The rules regarding touch in lapdance clubs were sketchy, back when I was dancing. As a new girl being shown around a club by the ‘house mum’, you were told that any contact between dancer and customer was not allowed. But once the night got going, the floor was full of skimpily-clad girls draped over men: running a fingernail up and down a thigh trying to work “my favourite guy in here” up to buying a lapdance; sweetly holding hands in a corner with their elderly sugardaddy; and everything in between.
In the communal lapdance room, there was grinding, stroking, straddling a-plenty, and often more (though the guys always stayed zipped-up). What was going on in the private rooms, I had no idea. The expectation from customers was that you would do what they saw the other girls around them doing.
I am a touchy-feely person. If I like someone, I like to have some physical contact. The problem was a) I didn’t necessarily like the customers (mostly men) I met in those clubs, at 2am, drunk and or/high (them, not me) and entitled; and b) it made me nervous that on any night, should the club want to sack me, I was blatantly breaking the house rules.
The club scene also didn’t suit me in many other ways – which I may illuminate in a future column. So where did I dance?
I found my home in the traditional striptease pub scene and the underground parties. Some of the pubs didn’t offer lapdancing but many did, and the underground parties were all about the 1-2-1s. But the feel was very different.
In dance booths at the parties, I was aware some girls went further than I did (as they baby-wiped the saliva off their nipples in the dressing room), but some went less far. And yet we all found clients. Contrary to what many people might assume, not every man wants a breast thrust in his mouth and 9 stone of sweaty girl straddled across his lap. It felt like there was room for each of us to find our own boundaries, and then find our customers for whom those same boundaries were a fit.
My boundaries are something I may tell you about when I know you all better, it’s only my third column after all! However I do want to share with you one of the secrets of how I earned such a loyal fan club as a dancer, as it holds within it a lesson for us all.
Once I had taken my gentleman (or occasionally lady) into a booth, closed the curtain and got them seated, I would smile sweetly, and seat myself opposite them so our eyes were at the same level. Then I’d reach forward, and holding their eye contact, very gently and very slowly stroke a fingertip down the side of their face. Almost without fail, I’d see their pupils dilate and they would catch their breath…
The gentle but intense intimacy of that gesture, that touch, would set the scene for the dance. It would say without words: “We are connected. It is my delight to be here with you. I am fully present.” It was as far away as possible from what I had often seen in the lapdance clubs – rows of girls backed-up to drunken laps, grinding away, while chewing gum and chatting to the girl on the lap next door.
I loved to have that connection with a fellow human being. They loved it too, and came back for more, week after week. Don’t judge them as ‘sad’ for coming and paying to have that – how often do we touch quite so intimately and intentionally (yet non-sexually)?
When did you last connect in that highly intimate, intentional way with yourself?
Maybe you look at yourself in a mirror only when washing your face. Maybe you’re comfortable to look yourself in the eye. Maybe you can add to that eye contact a positive affirmation or even an “I love you” (well done!). But when did you last gently, slowly, sensuously, touch your own face as you did so?
Give it a try. If you can’t do it while looking in a mirror, don’t look; just sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Tell yourself, “We are connected. It is my delight to be here with you. I am fully present.” If it’s a struggle for you, don’t judge yourself. Just gently enquire of yourself, where this resistance may come from. Try again the next day, aiming to work up to doing it with eye contact, intention, and presence.
Because after all, we are fundamentally always with ourselves. The most important person you can receive this touch from, is yourself.
[Please note I am talking about London clubs circa 2004-6; there have been many changes in the industry and in licensing laws since then. Also, where I withered in the clubs but thrived in the pubs and at parties, I knew other dancers who were the opposite. We all have our boundaries – emotional as well as physical – and for some dancers the clubs were a healthier emotional environment. The diversity of venue options at the time meant there was a venue to suit us all.]
Self-Care Alert: Coaching exercises are suitable for people who are able to take active, positive steps towards their desired future. If you feel held back by unresolved trauma from your past, then counselling/therapy with a trained psychotherapist may be a more suitable option for you. If you are working with a counsellor/therapist, check with them that the exercise in this column is suitable for you before giving it a try.You can contact Ruth via her Coaching page here on Sonder & Beam or via www.ruthramsay.com