I came into the project thinking that the dancers would fit a very specific profile but learned that they have extremely diverse backgrounds. The women I met came from middle to low class, stable to unstable homes, high school diplomas to college degrees. I even met women with different legal statuses


There are approximately 5,000 strip clubs in the U.S alone and an estimated 300,000 women who have worked as strippers across the country. Promises of money and power lure thousands of women to the sex industry every year despite their social, ethical, or economic backgrounds. Through her project Stripped photographer Alicia Vera explores the unique community formed by the exotic dancers of the Roaring 20’s strip club in San Francisco as a result of working in a volatile environment.

How did you first come across this community? 

I met the women at the Roaring 20’s strip club after landing an admin job for the company who manages most of the gentlemen’s clubs in San Francisco, CA. I got to know the individual clubs but was drawn to the Roaring 20’s club, a nude club where many dancers got their start in the industry. I began hanging out in the club and getting to know the dancers which led me to begin this project.
 
How did that evolve into this story? 
For many years before I even lived in San Francisco, CA, I was drawn to sex workers. I was curious as to who they were, why they chose this industry, and what their motivations were. Once I gained the trust of the women at the Roaring 20’s club, I began making images of the dancers to quell my curiosity.
London (left) and Crystal (right) play a game on their cell phone at the Roaring 20’s strip club in San Francisco, CA.
What are some of the backgrounds these women come from? 
I came into the project thinking that the dancers would fit a very specific profile but learned that they have extremely diverse backgrounds. The women I met came from middle to low class, stable to unstable homes, high school diplomas to college degrees. I even met women with different legal statuses.
You talk about a community between the women: What is this community build on? Friendships, survival, values? 
The community is built on friendship, survival and values. In a volatile industry where women are at risk of being exploited, censored, or harassed, it is important for their well being to find support in one another. Friendships between the dancers are invaluable. Not only do they seek advice on their wardrobe and makeup but also on crucial things like what clients or clubs to avoid.
Michelle takes her heels off and rests in a VIP room after a long shift at the Roaring 20’s strip club.

 

What are the major problems surrounding the stripping industry in America? And what, in your opinion, should be done to address them? 

One of the major issues in the stripping industry and sex work, in general, is that their work is not legitimized. The women are still seen as incapable of looking out for their own well-being. There are a lot of misconceptions about sex workers that in turn, get dangerous laws passed such as SESTA/FOSTA. This law is intended to curb sex trafficking but is putting many sex workers in danger. Strippers are now being censored online affecting not only their bottom line (many dancers use Instagram for self-promotion) but their communities where they seek information on how to detect dangerous customers, advice on what to do in a raid, or tips on how to save money. In my opinion, education among the public is crucial so that laws that put sex workers in danger don’t get passed. While there are many issues affecting the strip club industry, I think the first step in overcoming them is to support, listen to, and not see the women as victims who can’t make decisions for themselves.

All images are courtesy of Alicia Vera

Alicia’s work was kindly suggested by photo journalist and founder of WomenPhotograph, Daniella Zalcman @womenphotograph

To learn more about Alicia’s work please visit:

Website: www.aliciavera.com

Instagram: @aliciavera

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