Yesterday, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, mentioned working in a club called Le Strip in Toronto. Today she expands on that:
Le Strip no longer exists. It was my favourite place in the world to work. It called itself a ‘Private Gentleman’s Club’. Membership was $5 a year and the entrance fee was $10 or $8 for seniors. It was not a bar, but actually a theater.
I had been afraid to ask for work there at first. It looked so sleazy. There was a blurry television monitor on the street which displayed the vague outlines of whoever was on stage at the time and a flight of stairs, covered in worn red carpet.
The guys could arrive at noon and stay all day if they wanted, without being hustled to buy drinks.
We had a proper dressing room with lightbulbs around the mirrors. We used the lightbulbs to dry our panties on. The owner was never there, so the strippers essentially ran the place, assisted by two men who worked the door and the DJ booth.
We had total artistic freedom and were always finding ways to improve our shows. We would dare each other to do ridiculous things on stage. The place was like a second home to us. We could leave costumes there for weeks and they never got stolen and we were almost constantly laughing, exchanging stories about our adventures.
The customers – or ‘perverts’, as we fondly called them – kept asking “What are you girls always laughing about back there?”
It was a daily six hour party, interrupted only by the fact that every hour-and-a-half we’d have to run out on stage and take our clothes off. Then we’d dash down the steps back into the dressing room and demand of our friends, “What happened? What happened?” to find out what we’d missed.
It paid less than most of the clubs, but had advantages.
The other clubs booked us for one week at a time but, at Le Strip, it was a two week booking. It was downtown, close to the record stores, banks, law courts and other conveniences.
As it was not a bar, we were even allowed to rush our children through the back of the theater into the safety of the dressing room.
One time, an extremely elegant dancer named Zelda Scorch was on stage, sitting on a chair, playing with her bra straps. Her gaunt face had been scarred by acne, but it didn’t show because of the lighting. The audience was suddenly startled by the clear voice of a very young girl, who was being ushered through. She had shouted in astonishment: “Mommy! You’re Beautiful!”
We knew many of the the ‘perverts’ by name.
There was a pair of them who appeared every year with a trophy, like a sports trophy. It was for ‘The Stripper of the Year’.
They would find out who was the newest, shyest young dancer on the roster, have her name inscribed on it and present it to her. I never got one of those, but it was really fun to see happen. The dancer would return from stage in amazement, almost crying, and say: “Look! Look! I can’t believe it! I just got an award! I’m the Stripper of the Year!…”
When I returned to Canada, after an absence of six years, I stopped in at Le Strip, on the way to Vancouver. I thought everyone I knew would be gone, but the minute I stepped through the door I was surrounded by the girls, and the perverts turned round in their seats and called out: “Nurse Annie! Where have you been!”
One of the dancers, Maxine (real name Janet Feindel) wrote a play based on the dressing room conversations at Le Strip. It’s called A Particular Class of Women and it a very good play.
There is a promo for a 2013 production of A Particular Class of Woman on Vimeo.
If A Particular Class of Woman is being produced nearby I usually offer to help with the details. Things that normal people might not get. For example, the fact that we always brought a towel from home to put on our chairs, so as not to develop a rash from sitting bare-assed on vinyl.
Also, if somebody tries to produce the play without Janet’s permission I contact her immediately. She teaches theater now at a university on the east coast. I’m a copyright spy for her.
There was a real spy scandal associated with Le Strip. Not involving the dancers, but one of the DJs. It’s one of the most preposterous stories I’ve ever heard. It was very, very frightening, even though I wasn’t there when it happened. It involved among other things, a trip to Libya, Neo-Nazis in Toronto, the South African Embassy, the Brandenburg Gate and a leather jacket.
Obviously, I am encouraging Anna to tell me more.