Soho in 2012: behind the scenes at a London lap-dancing club - U2 Feedback

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Old 07-20-2012, 08:55 PM   #1
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Soho in 2012: behind the scenes at a London lap-dancing club

By around 10pm on a Wednesday evening, several women are undressing in the dank, cramped basement corridors outside the Windmill club's three windowless changing rooms. The combination of the unceasing rain and roadworks in the streets above is causing chaos. One of the rooms has flooded overnight and bits of the ceiling have fallen down. The other two are full already, so women are stripping off their clothes wherever there is space. Beneath the prevailing smell of hairspray and scent, a peculiar sewagey odour seeps in from Soho's flooded drains.

Women arrive in anoraks, wearing dirty trainers and fusty brown tights, eating greasy panini, holding their noses and complaining about the smell, and spend around an hour transforming themselves into beautiful, heavily made-up night peacocks, in floaty, gauzy, transparent dresses and leopardprint bras.

As they get ready to go to work, the women don't give the impression that their job is fun. They enjoy chatting to each other as they get ready, but they don't talk with great enthusiasm about their encounters with the club's clients. They don't complain that they're being exploited, but they are frank about the difficulties of working here. A minority may be making money, but several who say the money is OK are using exceptionally low benchmarks. For the Romanian women, visa restrictions mean it's very hard to get other work. Aside from Laura, I don't meet anyone who's told her parents how she earns her living.

Maria, 25, from Romania, likes working here because the pay is better than the sub-national minimum wage she got in cash when she worked in a pub in Wembley. She was paid £176 a week for working a nine-hour day, six days a week.
A Spanish dancer, who recently graduated from a good London university, has been working here for a year to pay off student loans; according to the house mother, she appears to be earning more than some of the other women. She says the work is empowering, and better paid than the entry-level jobs she could have applied for on graduating. "I want to have my independence, my money, not be relying on anyone else.

"I thought it was hard the first week. I don't find it weird any more to be running around naked up there," she says. She spends a lot of her time disguising from the clients how well-educated she is. "Most men don't like to see that the girls are cleverer, or to feel they are at a disadvantage. They think, oh no, you're too clever for me, you're going to run off with my money."

Owide comes in and is cross to find we're still in the club, talking to his staff unsupervised. His amiable demeanour has evaporated. There is an explosion of swearing; one of the dancers rolls her eyes behind his back, as if she's heard it before. We are escorted from the building. "No one talks to the girls like that. No one," he says "I'll phone the editor and have the piece stopped."

All the women's names have been changed and some details altered to protect their identities.
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