Lap dancing

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A lap dance is a specific type of erotic dance offered in some strip clubs or (somewhat more formal) gentlemen's clubs in which the patron is seated, and the dancer is either in immediate contact (contact dancing) with the patron, or within a very short distance. Depending on the local jurisdiction and community standards, lap dances can involve touching of the dancer by the patron, the patron by the dancer, neither, or both; the dancer may be naked, topless or fully clothed, depending on the laws where the club is located. Variant terms include couch dance which is a lap dance where the customer is seated on a couch, and bed dance where the customer lies down. A block session (usually half an hour to an hour) can be booked in the champagne room, where the dancer and the patron talk in an intimate setting and drink champagne together. The girl might perform lap dances too, depending on the patron's wishes.

Formats

In many clubs the duration of a lap dance is measured by the length of the song being played by the club's DJ. Charges for lap dances vary; a typical price in a U.S. strip club is $20 per approximately three minute song.

Sometimes sexual partners will perform lap dances for their partners as a teasing kind of foreplay.

Full-contact lap dances often involve intense frottage where the stripper may rub her lap or private parts (if naked) against the patron's. Local jurisdictions and community standards typically determine how much and where the patron can touch the dancer during the lap dance. In some cases, any touching by the patron is forbidden.

It has been alleged that lap dancing club owners, by installing dark private booths and charging dancers steep stage fees, are covertly condoning and encouraging sexual acts between customers and dancers.

History and legal issues

Lap dancing clubs are a development of the earlier strip clubs, in which strippers danced on stage and were paid a wage. In the 1970s, New York's Melody Theater introduced audience participation. The Melody Theater became the Harmony Theater and operated in two locations in Manhattan for over 20 years until it was closed down in 1998.

In 1980, San Francisco's Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre changed its policy so that customers could have dancers come to sit naked on their laps for a $1 tip. The practice quickly spread. It suited club owners, because it brought in more customers and it meant they had to pay less to the dancers. Sitting on customers laps evolved into lap dancing, as the clubs and the dancers went into competition with one another on how far they could go and still stay the right side of the law.

In some areas of the U.S. and Canada, local authorities began cracking down on lap dancing after reports that some clubs allowed customers to engage in sexual intercourse or other sexual activity with the dancer during lap dance sessions.

In 1994 – in a ruling which was to have an impact throughout the English speaking world – a Canadian court (Judge Hachborn of the Ontario Court, Provincial Division, in the case of Pat Mara and the owner and manager of Cheaters Tavern) ruled that lapdancing did not contravene laws on public decency and defined what lap dancing should mean. This was a huge victory for the sex trade. A number of conflicting judgements were passed in the years that followed, including decisions to close certain bars in which sex acts took place on the floor of the club and other rulings in which patrons were allowed to touch the dancers as long as an actual sex act didn’t take place. Finally, in 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that lap dancing was legal. This led to the displacement of strip clubs and table dancing clubs in Canada by lap dancing clubs. Lap dancing arrived in Britain, with the American Spearmint Rhino clubs, in 1995.

Some jurisdictions in the United States outlaw lap dances and enforce a minimum distance between dancer and patron. One such minimum distance ordinance in Seattle was overturned by public referendum in November 2006.

Concerned about reports of sexual assault and illegal stage fees, in 2006 San Francisco's Commission on the Status of Women recommended a ban of private rooms and booths at adult clubs in the city. Some dancers protested against these efforts, fearing for their income and claiming that these rooms are safer than other venues.

Labour issues

The economic position of the dancers, as employees of the clubs, has also changed. Over time, the clubs stopped paying the dancers. The stage dancing became a showcase to advertise the bodies of the dancers, whose money came from the tips – or standard charges, depending on the club – that the patrons gave them for lap dancing. In the majority of clubs, dancers are simply charged a percentage of their takings. However, the latest development in many countries, including Britain, the United States and Canada, is that many clubs charge dancers a "stage fee" per shift. Given that they are paying to be there, some clubs allow as many dancers as possible to appear on any given night, increasing competition among the dancers. The vast majority of clubs will not waive this charge if the night happens to be slow. Consequently, the dancer either leaves her shift out of pocket or builds debt to the club.

In the U.S., most clubs treat dancers as independent contractors, thereby avoiding the need to pay minimum wages, overtime pay and other benefits required by law. This status has repeatedly been challenged by dancers. While labor commissions and the courts have for the most part ruled that exotic dancers are employees and deserving of reimbursement for back pay and stage fees, some court decisions have decided that an exotic dancer can be classified as an independent contractor. In June of 2006, in case number A108951, Tracy Buel v. Chowder House (dba The Hungary I), an appellate court of California's first district ruled that dancer Tracy Buel (aka Daisy Anarchy) was correctly classified as an independent contractor, and that "Buel shall pay defendants’ costs on appeal". A publication called the California Employment Law Letter described the case as follows: "The dancer based her suit on the fact that she was an employee of the nightclub rather than an independent contractor. The appellate court, however, after applying a 10-factor test, upheld the jury's verdict in favor of the nightclub and its owners and found that the evidence weighed in favor of classifying the dancer as an independent contractor rather than an employee."


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