businesses such as strip clubs all around Atlanta.
“Strip joints are the locations where most human trafficking [in Georgia] is beginning and being promoted,” he said.
The Blue Flame manager* said this bill is bad for business, and the club might have to raise admission and drink fees. She questioned the law’s focus on just adult entertainment, mentioning the Blue Flame’s rules of no contact with dancers.
“This bill is unfair. If they’re going to tax strip clubs, then they should tax massage parlors and truck stops,” she said. “Everybody that works here has to have a permit, and no one touches the dancers. There is contact at truck stops and massage parlors.”
According to an article in The Sundial, a sex worker can remain “closeted” from their community because they aren’t easily recognizable outside of the clubs they dance in.
Jade said their public safety officers were always available to escort ladies back to campus, but she said they had their suspicions about girls coming back to campus late. She also said several college girls like herself worked at Pinups and Follies while enrolled. One girl, Jade claimed, was expelled from school after she stopped stripping.
“If you were caught dancing, you would lose your scholarship,” she said. “The school envisioned times where a sponsor might visit a strip club and see a college girl dancing, and said it disgraces the school.”
Juliana Kubala, Georgia State professor of Women’s Studies, assumes college women dance primarily for money, yet she thinks some people would view those women and their work as exploitative.
“Women have the right to whatever sexual agency they choose, regardless of shape and form it takes, but I think most people experience their work as exploitive, though how much [compared to other professions] I couldn’t say,” she said.
Jade said she heard about the clubs she danced at through classmates and she applied to The Blue Diamond Lounge online.
“It was a girl called Pocahontas, who dated a classmate of mine, who said [The Blue Diamond] was looking for dancers of the thicker variety,” she said.
Jade left Blue Diamond because of the overly competitive nature of her coworkers. She said some nights she may only earn $400.
“It [Blue Diamond] started getting slow,” she said. “Sometimes, there would be at least 10 girls there a night.”
Make that money
At Strokers, Jade said she could make up to $1,700 when celebrities were there but earned up to $700 other nights.
“Jazze Pha was at Strokers one night, and he paid me to stay in VIP while I was a barmaid. I made over $1,700 that night,” she said.
Jade said she worked at The Blue Flame Lounge in 2010, just before the club changed their lap dancing policy. She said she was once propositioned for $250 to have sex, but refused. She said she mostly talked to patrons near the pool tables at the Blue Flame to get her money.
But Jade said she didn’t drink anything she didn’t see the bartenders make or give her personally, because the dancers were encouraged to be aware of their surroundings. She also said dancers are offered several drinks by patrons nightly, and she used a trick to avoid intoxication.
“Take the drink and spit it [discretely] back into a beer bottle so the customers feel like you are appreciative,” she said.
Exotic Dancers are legal employees of strip clubs under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), according to the US Department of Labor. They also have to apply for an $300 Exotic Dancer License with the Atlanta Police Department (APD), pay their clubs a bar fee, and pay $100 to renew the license every year, according to Creative Loafing.
A manager* at The Blue Flame Lounge, an establishment in Bankhead, told The Signal she had no problem with college girls dancing to finance their education.
“The law allows 18 year olds to work at a strip club, so as a way for them to pay their way for their college education, I don’t see why not.”
Wanda Louis, Georgia State psychology major, said she thinks students shouldn’t dance in college unless in extreme circumstances. She also said she thinks stripping leads to worse things like prostitution.
“I think college women shouldn’t do it unless in extreme measures, although I understand these are hard times,” she said. “College students are studying in order to find better occupations in the future.”
*Names in article withheld to protect the identity of those in this story.