Before I started working at a strip club, I naively assumed that all strippers danced to Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, ACDC, or some other type of hair metal or butt rock. All of those bands had strippers in their videos, so it made perfect sense to me. Within my first week at the Doll House, I realized that I was sorely mistaken. Strippers might have danced to Motley Crue in the late eighties or early nineties, and occasionally you may walk into a strip club and see a girl dancing to a Poison song because her middle-aged regular requested it, but these days, the vast majority prefer to dance to hip-hop, rap, and in my opinion, one of the worst music genres of all, contemporary R&B.
Now, I consider myself to have a relatively diverse taste in music. As a vinyl enthusiast with several thousand records in my collection, my taste runs the gamut from The Misfits to Tupac. But I have a difficult time accepting contemporary R&B as a listenable music genre. It’s almost worse than modern country music, which is, inarguably, the Special Olympics of music. For me, both are a slow and painful listening experience. I’d prefer to listen to A Night at the Roxbury soundtrack in its entirety followed by Nickelback’s Greatest Hits than be subjected to a half hour of consecutive contemporary R&B songs. I make use of the term “contemporary R&B” in an effort to distinguish it from the R&B of the fifties, sixties, and seventies. James Brown, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, and The Isley Brothers are all classified within the R&B/Soul genre and are amazing artists deserving of utmost respect. I’m sure they were dismayed to see their musical creation evolve into a base, lurid form of adolescent sexual expression. It has become the mating soundtrack for the dim-witted and linguistically challenged. James Brown and Al Green would never have used these song titles: “Feelin’ On Your Booty,” “U Remind Me of My Jeep,” “Knockin’ Da Boots,” “Freakin’ You,” “Shorty (Got Her Eyes on Me),” “I Can Tell U Wanna Fuck,” or my personal favorite, “T-Shirt and Panties.” I had never encountered the contemporary R&B genre prior to working at the Doll House. The names Jodeci, R. Kelly, and H-Town were foreign concepts to me. But within that first week of employment, I realized that contemporary R&B is the preferred music of the modern-day stripper. They like it—believe me, I’ve inquired—because it makes them feel “sexy” or the more common explanation, “I’m feeling tired and R&B is easy music to dance to.” The latter is the primary reason they prefer R&B because they can roll about on their backs onstage and earn the same amount in tips as the dancer frenetically wrapping her body around the pole to Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll.”
The first several months at the Doll House was a veritable culture shock for me. I had several books of CDs at my disposal, but not one contained an R. Kelly song. I not only had to pay close attention to the music selection of the night shift DJs, I had to assiduously write down the music that the girls requested, or I would not have been a successful DJ at that club. It took about a month of studying this wretched genre and several weeks of downloading songs from the Internet before I had a decent collection of contemporary R&B music. On a daily basis, I’d pore through the Top 20 lists of all the urban radio stations and download the most popular tracks. Soon enough, I was able to play almost any song that a dancer requested, and they tipped me well for it.
That being said, if the dancer was a poor tipper, I couldn’t care less what type of music she requested. I’d select music for the crowd and for myself. And more often than not, it would be some type of rock or metal because that’s what I wanted to hear: ACDC, Aerosmith, Nine Inch Nails, Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Danzig, Alice in Chains, Metallica, The Stooges, or even Slayer or Motorhead if I really didn’t like the girl. Experience has taught me that Slayer is a very effective tool in teaching a dancer the benefits of tipping the DJ. It’s difficult to describe the sweeping feeling of satisfaction I derived from watching a dancer who refused to tip stand helplessly onstage, with a look of pure and intense hatred on her face while Slayer’s “Angel of Death” blasted through the club’s speakers. All strip club DJs live for these “fucking with the dancer moments,” and we all have our anecdotes about how we played some outlandish song for a dancer we didn’t like and she flipped out. I worked with a DJ who told me how he once played “Turning Japanese” followed by “Kung Fu Fighting” for an Asian dancer who never tipped him. She flashed him a nasty look during the first song and furiously exited the stage during the second. With her exposed mammoth fake breasts bouncing from left to right, she headed directly to the DJ booth and spat in his face while cursing at him in Cantonese. We all have a cache of novelty songs reserved for the non-tippers. Donnie, who I worked with at the Ruby Club, always employed MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” for non-tipping dancers. Now I’ve played “Baby Got Back” and “Ice Ice Baby” a few times, but
I’ve never played MC Hammer for a dancer. Not once. I’m not that much of a sadist. But like any experienced strip club DJ, I had my special cache of songs that I reserved for the non-tippers.
