EL PASO, Texas — The DJ gives her a formal introduction. Adrenaline floods her veins as she takes center stage. The lights dim down and the music begins to blare and she begins to strip. Men gather around the platform waving dollar bills at her.
This is a typical night for Melissa (she asked that her real name not be used) who took up exotic dancing four years ago as a way to pay for her college education and have free time to raise her daughter.
“I can work about six days out of the month and make enough to cover all my bills,” she said.
Stripping can take on many different meanings, she says. For the audience it means booze, lap dances and a good time with the boys, but for Melissa it means much more. That is how she pays her tuition, gets financial stability and the extra time to be with her daughter.
Before taking up dancing, Melissa was a manager for a Movie Gallery store. She worked 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week. After six months without a break the long hard hours took their toll. Her job consumed her life. But now, thanks to stripping, this single mother has a lot more time to enjoy her life.
“I turned to stripping and I learned to ignore society’s views and judgments against my job, which used to make me feel guilty and ashamed. I allowed myself to take advantage of what stripping can offer.”
A typical day for Melissa is one that most parents and college students dream of. She doesn’t have a set time or day when she works so she can come and go as she pleases. This allows her to visit her daughter at school several times a week and take on many activities that many parents working an 8-to-5 job can’t do.
For any typical college student, working and going to school is a difficult juggling act. But not for Melissa, “If I need extra time for school, I simply do not go to work.” She sets her own hours.
During women’s history month in March, Melissa did something she had never done before. She came forth for the first time to speak to an audience of strangers about her profession. She was approached by her professor to be part of a panel that covered issues pertaining to women in the sex industry. Hesitant and uneasy at first, Melissa followed through with it.
“I wanted to send the message that all strippers are just like anyone else and maybe if they people realize this we won’t be cast as the social leper.”
Most women think that stripping should be frowned upon, but in her discussion, Melissa affirmed that the husbands of those same women may not be regulars but they do attend strip clubs.
Melissa explained that surprisingly a lot of men in strip clubs just like to talk and from her perspective they, not the strippers, are exploited by the experience. Each song lasts about three and half minutes so during this time Melissa gives the clients the impression that she is interested in what they are saying. Come time for the next song, she collects her money and moves on to the next customer.
Melissa is now reaching out by explaining her choices to other classes at UTEP. These presentations are a steppingstone toward her college degree and then to a master’s degree. She said she wants to look into speaking to higher profile panels across the country and continue raising awareness about her profession.
“Some of the ladies I work with are the smartest people I have ever met. What I’m trying to do with this little bit of personal information and sharing my experiences is not to recruit more strippers, but to help minimize the stigma and humanize who we are inside and outside the club,” she said.