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Sticking to Your Moral Guns: Cultivating Intimacy and Constructing Codes of Conduct in Relationships Between Exotic Dancers and Their Regular Customers

1 January 2013


[From the introduction]

Strip clubs are unique sites of human interaction where fantasy, sex, and intimacy are all made public and offered as a service to be temporarily purchased. In so-called “heterosexual” clubs catering to a male clientele, the exchange of this particular service for cash is at times quite explicit, while it remains couched within a recognizable routine of flirting and intimacy similar to non-commodified romantic relationships. Past research indicates that one of the most important aspects of the fantasy experience for customers lies in their belief in the authenticity of the interaction (i.e. that the dancer’s attention is genuine and not guided by lucrative motives). Because of this, a dancer’s professional performance involves the constant production of the appearance of authentic interest and emotional engagement with customers to the same extent as dancing itself (Frank 1998). The need to give a convincingly authentic performance is even more pronounced when dancers are working with regular customers, who are often crucial in ensuring a dancer’s steady income, because these relationships usually require consistent and increasingly intensive emotional performances that in many ways mimic non-commodified intimate relationships.


This study examines in depth not only the emotional labor dancers put into maintaining relationships with regulars, but also the work that goes into dancers’ accounts of these relationships. Rather than taking at face value explanations in which dancers reduce their feelings about regulars (‘I only think of him as a friend’) or their motives for dancing and the emotional labor that accompanies it (‘I only do this for the money’), it shed light on the nuances of the emotional management involved in and reasons for producing these downplayed responses. This study responded to the following inquiries: (1) To what extent do dancers experience and/or desire being ‘authentic’ with regular customers? (2) Do exotic dancers experience complex emotions as they engage in relationships with regular customers? (3) How do dancers manage their emotions as they navigate and sustain (cultivate) relationships with regular clients? (4) ‘What is the role of dancer’s emotions as they navigate interactions with their regulars?


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