The raids on Bourbon Street strip clubs earlier this year is just an added insult to injury for the historically slow summer months, but a dedicated group of dancers have taken matters into their own hands and gone underground.
Last month, we highlighted the lasting effects of the raids on strip clubs on Bourbon Street after local and state authorities set their sights on the clubs. We discussed how those in the industry have been forced to adjust. From moving out of state for work to changing career paths completely, dancers had to get creative to fill the void of lost income as their clubs lost business after having their liquor licenses suspended and in some cases, doors shuttered. Dancers even took to the streets in protest against city hall and all those responsible for the raids, which only garnered money from fines and lead to zero arrests. Now, in the midst of the summer slump, dancers have to adjust yet again as tourism slows, with zero help from the many nation-wide publicity stunts such as a Simpsons episode set in New Orleans and multiple national publications touting New Orleans as THE travel destination this year, to no avail.
Enter Strip Club Burlesque; an invite-only, monthly burlesque show with a strip club twist. The format was born as the result of the raids, the stigma that resulted and sexist labor restrictions. Dancers looking to cash-in on traditionally busy “holidays” such as Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day, yet historically low-earning, no thanks to the amateur drinkers Chad and Becky that crowd Bourbon Street venues buying only the cheapest green beer and leaving little more than a mess as a tip.
“We built Strip Club Burlesque with the idea in mind that we could police ourselves more effectively and safely than any club on Bourbon without deterring our ideal clientele,” says Holly Tamale, founder of Strip Club Burlesque. “We were right.”
Strip Club Burlesque has all the features of a traditional strip club; a DJ, main stage with a pole, and a private dance area. Drinks are served by the unnamed host venue, which only makes money off alcohol sales. Some dancers even express other forms of art such as live painting. But one thing you won’t find at the pop-up is management.
Empowered by their constitutional right to express their art form, the dancers are their own bosses. Strip Club Burlesque has no management and operates as a pop-up to flex their artistic muscle while avoiding prying eyes of the law and over-bearing club management. As a result of the raids, clubs are now implementing heavy restrictions on the dancers who operate as independent contractors at traditional brick and mortar clubs. The pop-up format puts the power back in the hands of the entertainers; taking back control of the house their tits and asses built, as Holly puts it.
The event was so successful that in May, the pop-up emptied all the ATM’s in the neighborhood. No house fees, no up-selling club specials, and only the best customers without the tourists. Strip Club Burlesque offers more than an escape from Bourbon Street for professional dancers, but also an insight for amateurs wanting to take their spin on the pole.
“I’m actually thinking about starting on Bourbon and have for a while,” says Dakota Crow, a New Orleans traditional burlesque performer who hadn’t performed in a club before competing in the amateur contest at the pop-up. “[My friend]… who performs at strip club burlesque regularly, suggested that I give it a shot just to see what the vibe was like when working instead of just visiting, without the added pressure of actually being in the club.” Dakota regularly performs with various burlesque troupes throughout New Orleans, and many burlesque performers currently dance in clubs on Bourbon or have in the past.
“It was a phenomenal experience because I really felt like everyone was there to work together and help each other succeed without male management trying to control that,” added Dakota, who connects strip club burlesque with traditional styles. “Burlesque has always been outlaw art, though.”
“A strip club is intimate entertainment focused on healing stress, depression, toxic masculinity and it brings pure unadulterated joy,” says Holly. “We aim to simply entertain as a standard strip club does.”
So while the summer heats up, so do the dancers of Bourbon Street as they take things underground. Away from corporate clubs, away from the non-spending crowds, away from the over-reaching arms of the law, as they continue and will continue with their outlaw art form. And if any hope to catch this strip club pop-up, visit the clubs on Bourbon Street. Tip the dancers, tip the wait staff, tip the bartenders. And just maybe, you’ll receive an invite to this exclusive club. As always, keep the bottles popping and the money dropping.