At the end of my shift, I’d head downstairs while the girls cashed out with the managers and wait by the front door to make it as awkward as possible for them to leave without tipping me. Most of the seasoned dancers would tip or explain that they didn’t make enough money that night and would take care of me the next time we worked together. I was satisfied with that explanation. Though it would have been better to receive some amount of compensation, it was also advantageous to remain on a dancer’s good side. And when they did earn a lot of money, they’d usually tip me double that night. But there were always a few strippers who were either new and did not know that it was customary to tip the DJ and security staff, or ones that steadfastly refused to tip anything at all. I typically worked with a dancer for at least two or three shifts before I classified her as a non-tipper and played Weird Al for her sets. After the second shift when I didn’t receive a tip, I’d confront her in a tactful manner and inquire as to why she chose not to tip. I’d like to emphasize being “tactful” in these interactions because, though it’s customary, a dancer is not required to tip any employee at a strip club. And if she feels like she’s being extorted or threatened in any manner, she could complain to management, and the DJ or bouncer would be immediately fired. It was much easier to replace a security guard or DJ than find an attractive dancer who was reliable and a good earner. When I was promoted to night shifts at the Doll House, I replaced an egotistical, violence-prone DJ named Terrence who would confront non-tipping girls in the most untactful manner possible. Terrence, or ‘Tito’ as everyone called him, was in his late twenties and became friends with my manager Joe when they were both in prison. Tito also waited by the front door to be tipped, but if a girl tried to leave without tipping, he’d grab her by the arm and corner her outside, demanding to know why she wasn’t “breaking him off.” He’d refer to this as his “gorilla pimp technique,” and he informed me several times that “fear is the only way these bitches learn.” Understandably, he frightened a lot of dancers and was eventually let go because one of them complained about his technique. Conversely, I chose to use a much softer, more diplomatic approach. Standing by the door, I’d watch the non-tipper cash out with the manager, and as she was walking by me to exit the club, I’d say in a very non-confrontational tone:
“Hey, Nadine, do you have a minute?”
“I was just wondering if I screwed up your set. Did I play the wrong song or something?”
“Umm, no. I don’t think so.”
“Yeah, I thought I played the two songs that you requested. Usually, if I play a decent set, most girls take care of me at the end of the night. I’m just concerned I did something to upset you because I haven’t received a tip tonight or the last time we worked together.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m new and didn’t realize that we had to tip.” Slightly embarrassed, she’d rummage through her purse and pull out a twenty-dollar bill. “Will this work?”
“Totally. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it, and let me know if there’s any new music that you’d like to dance to.”
This self-deprecating approach was very effective for the majority of cases but not all. I’ve worked with several dancers who simply refused to tip regardless of how many times I’d passive-aggressively inquire about the reason they chose not to take care of me at the end of the night. These were the dancers who I had reserved a cache of special songs for. Compared to my colleagues, I was rather patient and more than willing to give a dancer several chances to make amends. But after three shifts without receiving a tip, I had no choice but to ridicule her onstage with music, my only weapon. My go-to song for this situation was “What Is Love,” the first track from A Night at the Roxbury soundtrack. In fact, most of the songs from that soundtrack would work perfectly. I’d follow that with Tom Jones’s “Sex Bomb” or sometimes “Maneater” by Hall & Oates. All three of those songs are fast-paced and easily meet the 120-beats-per-minute requirement set by the management. For her second set of the night, I’d make the switch to metal and play Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” as loud as I could followed by Danzig’s “Mother,” which was applicable because a good portion of the dancers were single mothers. At most clubs, the dancer is never allowed to leave the stage unless it’s an extreme circumstance, like her water broke or she’s in the throes of an epileptic fit. If she has a temper tantrum and storms off the stage because of the DJ’s music selection, she will incur a sizable fine. Therefore, she has no choice but to dance to the music the DJ has selected for her. I could play the hapless dancer a seven minute Iron Maiden song, and she had to dance to it. And depending on how many occasions she “forgot” to tip me and which manager was working that night, I’d play that Iron Maiden song in its entirety. The dancer would feign enjoyment for the duration of the song, and as soon as it finished, she’d angrily storm off the stage and march directly to the DJ booth.
“What the fuck was that?”
“That’s my way of saying thanks for not tipping me.”
This comment would silence her momentarily, affording me an opportunity to continue by bluntly explaining: “Like you, I earn my living primarily from tips. If you take care of me at the end of the night, I will play you any song that you desire. But if you choose to stiff me, well then, you’ll have to dance to the music that I want to hear. And I love Iron Maiden. I really do. They’re one of my favorite bands.”
