I am looking for a lap dance, and I'm going to be picky about it. I've never had one before, and I want it to be special -- an experience to remember, the way losing my virginity was not. After all, shouldn't the first time a girl straddles you, pummels your face with her boobs and shoves your head into her crotch be something you'll always look back upon fondly?
I know I'm not your typical lap-dance customer: I'm female, for one. Shouldn't I be offended by strip clubs? But I'm not. Strippers and burlesque girls have always been fascinating to me. I fall into the camp that thinks taking your clothes off for money is empowering rather than degrading, and I've even entertained the idea of riding the pole on weekend nights myself. But for now, a lap dance will have to do. My mother, on the other hand, is horrified. "I raised you better than that!" she protests over the phone. "Where are your morals? Strip clubs are disgusting."
Too bad Mom's up in rural North Dakota and can't do anything to stop her only daughter from a night or two of gratuitous nudity. I'm 22, legal and looking for a lap dance, but I've got to find the right girl first. My criteria: She can't be blond (because I am, and that's just weird), she must have good teeth and she has to have that elusive star quality that draws me toward her.
Knowing that downtown Minneapolis has a plethora of strip clubs full of ladies willing to fulfill my dream (for a price), it's time to pop my lap-dance cherry. The new Target Field has brought our local fleshfests back into the spotlight, each club hoping that the stadium will draw in customers who will drop wads of bills on champagne and women.
Where better to start my search than the godfather of all local strip clubs, Deja Vu, that giant pink palace of pleasure with the tempting tagline, "1000s of beautiful girls and 3 ugly ones"? The girls in its advertisements look mega-hot, so maybe my lap dance is waiting there.
I call in the big guns, namely my sometime-stripper friend "Kennedy." She's worked the circuit since 2006, and I consider her the ultimate source: a college-educated, feminist dancer. When I ask her why she started stripping, she replies, "I was sick of all the unwanted attention that my body got in public, and I wanted to wield that power for myself."
Kennedy informs me that strip clubs aren't the hotbeds of activity they were pre-recession, and that this Thursday night might be pretty quiet. She's right: Deja Vu is a ghost town. We pay for our required $9 sodas (no alcohol is served at "fully nude" clubs like the Vu) and sit down. A few girls are onstage climbing the poles, twirling down with impressive athleticism. But the booths are mostly empty, and the "tip rail" near the stage seats only a few boys who look to be 18 years old. The dancers move mechanically, like detached, distracted dolls. While a few have obviously fake boobs and the bronzed, polished bodies we're conditioned to believe all strippers possess, most look like regular women, with cellulite, jiggle and breasts that aren't inflatable.
The Vu itself is glamorous in a sleazy, slick way. There are two floors of fun with three stages in "Big Pink," though further inspection finds the top floor deserted. I have a sinking feeling I won't find my lap dance tonight.
The DJ calls Summer to the stage -- a tall, kittenish brunette with a cascade of tangled curls. She moves about the stage confidently, teasing patrons with a sly smile as she removes her top and then bikini bottom. Her clear platforms hit the stage with a startling thud as she slides down the pole into a split; I'm envious. But the 18-year-olds don't seem to know the tip-rail etiquette, leaving no $1 bills for her. She might not be my ideal lap dance, but Summer can work it.
The girls are paraded out onstage together a few times before working the tiny crowd in hopes of scoring a $20 lap dance or two. They clomp around the club in massive heels, clear Lucite or rhinestoned black, a troupe of glittery hustlers in bikinis and Frederick's of Hollywood lingerie. Nobody's biting in this tough and quiet crowd.
Most unsettling is Candy, a blonde so thin she looks prepubescent. There are no cushy thighs and breasts or excess flesh on Candy -- just a wishbone-shaped lower half that ends in pale pink platforms. "She does the whole baby thing, too," Kennedy informs me. When she dances, a much older man, frail and gray-haired, approaches the tip rail. Kennedy tells me that's Candy's "regular." Her legs, skinny as a newborn foal's, wind around the pole and the dollars come out in droves. Suddenly, Candy is completely exposed, little-girl hairless privates and all. The girls here spread their legs dispassionately, as though this were a routine pap smear. Kennedy says one of the best ways to make money is to pretend you don't care about the job at all.
