This research explored whether and how the
occupation of exotic dancing and the lives
and careers of exotic dancers might make
them vulnerable to HIV infection.
Observations were conducted in 10 strip clubs and in-depth interviews were conducted with 30
female exotic dancers and 8 club employees in Southern Ontario between June 1995 and February
There are two different types of dancers: career and goal oriented. Career dancers are most likely
to be vulnerable to HIV. They are typically immersed in the strip club culture, are often heavy
drinkers, and may also be involved in drug use. Sex with customers may be part of dancing, or
part of dating men they meet while dancing in the clubs. Goal oriented dancers, on the other
hand, treat dancing as a temporary job. They often do not use alcohol or drugs and set firm
boundaries around what they do as dancers, with sexual activity outside this boundary.
A third type of dancer was not part of this study--dancers brought to Canada on work visas. Our
only knowledge of the experience of these dancers was through accounts provided by social
service workers, health workers and other dancers who had contact with them.
Lap dancing has increased the vulnerability of all dancers. It presents a potential for direct
skin to skin, genital to genital, or oral to genital contact in the guise of dancing. It increases the
probability that dancers may be sexually coerced or assaulted, and blurs the boundary between
entertainment that relies on sexual fantasy and that which involves physical and potentially sexual
contact. The former carries no risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, the latter has
the potential for infection.
Both the introduction and subsequent banning of lap dancing in Ontario has had
implications for the lives of exotic dancers in the region. The coercion and violation that dancers
have experienced while lap dancing has had an impact on how many dancers feel about their jobs
and themselves, which in turn has affected their personal relationships and lives. Although many
dancers we spoke with were supportive of introducing regulations to control lap dancing, the
seemingly discriminatory nature of such regulations, holding dancers responsible for the actions of
customers, has not helped in reducing the impact of lap dancing on these women and the sense of
agency they feel while working. The methods currently used to regulate lap dancing imply that it
is the female exotic dancer and the supply side of the industry that need to be regulated, not the
male customers who demand that such services be provided. As a result, little consideration is
given to the implication of lap dancing and its control for the lives of exotic dancers or the
benefits that could be derived from alternative legal controls.
The findings of this study suggest there is a need for a change in policy regarding the
regulation of strip clubs. Instead of relying on criminal law or municipal by-laws, which,
regardless of intent, have been used to the disadvantage of dancers, we need to move toward
treating exotic dancers as workers. Controlling work place activities and protecting employees,
through the use of employment-standards law, human-rights law, occupational-health-and-safety
law and workers-compensation law, would help control the sexual contact occurring in the clubs
and the assault and other forms of violation reported by dancers.
Programme Development and Delivery:
Efforts to develop and deliver health programmes to exotic dancers have met with limited
success. The most successful attempts have been those initiated by community nurses who,
working with one or two dancers, have spent time in the clubs talking to the dancers about their
needs and gaining trust. Such programmes require the cooperation of club managers, are time
consuming, costly, and subject to budget cuts.