Shakers Studies: Karma

Strip clubs are places where all kinds of cultural appropriation can be found. One way cultural appropriation happens in strip clubs is through dancer stage names. Karma is a popular stage name for strippers to pick. I've known Karmas in Oregon, Karmas in Minnesota, Karmas in Vegas, and most recently-- a Karma in Waverly, Nebraska.


A Sanskrit word, Karma is the Buddhist concept that refers to future consequences from a previous action. The concept of Karma has been appropriated and mutilated in the West in all sorts of ways. It is a victim-blaming term that does not hold abusers accountable, and blames sufferers. I do not believe that karma is real. Google is a great resource to find out more about how stupid it is when people talk about karma.

I drove Westward into Nebraska through I-80 on a warm Summer afternoon in 2017, with all of the clubs in the Lincoln-Omaha area written down in a notebook. I drove to whatever one my GPS said was closest to my Motel 6 room. That club was called Night Before Lounge and located in downtown Lincoln. I auditioned at Night Before Lounge. The owner told me that he makes the schedules and only gives dancers a few nights per week. He had me fill out a large application which had all kinds of questions about who I am. He said he'd call me, but never did. I needed to find work quick, so I kept looking and ended up in Waverly.

On one of my first nights at Shakers, Karma asked me if I was auditioning at Night Before Lounge the other night, and informed me that she knows the owner. She was there hanging out and saw me audition. She went on to tell me about other people who she knows in the Nebraska strip club scene, and informed me of her social connections. I avoid people who brag about their social connections and who stay in one spot like a barnacle for an excessive amount of time. I do this because their bragging annoys me, but also because they tend to ask prying questions about my life or find things out about me while at work that are none of their fucking business.

In subsequent nights, Karma would brag to me about how long she has known Dan Robinson. She would voluntarily strike up conversations with me about what a great guy he is, and how he built the club from the ground up all on his own. She never mentioned his losing the lawsuit. Karma would do things that dancers were made to do prior to Dan losing the lawsuit, like vacuum and clean the club. I have a strong visual memory of her vacuuming the floors while wearing a satin teal leotard and black stripper heels. I felt really sorry for Karma when seeing her vacuum like that. Making dancers clean the club but not paying them, giving them any benefits or employee recognition is a really disgusting thing to do, and then to see Karma doing it even after the rules were removed was pathetic.

Karma is around my age and a recovering addict. One time she was telling a group of dancers about how when she was a younger stripper, she was on a coked out binge and spent $10,000 at Buckle in a one year time span. I've gone to a few Buckle outlets since then, just to have a look around and calculate what they sell that could amount to $10,000. Honestly I can't picture it.

I'm glad I didn't know coke sniffing Karma. If I have to work with people on drugs, I prefer they are on opiates or sedatives. People on stimulants are extra annoying and combative. There were times when I would be sitting next to Karma and she'd nod off or stare into space, so I did wonder what drug she switched to after her coke days were over. It was a lot easier to work with her when she was sedated though, because at least then she wasn't trying to defend Dan Robinson.

When I stopped going on stage and began exercising my rights, Karma did not like that at all. She would comment on how messed up it was and ask management what was going on. She didn't understand it. She would try to physically intimidate me, but I wasn't intimidated at all, because while she has beautiful defined muscles, she is only about five feet tall.

Despite all of the above, I quietly cherished Karma's presence. She had no idea. I preferred to work when she worked, because she danced to metal and didn't behave like Molly Ruterbories. Shakers had a tendency to get a certain vibe in a short period of time, and I was happy to have Karma's stage presence serve as a buffer and cut through all of that. I can get really colloquial with describing the vibes at Shakers, but there are certain things that I don't put on the site. She holds her own really well. Her presence made my time there easier. Karma and I had an overlapping client base, and that didn't bother me at all. Our voices sound a lot of like. It is nice to have other women around with a similar kind of unapologetic femininity.

When I was having a partial seizure in the dressing room one night, she was kind and helpful to me.

Karma was not nice to me when I wore my blue Pict body paint. She asked if it was war paint, and participated in verbal degradation with regards to my labor rights advocacy. When I make myself look like an ancient Pict in the strip club, it is war paint. I don't culturally appropriate when I wear it. I am a modern Pict, proud of who I am and willing to stand up for what is right.