Why are so many women visiting strip clubs?
IT’S 1am and Winnie is sitting in a Melbourne strip club surrounded by women. But they’re not strippers, they’re customers.
I’M NOT going to lie, there’s a certain anxiety that comes with visiting a strip club, stone-cold-sober, in the middle of a Saturday night. As a woman with two kids who likes to be in bed by eleven I’m not exactly the target market.
Well, at least that’s what I thought.
You see, strip clubs are desperate to drop their image as seedy establishments on the fringes of society and become places that people aren’t embarrassed to admit they go to. And the best way to do that? Women. Not women who dance, but women who visit. For fun.
And the strategy seems to be working.
“Up to 40% of our customers on a Saturday night are women,” says Christian Ganaban, marketing manager at Centrefold Lounge, a strip club in Melbourne’s King Street.
“Gone are the days of dodgy old guys hanging out in the corner. We’re going for more of a party vibe with girls performing amazing choreographed shows every half an hour. We’ve had a Game of Thrones show, circus performers, pole dancers, contortionists. There’s a lot of talent and that’s really opened the industry up, made it less taboo.”
Inside Centrefold strip club in Melbourne.Source:Supplied
Christian, who landed a marketing job at Centrefold after being headhunted while working at a car sales website, says he’s seen a massive shift in the adult entertainment industry over the three years he’s been working at the club.
“In the early 2000s the number of people who visited strip clubs was in decline,” Christian explains. “People don’t have to leave their house anymore. They can order takeaway and watch online porn. Tinder has also had an impact as it’s given people an outlet they didn’t previously have. So we really had to think about providing all-round entertainment, give people a reason to come out.”
For twenty-something Megan, going to a strip club with her girlfriends is a fun way to top off a big night out.
“We don’t come really come here to look at the women,” Megan tells me. “We’ll usually go out to Crown and get a bit rowdy and then we’ll walk down to King Street. You might not think it, but strip clubs are the best for picking up guys.”
I arrive at Centrefold at around 11pm with my friend Maya in tow. We’re ushered in like VIPs and told effusively by the bouncer to enjoy ourselves. The cavernous building is only half full. In this world, we’re a little too early.
Maya and I find a nice quiet spot with a good view of the podium and Christian makes sure our glasses are always filled with champagne. One thing is clear: he wants us to have a good time. Getting people in the door and keeping them there is all about good customer service, Christian reiterates, just as it is any other service industry.
And you know what? Centrefold Lounge is an easier place to hang out than I’d anticipated. Despite the long conversation Maya and I had about what to wear; she went for all black figuring it made her look like a manager, I went cougar in a leopard print jacket, nobody gives us a second look.
Yet I’m still struggling to see what all the fuss is about. The girls on the podium who fill time between the main acts look more bored than sexy and I can’t help but think, once you’ve seen one hot naked millennial with a hairless vagina, you’ve seem them all.
And then I spot her. The young Nigella Lawson look-a-like sitting by the podium, all long flowing hair and the kind of natural curves you don’t see among the ubiquitous size eight strippers. Surrounded by young men who have no idea what to do with their face, she’s the only one in the audience who looks like she’s actually having fun.
That’s when, like magic, the night begins to change. A hen’s party comes in followed by two young couples on a double date. I spot another couple in their fifties. By 2am the place is jam-packed, but not in the Bada Bing way I was expecting.
With the aerial acts and impressive pole acrobatics, the vibe is more sexy adult cruise ship than seedy strip joint. Which is both comforting and disappointing.
Isabelle Deltore has seen it all. She’s been a stripper for seven years and currently works at Centrefold (and she’s also just about to compete in Miss Nude World). While she likes having women at the club, she says there are downsides to the increased popularity of stripping.
“Everyone wants to be a stripper these days,” Isabelle sighs. “Those millennials are the worst thing that’s happened to the industry. They get on Instagram and decide stripping is cool and then they expect everything to just be handed to them.”
Isabelle Deltore works at Centrefold strip club and is going to compete in Miss Nude World in Melbourne in October.Source:Supplied
And don’t get her started on the popularity of pole dance fitness.
“You have all these middle-aged mums doing pole dancing and that’s ruined it for the strippers. It’s too mainstream now.”
I can see her point. I’ve never been to a strip club before, but I feel like I have. In a culture that is saturated with images of young, scantily dressed and overtly sexualised women, Centrefold Lounge is just another forum that parades female beauty as being young and skinny and male focused.
Rather than shocking or erotic, it gets kind of tired. Fast. It doesn’t take long for me to find myself hankering for a patch of pubic hair, a bit of cellulite, a cheeky smile. Anything to break up the monotony.
Or, as Isabelle so deftly puts it, “You don’t want stripping to become too normal. It has to be a bit naughty, a bit outside people’s comfort zones. Once you remove all the stigma it loses it’s mystery. The impact just isn’t the same.”
And as the night moves on, generic pop blaring in the background, the champagne in my wine glass becoming too warm to enjoy, I think I know exactly what she means.