Amber works in the adult entertainment industry and is joining together with fellow dancers to take on issues like high house fees, a lack of benefits or time off, often-dangerous working conditions, and more. Check out Amber's story below.
“I have been working as an exotic dancer in Seattle for almost 13 years. There are many things I love about my job. Chief among them is the freedom and flexibility that dancing provides. We can work as frequently or as infrequently as we choose. I have taken advantage of this by taking extended time off to travel or work on artistic projects.
But there are many drawbacks as well.
Dancers do not receive a paycheck from the club, instead relying solely on tips from customers for our income. We are not classified as employees but as business owners. We are responsible for reporting our income to the IRS and making quarterly payments. We do not qualify for benefits of any kind. If we get sick or injured and can't work, our income drops to zero.
Exotic dancers are also forced to pay fees to the club daily in order to work. The club I work at charges me $140 per shift. This is referred to as a "house fee" or "rent" because I am theoretically renting the club as a space to work in.
The club expects us to pay the house fee in full at the end of every shift, regardless of how busy or slow the shift was. If I cannot pay the fee (for example, if I only made $80 in tips that night) then I owe the club the remainder of that money. This is referred to as "backrent." Backrent must be paid off in cash. The club charges an extra $30 per shift to dancers who have backrent until it is paid off.
I usually can pay out in full, but there are many dancers who struggle to earn their house fees and end up accumulating thousands of dollars in backrent. If you are scheduled for a shift and call in or miss that shift, the club will add the full $140 house fee to your backrent.
I once acquired $420 worth of backrent because I had to call in for a week when I had the flu.
On an average shift, I pay anywhere from $140 - $280 in house fees to the club and have to tip out $60 - $80 to the DJ, bouncers, and waitresses. Any money I make above and beyond that I get to keep. This means that the first $200-$300 I earn per shift, I don't even think of as mine. On a slow night I can leave with $0 for myself.
This happens to every dancer at my club occasionally. Even the high earners have nights where they work a full 8-hour shift and leave with nothing to show for it.
In fact, it's entirely possible to work a shift and end up in the hole, leaving with less than you had when you arrived, because now you owe the club backrent and you had to pay for parking downtown, food while you were at work, and more. This has happened to me, and it's very discouraging. No one should work all day and earn nothing.
It doesn't have to be this way. There are clubs in other states (Alaska, for example) where the dancers get minimum wage paychecks and keep their tips. I have worked at clubs in Portland, Oregon, where there was no house fee and no backrent.
I don't understand why the clubs in Seattle charge such outrageous fees. I suppose the simple answer is because they can.Because no one is stopping them.
I did the math once and realized that I pay 2 or 3 times as much "rent" to the club as I do to rent my 2-bedroom apartment each month. It's a ridiculous amount of money to pay for the privilege to work.
I love dancing. I love being an independent contractor. I'm happy to pay tips to the staff and even a reasonable house fee. I'm just frustrated with the abnormally large portion of my income that goes to some old white guy who I have never met (Roger Forbes, whose company owns almost all the strip clubs in Seattle).
It shouldn't be this way. Dancers work hard for our tips. We work long hours in sky-high heels. We should be able to keep more of what we earn.”
— Amber, dancer in Seattle