Today, dancers from strip clubs who have been organizing with Working WA’s Strippers Are Workers campaign made the trip down to Olympia to be there as something pretty incredible happened: a bill they helped build from the ground up was signed into law. This is a big deal — it’s probably the first time in WA history that a law affecting dancers was actually spearheaded by dancers. Read on to hear Kiki, a dancer at a strip club in Seattle who’s been a leader on the Strippers Are Workers campaign, tell the story of how it all happened.
I’ve been organizing with dozens of other dancers across Washington since last July — and today, our work came together in a huge way: we got a bill signed into law that will give us safer, more secure work environments.
The bill we helped craft covers a number of things we came together to demand:
Panic buttons in our clubs so we can alert management if we’re feeling unsafe
A customer blacklist to empower dancers to keep out customers who have become violent
A know-your-rights training for dancers
And an advisory committee to continue the dialogue about what’s going on in our workplace and continue organizing for more change.
I love dancing. I love the physical movement and connection to my body. I love the financial freedom it’s allowed me. I love the flexibility of my schedule that’s allowed me to pursue my photography and printmaking, my business as a healing practitioner, and school.
But for as long as I’ve been dancing, I’ve seen the need for a dancers’ rights movement. Our needs are completely ignored in our workplaces. They’re the last thing the club considers — to club owners, we’re a product and a source of money. We have to pay house fees to dance every night and if we don’t make enough to pay them, we go into debt with the club and they hang it over our heads.
And even though we pay these fees of up to $200 a night just to work, we’re not given the protections we need — things like security and protection from sexual harassment and assault. I’ve dealt with constant sexual harassment from a manager at my club — every single shift, he would hit on me while I paid out at the end of the night, and I felt like I couldn’t assert myself or I would be charged more. I’ve been forgotten about alone in VIP rooms with customers. We’re denied even basic needs like working bathrooms at times. It’s infuriating.
When I started chatting with other dancers, it became clear that we all saw that something needed to happen. We started by naming the non-negotiables, like our safety and health. From there, we put in a ton of work to organize, from getting other dancers on board to meeting with legislators, testifying at hearings, and explaining exactly how things needed to change.
Sex work is work. But the stigma around sex work makes us more vulnerable — it makes it easier to overlook our rights as workers. We’re providing something very basic — something that is needed. It’s emotional labor, it’s intimate labor, it’s physical labor, it’s feminized labor, and it’s labor that is invisible and devalued in our society. Whether I’m going to my job as a bartender or my job as a dancer, I’m still just going to work. We all deserve to work in an environment where our health and safety are made a priority. Speaking out for our rights means shifting the balance of power in the clubs so our needs are taken seriously.
The most important thing about the bill that was signed into law today is that it came directly from dancers. Too often, the laws that affect us are created without our involvement. I believe in stripping — this work gives people an opportunity to have control over our bodies and our money. I believe we need to protect these jobs and make them better. I believe there should be nothing about us without us.
I’m really excited and so proud of all the other dancers that organized to get this bill passed. We not only made our voices heard, we created the change we wanted to see — and now that we’ve taken this huge first step, I’m hopeful there’s even more that we can do together.
— Kiki, dancer in Seattle with the Strippers Are Workers campaign at Working Washington