Perhaps my lap dance is a few blocks away, at Schiek's Palace Royale. Five bucks for lunch on weekdays, plus topless girls? OK. Schiek's bills itself as an upscale "gentlemen's club," vs. a shameless down-and-dirty strip joint.
Housed in a historic building, Schiek's feels fancier than Big Pink. Though it's 12:30 p.m. on Friday, inside Schiek's feels like the depths of evening. My companion and I sink into deep, cushy chairs and our waitress chirps out the specials: pulled pork, prime rib, etc., all for $5.
There's no pole at Schiek's, so the dancers have little to do but parade around the stage, feeling themselves up. They begin their sets in gowns and remove more clothing with each song. Because Schiek's serves alcohol, the girls don't get totally naked. Still, none of the dancers looks particularly thrilled. One, with a raven-black shag and leopard-print gown, grinds and shakes it begrudgingly to "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." Another refuses to look at her client, who stares worshipfully at her crotch as she rolls her body for him.
There are no such awkward interactions over at the Seville Club a week later, where dancers and customers seem to mingle more comfortably. The Seville, which opened nearly six years ago, has quickly become the foremost "upscale" Twin Cities strip club due to its respectful atmosphere and emphasis on hospitality. Owner Dino Perlman is talkative and professional, and it's obvious he and his close-knit staff care a great deal about the place.
Perlman got into the business after working as a DJ at Solid Gold, which later became Schiek's. He moved on to Rick's Cabaret, then opened the Seville on what used to be a tough street corner near Target Center. Now he considers his location one of the safest. "I am serious as a heart attack about what I do," he tells me. I can tell -- waitresses, dancers and staff members greet him warmly. "Without them, I'm nothing," he says. "My staff is everything to me."
Perlman's great-uncle was a vaudeville and burlesque emcee, and the Seville pays tribute to that heritage via its retro-modern decor. Its two floors are spacious, lined with low couches and dimly lit. The music ranges from Led Zeppelin to Prince to Lil Wayne, but it's not invasive and doesn't distract from your chit-chat.
Unlike at 18-plus, totally nude clubs like the Vu, the clientele at the Seville tends to be 32- to 45-year-old men, more businessmen than frat boys. On one Friday night, there's a good mix of men and women, and everyone, including the dancers, seems to be enjoying themselves, lap dances or no. The Seville feels like a swanky bar where conversation flows along with the drinks, and beautiful women just happen to be the main attraction.
There's an entertainer for everyone: blondes in pastels, punk chicks with tattoos, short girls with burgundy curls. I don't see any swelling implants. Jade, a petite 21-year-old dancer in red lingerie, cuddles up to me and steals a few of my Tater Tots. She perches on my chair and strokes my hair with manicured nails. When I ask her how she feels about the club, she smiles. "I love it! They treat me like a person here and respect me." Jade has worked other clubs but always comes back to the Seville. "When I left, I was homesick. Girls are comfortable here and I don't feel like I'm gonna get attacked when I leave." Jade is adorable, but I'm not ready to land a lap dance quite yet. There's still uncharted titty-bar territory out there.
Target Field is helping clubs considerably, but dancers still aren't making the money they used to, simply because patrons don't have the same cash flow to throw around. When Kennedy worked at Deja Vu several years ago, she says, it wasn't uncommon to have $1,000 in hand before paying her house fees, which vary from club to club. These days, she takes home closer to $375 a night.
No matter how glittery clubs seem on the surface, things are not always what they seem. When the money's not great, it's hard for dancers to get the gumption to go to work. Because they are scheduled employees required to be there, they can't just come and go as they please. Weeknights are tough sells, often slow and boring.
I realize why I may be having such trouble finding my girl, the stripper of my dreams. Maybe I've already found her -- via Twitter no less, while researching for this story.
"Paris," 22, is a fox. She's slim and lithe but curvy, tattooed down one arm. Her short dark hair and striking bone structure have led to some modeling work, and she regularly blogs and tweets about the stripper life. In person, she is refreshingly candid and stunning, even without a face full of makeup. She's the perfect mix of irreverent punk chick and pinup.
