Showing skin, raising questions
Go-go dancers from the Liquid Lollipop Labs who came to the Portland State University Park Blocks around 1 p.m. last Friday to audition PSU students stated that dancing can be a form of female empowerment, but not everyone in attendance agreed.
The actual audition consisted of three contestants, all of whom are currently go-go dancers at The City, a new sports bar. First, those auditioning were given the opportunity to dance onstage while a DJ spun records. The dancers from Liquid Lollipop Labs, a local promotions company, followed the auditioning contestants.
“I’m a hardcore feminist. It is empowering to love your body and show it in public. It is a big slap in the face to patriarchy and being objectified. If I am going to be objectified, I am going to objectify myself,” said Joey, one of the dancers, who is also a senior women’s studies major at PSU. She declined to have her last name used for this article.
Joey was approached on the waterfront and asked if she would be interested in dancing with Liquid Lollipop Labs. This is not Joey’s first time dancing professionally in clubs, however. She was previously a go-go dancer both in Reno and Vegas.
However, not all of the onlookers saw the spectacle the way Joey did. “It just seems weird, especially when some of the girls go to school here, to be put on display in front of people they go to school with. Especially when girls have a hard enough time not being stared at or treated like meat,” senior Jamie Hogue said.
Go-go dancers do not remove their clothing and are at the clubs simply to dance. According to Kimber Lee Peck, executive director and founder of Liquid Lollipop Labs, this is part of the company’s intention.
She wanted to show women currently stripping that “you don’t have to strip. You don’t have to take your clothes off. There is something to do other than take your clothes off. That’s the whole point,” Peck said.
The event was officially sponsored by campus radio station KPSU, though Forrester Hambrecht, the station’s development director, said they had little to do with putting on the event.
“We didn’t really know what they had in mind,” he said.
One of the stations DJs, Johnny French, helped sponsor the event because Liquid Lollipop Labs has underwritten his show on the station. The company also donated some photo shoots to offer as prizes for the radio station’s fundraising drive last week.
Kristi, a transfer student at PSU came out for the auditions because “It’s just a good, clean way to have fun and meet people. I’m not a big drinker. Plus, I’m kind of good at it.”
“I am the biggest feminist,” Peck said. “This is a woman-owned business, after all.”
While the decision either to strip or to become a go-go dancer is rife with controversy, dancing for money is part of some dancers’ idea of feminism and is ultimately an empowering act.
In order to recruit new dancers, Peck goes to strip clubs, inviting girls there to join her team of dancers. The dancers then agree not to strip anymore and begin dancing in rotating shifts at different clubs.
For other girls, the decision is one of nickels and dimes. “If you’re a woman, you’ll wear a short skirt to get paid more. If you’re going to commodify my sexuality, I’m going to be the one to benefit from it,” said Betty, a junior majoring in women’s studies.
Go-go dancing’s popularity has much to do with how lucrative it is. The go-go dancers are paid to dance at different clubs around the city, making upwards of $50 an hour. For the women involved, this is a way to have fun and make money. Joey dances because “I get to dance and get paid. I get paid to have fun. Otherwise, I’d be paying to dance at these clubs,” she said.
Still, appearing on campus to dance was not an easy decision.
“My fears are only on this campus because of the activism work I do. I don’t want my work to be undermined,” Joey said. Dancers who attend PSU expressed fears of stalking and other forms of unwanted attention.
For some students, concerns had more to do with whether this was the right time and place for such displays than a concern for the dancers.
“It’s morally degrading. This kind of stuff should be kept in the strip clubs and should not be promoted on a college campus,” freshman Riaz Parsiani said.
For senior Tony Montanae, despite the appeal of girls dancing on stage, the fact that the promotions company was recruiting new dancers was perplexing.
“I wouldn’t say I’m concerned, but it was interesting, to say the least. I wonder if the girls got paid, because if they got paid then they are just whores. But I liked it,” he said.
For another PSU student on the Lollipop team, go-go dancing is a new experience. Betty recently started stripping as her main source of income but has never before been a go-go dancer.
“I love it. I was really terrified at first. I was a complete tomboy, a wallflower all my life. I am not a club girl. I hate the music. I hate the scene. But I love to dance. I am a dancing machine,” she said.