A stripper’s spirit, nothing else, is at the heart of her hustle. She listens with “Calm, Assertive Energy” through the growling of egos, treating each interaction as its own phenomenon, a new chance. This idea comes, like most of my understanding of human emotion, from Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer. During the murkier phases of my work-life, when the mutual disrespect between intoxicated customer and exhausted stripper makes every interaction a slog, I find myself chewing on my own advice. My aura muddied, I begin to feel the lyrics to “Dancing in the Dark” were written for me alone. Along with “my Clothes, my Hair, my Face,” I’ll wonder if it’s time to change my name.

A stage name is a command, repeated and repeated; it is also situational and only works when it has space to change. There can never be a perfect stage name, as each is a manifestation of a slightly different hustle, and to hustle is to exist in a state of self-calibration. Precision is achieved through “Exercise, Discipline, Affection”—a series of field tests that rotate with the conditions of the club—the time of night, night of the week, season of the year, the array of customers and number of workers, the calendars of sport and holiday, the weather in the sky and cycles of the planets, and an infinity of other events. Stripping is mutable, yet ordered: we respond to complex, emotional-logic patterns with a swift patience. This is likely why strippers everywhere love astrology and also love bad dogs.

Cesar Millan’s television dog-training curriculum asks people to retune their own emotions, so as to lead difficult and even dangerous animals into a “Calm, Submissive State.” This philosophy is not all that different from a style of diplomacy known as Non-Violent Communication. NVC is based on the paradigm: “Feelings, Needs, Requests.” It asks us to suspend our judgements of others as bad, to identify the “should” lurking in every conflict, and replace it with empathy for ourselves and our adversaries.

The first of the field tests—What’s Your Real Name—is also the most asked. It’s troubling: the question deliberately grates against the whole concept of the strip club, its structure, and its culture: a place where a stage name defines the job. Maybe that’s why it is so often asked. By asking for a real name, he asks us to define our work as “not real work,” and with it, all aspects of the experience as “not real.”  What he’s really asking: Is it alright that I am here? Is it alright that you exist? The best hustler sees this for the trick that it is, entertains the least amount of conflict, and exits with the most amount of cash.

What’s beneath their icky energy, their odd behavior? What unmet needs make these feelings surface? What is it that they’re really asking for?

[pullquote]Stripping is mutable, yet ordered: we respond to complex, emotional-logic patterns with a swift patience. This is likely why strippers everywhere love astrology and also love bad dogs.[/pullquote]


1. What’s your real name?
I’m here for my 21st birthday and have never been to a strip club before. I feel overwhelmed and need comfort. Can you seem as much like my childhood babysitter as possible?
Jennifer, Melissa, Amanda. Are you a Pisces?

2. What’s your real name?
My friends dragged me here for a bachelor party. I’m married and can’t believe I’m even here at all. I feel guilty and need reassurance. Can you seem as much like a drinking buddy as possible?
Joey, Sam, Alex. Are you a Sagittarius?

3. What’s your real name?
I don’t live in a world where a person could plausibly be named Stormy, Star, Shadow, or Calico. I feel intimidated and need understanding. Can you seem more like the “normal” women I know?
Ashley, Kelly, Jamie. Are you a Libra?

4. What’s your real name?
It’s really loud in here and I really thought you said your name was Hallie Joe. I’m not drunk. Stop rolling your eyes. I need Taco Bell.
Calico. Calico. CA-LI-CO. Are you a Capricorn?

5. What’s your real name?
I’m the boss and am used to being at the center of the action, but now I’m in this corner. I feel envy and need praise. So I’m going to pick a stage name for myself, like “Mr. Dynamite” or “Blaze” or “Ice Man.” Can you laugh like it’s clever?
Yes, you can have a code name, too! Are you a Leo?

6. What’s your real name?
I’ve been coming here for years and I know everyone. I’ll repeat this; I feel lonely and need affection. Are you impressed that I know this place and these people better than you?
I’ve never seen you in here before, but if you’re in here all the time I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other… are you a Taurus?

7. What’s your real name?
I’m out partying and my friends have all wandered off somewhere. I feel bored and need amusement. So, I will give you a new name. Does it start with an A? How about B? C?
It’s not Amy. It’s not Becky. It’s not Candy. Would you like to buy a vowel? Are you an Aquarius?

8. What’s your real name?
I’ve noticed that this place has a stage, which means this is a performance, making you an actress. I feel suspicious and need sincerity. Can you prove to me you have integrity, by breaking character?
Katherine. Audrey. Elizabeth. Are you a Virgo?

9. What’s your real name?
You, a sparkly showgirl, are talking to me, a stodgy man in a rumpled dress shirt. I feel resentful and need a little liberty. Can you be a little less intimidating and try not to get glitter on me?
Sunshine. My parents were hippies; and no. But, are you a Cancer?

10. What’s your real name?
Women lie, especially pretty women, especially women who trade on their sexuality. Like you, right now, telling me your name is something that I know it isn’t. I feel angry and need validation. Can you be cute, though, when you admit that you’re a liar?
Summer. Autumn. Winter. April. May. June. Sapphire, Ruby, Diamond. Whatever! Are you an Aries?

11. What’s your real name?
I am a nice guy. I just feel insecure and need confidence. I’m not like all the other guys in here. Can’t you just tell me your real name? I don’t understand why you need to protect your anonymity with me. I’m a nice guy. Just tell it to me. You can tell me. What’s your real name. What is it.
Are you a Gemini? It’s Sarah. I’m walking away now.

12. What’s your real name?
I’ve noticed the graceful, self-contained work-identity you’ve developed, and I’d like to see if I can get you to abandon it. I feel schadenfreude (pleasure at the pain of others) and need a target. I’m going to try to keep you here talking to me for free by intimating that I’m about to pay you, a lot, if you’d only just slow down… be real with me… wait, where you going?
Are you a Scorpio? I’m going to go brush my hair in the dressing room (until you’re gone).



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