She stands there mouth agape, her maroon-shadowed oval eyes in their characteristic vacuous stare, and offers a feeble explanation: “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. I totally forgot to tip you last night.”
“Well, actually, you forgot to tip me the last three nights that we worked together.”
“Oh, shit. My bad. My money sucked the last few nights and I just forgot to tip you.” Reaching into her purse, she’d pull out two twenty-dollar bills. “Is this okay?”
“That works. What do you want me to play for your next set? And I promise I won’t play any Maiden.”
“Umm, I’m feeling like in a rock mood. Do you have any Nickelback?”
Trying not to audibly sigh, “Yes, I do. I’ll play some Nickelback for your next set.” Say what you will about their wretched music, at least it’s better than contemporary R&B.
After this brief conversation and a few sets of “non-tipper” music, most dancers would understand the benefits of tipping the DJ. However, there were invariably some who simply did not care and still refused to tip. The most resilient non-tipper that I ever encountered was a dancer named Barbie who worked at the Doll House for a brief period. She was a reasonably attractive blonde with some of the worst tattoos that I had ever seen. I shuddered every time I caught a glance of her My Little Pony tramp stamp. There were rumors that she was a Bulgarian model who had moved to America, fell on hard times, and consequently ended up at the Doll House. But none of these stories were ever substantiated. On more than one occasion, I had tried my self-deprecating inquisition but to no success. She’d glance apathetically in my direction and hastily walk out the front door with nary a thought of tipping me.
But since she was new and easy on the eyes, I gave her five chances before I started fucking with her music. The other DJs at the club utterly despised her and had their worst music cued up as soon as she took the stage. After several weeks of not receiving a tip, I completely echoed their sentiment and played her some of the worst sets that I could muster. Barbie once worked one of my Friday day shifts, and only two other girls had shown up for work that day. This meant that she would have to go on the stage at least a dozen times. Casey was the manager for that shift, and he couldn’t care less what I played for her. In fact, he stood in the DJ booth and offered suggestions:
“Have you played ‘Mongoloid’ yet?”
“No, I haven’t played any Devo. This set is going to be all Journey.”
I hit the play button and Journey’s “Separate Ways” blasted from the club’s speakers. Barbie didn’t seem to pay any attention to the music. She took off her top and held onto the pole and circled it repeatedly, lacking any sort of rhythm to her movements. Without exaggeration, she was one of the most uncoordinated dancers that I had ever seen.
“Damn, Sanchez. I’d wager that you’d have more rhythm up there than she does.”
“I’ve seen quadriplegics with more rhythm.”
“Whatever. I couldn’t care less about her. I’m just paying attention to the plight of Steve Perry. He’s a man who loved and lost and may never have truly loved again,” lamented Casey.
“What do you mean?”
“Listen to the song, man. Separate fucking ways. He had to go his separate way because he was bound by the chains of love. Stop talking and just fucking listen. He couldn’t take those distant eyes anymore and he had to go his separate way. And I don’t fucking blame him. We’ve all been there.”
“Well, you’ve certainly been there. Steve might have been a tortured soul, but it sounds to me that he dated a lot of psychotic women. And didn’t the keyboardist Jonathan Cain write this song?” I asked, knowing full well that the question would irritate Casey.
“What the fuck are you talking about? Steve wrote all the major hits for Journey. Sure, he might have collaborated with Cain and Schon on a few songs, but it was all Perry. These songs came from his soul. He was a lover. He gave so much and took so little. And these cunts threw it in his face. Fuck them. I’m with Steve on this.”
I almost forgot that I was DJing, and without bothering to announce Barbie’s second song, I faded into Journey’s “Send Her My Love.” She paid no attention and continued her uncoordinated, spastic dance routine around the pole. I looked over at Casey and noticed that he was pensively staring at the ceiling, his right hand gripping the bottom of his chin.
“You know, I’ve always found this song to be profoundly agonizing. It really affects the listener at his core,” I said.
Casey ceased his rumination. “I know what you mean. Steve feels deep remorse for his actions. But his actions were inevitable. It’s not like he never loved her. I mean, what’d you expect him to do? He’s on the road so many nights a year. How could he adequately love a woman and raise a family with her? He tried, but ultimately, he had to let her go.”
“You’re right, man. He gave what he could, but he knew in his heart that it would never be enough. But he still cared.”
“Yes, that he did.” Casey sighed deeply, and we listened to the rest of the song in silence.