"I've always been drawn to sexy girls playing dress-up," Paris tells me. "I ordered my first pair of stripper shoes when I was 16 off eBay. Bettie Page and Dita von Teese were my idols. When I was 18, I started posing for a nude website, and a week before my 19th birthday, I finally built up the guts to try stripping."
Paris began at Sinners, the club next door to the 24-hour funhouse Sex World, but began to feel burned out after a year. After a break, she moved to the Seville and then to DreamGirls. "The clientele at DreamGirls is more my style," she says. "I've always done better with the 18-year-old boys and the perverts rather than businessmen. I have a hard time pretending to be into you and be your in-club girlfriend, but I have no problem with you paying me to rub my feet or kick you in the balls."
Paris says she's the go-to girl for clients with unusual requests. "I seriously have fun with this stuff," she says. "A customer wanted me to talk dirty and go into detail about [his] gang-bang and urine fantasies. Another guy used to take me to VIP, where I'd get to do his makeup and grab his sock-stuffed titties." She encounters foot fetishists and married men who beg for her phone number. "It makes me happy that people who may be deemed as sick by closed-minded people have a place to go and feel accepted."
Though stripping has been a positive experience for Paris, it's not always easy. "Dancing has also made me incredibly jaded toward men," she confides. "It has taught me the manipulation and hustling skills that I use in my everyday life. It definitely works to my advantage at times, but I miss when I was more naive and innocent." Paris has some advice for stripping newbies: "Keep your game face on and trust no one in the industry. Make your money and go home to your real life."
Getting out of the business, or deciding what's next, is often hard for dancers. Paris plans to save her money and move out of the Midwest. My friend Kennedy wants to use hers to further her schooling and hopefully become a midwife.
After spending so much time watching and talking with these fantasy fulfillers, I'm getting antsy for my own dance. Though Deja Vu left me cold, DreamGirls, its sister club, feels better. I do have to pay a grand total of $18 to enter ($9 at the door, $9 for that mandatory bottomless soda), plus $20 for a private dance. If you have the bank account to support a strip-club habit, good for you, but on a student's meager budget, I'm feeling the burn of a $40 night out. Still, as I slide into a deep red chair, I can't help but feel as though I'm in a raspberry-tinted David Lynch movie.
As a raucous bachelorette party cheers on an amazing aerialist, Paris leads me away to a private booth. She grins, slips between my skirted knees and leans in close to inhale my Prada perfume. She smells intoxicating herself -- candy-sweet to match her baby-pink lingerie. "Do I smell like cotton candy?" She asks. "It's the way strippers are supposed to smell."
She moves across my body with a stunning mix of sensuality and femininity, undulating against my hips, leaning back against me or reaching to squeeze my boobs, as "Cat Scratch Fever" blares outside. What a pro. "I like giving dances to women better," she coos, slipping back between my legs and bending to slither up my body from ankles to earlobes. I sure couldn't handle this sensory overload if I were a dude.
After six minutes, my two-for-one dance ends in a blur of skin, tattoos and iridescent fingernails. Paris leaves me feeling a little bit dazed, drunk on her sugary perfume. It's time for me to leave, so I head back out into the bright lights of the city.
Strip clubs in the Twin Cities
THE 'UPSCALE' CLUBS
Don't expect to see a pole here. Dancers will be in gowns and short dresses for a portion of their set and strip to topless only; alcohol is served.
'TOTALLY NUDE' CLUBS
These are the midrange clubs with a large variety of dancers. You will have to pay about $9 for a soda, Red Bull or water, as most don't serve alcohol.
- Deja Vu
- Lamplighter Lounge: nude dancers behind glass; alcohol served
- King of Diamonds: fully nude club with alcohol
THE SEEDY UNDERBELLY
If you want an experience you'll never forget, look no further.
Songs never to strip to
- "Love Story" by Taylor Swift: Too innocent, and not in a good way.
- "Escapade" by Janet Jackson: Who cares if she calls out Minneapolis?
- "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison: The connotations!
- "Rape Me" by Nirvana.
Perfect stripper soundtracks
- Most hip-hop - Preferably X-rated. (Diablo Cody was right: Clubs still play "We Want Some Pussy" when they bring a bachelor/ette onstage)
- Aerosmith or Mötley Crüe
- Trip-hop: Portishead, Massive Attack
- Metallica and Rob Zombie