I have danced for over eleven years now, and for most of that time, it has been my sole source of income.
I started dancing in the town of Portland, Oregon, where I was attending college. At my first club, I wore a pair of small heels that I bought at a thrift store. They were not stripper shoes. I didn't think it was necessary to wear uncomfortable shoes that are bad for my health, in order to make money. I was correct, because it ended up being a very lucrative job, regardless of my footwear. A few months after becoming a stripper, I auditioned a club called Carnaval. It was owned and operated by a former dancer named Laurie, and it was located in downtown Portland. Laurie didn't make me wear any shoes at all at work, so for the next couple of years, I danced completely barefoot. I continued to earn more money and learn how to hustle. I was sometimes bullied by other dancers, who wanted me to wear stripper shoes. For some reason, many women feel the need to patrol and criticize other women for the things that they choose to wear. These were not conservative women either-- they were mostly liberals.
Every strip club is different in regards to illegal rules they impose on dancers regarding footwear. Some clubs have allowed me to wear ballet flats. Other clubs have required me to wear stripper shoes, even though they misclassify me as an independent contractor. Some clubs go so far as to specify a minimum number of inches that the heel must be.
A club pressuring a dancer to wear a certain type of footwear can be a factor in determining whether she is an independent contractor or an employee, because people who are truly independent contractors would theoretically be able to wear whatever they want on their feet. Employees who are subject to certain rules regarding footwear would theoretically be entitled to workman's compensation if dangerous accidents or knee damage occurred while wearing stripper shoes.
High heels cause significant damage to the skeletal system and joints. It's not just the feet that they disrupt, but everything up to the neck and shoulders. Long term use of high heels can lead to foraminal stenosis, arthritis or slipped discs.
Recently, a sex work activist by the name of Matilda Bickers made a post on her friends' website, Tits and Sass. Matilda wrote:
“although the years have honed it and solidified my personal feeling that hobbyists (non-in person sex workers) have no business being within feet of a pole. If you aren’t going to work fifteen-thirty hours a week in 7” lucite heels... then you have no business using us as a costume.”
Please don't listen to Matilda's bullshit. I am a full time stripper and far from a hobbyist, much like many strippers who resist heels. Most dancers who wear heels don't wear ones that are seven inches. There are dancers who rely on stripping for their sole source of income and have for years, who choose to wear ballet slippers or other sensible shoes without a heel, during work. We do this because it relieves stress on the mind and body, not because we are hobbyists who don't need to make money. We aren't doing this to mock people like Matilda Bickers or wear a “costume.” She is not a part of any elite sect who gets to dictate what a true stripper is.
Matilda Bickers has a history of making sweeping statements regarding who she believes should have a voice in the sex worker community. Every once in a while on her blog, she will make statements regarding how she believes people should dress or look. If you find yourself subject to this kind of rhetoric but still know that you are a sex worker, understand that you are not alone.
Being a labor activist stripper is awesome, and one of the things that has always come up for me is the shoe issue. To my fellow strippers out there who like ballet slippers or otherwise resist unhealthy, body-damaging stripper shoes-- I support you and recognize that you aren't a hobbyist.