I would’ve continued to deconstruct Journey songs with Casey had I not looked at the soundboard and realized that Barbie had been dancing for almost ten minutes. I don’t think she even noticed. In fact, I had to announce twice that it was time for her to leave the stage before she finally stepped down. Her next set consisted of Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” followed by Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.” Casey looked insulted by my choice for her second song.
“I’m shocked that you played this. I’m no prude, but a song about rape has no place in a strip club,” he said accusingly.
“You’re insane. ‘Sister Christian’ is about a young girl’s coming of age.”
“Pay attention to the lyrics for a second and you’ll see that this song is about raping nuns.”
We both watched Barbie clutch the pole tightly and move her hips in stark opposition to the tempo of the song. “That girl really has no sense of rhythm. I think she dances like that on purpose.”
Casey ignored me and pointed his index finger in the air. “Listen to this part of the song.” He looked over at me assuredly. “Her time has come? See, the nun clearly has no choice. Her time has come to be gang-raped by the sex-addicted members of Night Ranger. They’re probably intoxicated or high on coke and think it’s a good idea to rape a nun. It’s hard for me to listen to this. Disgusting. Make it stop.”
Though I thought he was reaching on this one, I faded the song out and put on the next dancer. For Barbie’s next few sets, I emptied my cache of stripper torture music: Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” followed by The Butthole Surfers’ “Lady Sniff”; WASP’s “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” and Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans”; Slayer’s “Kill Again” paired with Gwar’s “I’m So Sick of You”; Cannibal Corpse’s “Meat Hook Sodomy” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”; Willie D’s “Bald Headed Hoes” followed by 2 Live Crew’s “Face Down Ass Up.”
But it didn’t bother her whatsoever. She paid no attention to the music I was playing and would walk off the stage without even glancing in the direction of the DJ booth. I was at wit’s end. I had to unleash the nuclear bomb. The next set that I had chosen for Barbie would infuriate even the most tolerant of strippers. When she walked onstage for the final time that shift, I played my ultimate non-tipper set: Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” followed by Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up.” I have never met a stripper who didn’t tip after being forced to dance to “The Humpty Dance” two or three times in a night. But, alas, my efforts fell flat. These songs didn’t seem to faze her in the least bit. I was about to relent and accept the fact that I was never going to receive a tip from her, when a young Mexican dancer named Heaven approached the booth and asked:
“Why you playing all this wack shit for her? It won’t do no good.”
“What do you mean? These songs aren’t wack.”
“You trippin’ if you think ‘Humpty Dance’ ain’t wack. But it don’ matter what you play cuz she can’t hear it.”
“She can’t hear it? Should I turn it up?”
“Still won’t do no good. She’s deaf. She can’t hear shit.”
“She’s deaf?” The realization hit me like a punch in the groin. “How do you know she’s deaf?”
“I seen her talking to her man using sign language and shit.” Heaven moved her fingers in the air pretending that she was signing a message to me. “I was telling you to eat a dick in sign language.”
“Nice. Thanks for that.” All of a sudden, I felt truly remorseful for playing all those songs for her. Though it made perfect sense, I had no idea that she was deaf. “Well, I’ve worked with her five or six times, and she still hasn’t tipped me or any other DJ at the club.”
“She hasn’t tipped you?” Heaven asked with more than a hint of incredulity. “She don’ make no money. The bitch is deaf. She can’t hustle cuz the customers don’t know sign language. Damn.”
“I suppose you’re right. Now I feel like a dick.”
“You should.” She shook her head and sauntered back to the dressing room, moving her index finger back and forth in a “tick-tick” motion while mouthing the chorus of the song.
When the shift ended, I didn’t bother waiting at the door to be tipped out by Barbie. I felt that I should apologize for mocking her, but since I didn’t know sign language, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I attempted to rationalize my behavior by acknowledging the fact that she didn’t actually hear the music that I was playing for her, but that didn’t lighten my conscience. On her way out, she walked by the booth, but I avoided her and pretended to be busy packing up my CD cases. I never saw her again after that shift. I’d like to think that she found a job at a strip club for the disabled where she’d have an equal opportunity to make as much money as the other dancers, but, sadly, a club like that doesn’t exist.
Dee Simon is a graduate of the University of Michigan. He lived in San Francisco where he hosted Rampage Radio, a metal and punk rock radio show on KUSF 90.3 FM. During that time, he also worked as a strip club DJ in gentlemen’s clubs located across the city. In 2006, he started up his own comedy podcast called Sick and Wrong Podcast which is recorded on a weekly basis. Currently, Dee lives in Los Angeles where he is pursuing a career as an author, comedian, and cruise ship magician. “Play Something Dancy: The Tragic Tales of a Strip Club DJ” is Dee Simon’s first book.