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She walks the few steps to the small white platform in the centre of the room and wraps herself round the pole. For several minutes she spins and twists, her long hair touching the floor as she tips upside down. Some of the men look on goggle-eyed, others barely glance in her direction. No touching the girls. No propositioning the girls. We climb a flight of stairs. On the wall are two framed T-shirts. The club itself is neither particularly glamorous nor particularly sleazy. The clientele is mixed. A group of noisy young l has commandeered one alcove; the remainder is mainly small groups of three or four.
One man, who appears to have wandered off the set of The Inbetweeners , has come alone. The girls are a mixed bunch too. I count 10 of them altogether. Most are Scottish and could be students, but there are also a couple of Eastern Europeans. When they are not dancing, the girls mingle. The men buy them drinks, chat, then slip into a side booth or behind a curtain for a private dance after which the girls move on. Diamond Dolls is just one of many lap dancing clubs in Scotland.
Dundee has Private Eyes. At present, such clubs are largely unregulated. Because they require only alcohol licences, local authorities are unable to attach conditions to the lap dancing side of the businesses. But in the Court of Session ruled the code of conduct had no statutory basis and that issues around the regulation of lap dancing had nothing to do with the sale of alcohol.
In the wake of this, the Scottish Government re-examined existing legislation. It believes that — like prostitution, pornography and human trafficking — lap dancing is a form of violence against women. In , it introduced the Air Weapons and Licensing Scotland Act which allows but does not force councils to introduce Sexual Entertainment Venue SEV licences and to cap the of licences allowed in their authority area. Putatively the cap could be set at zero. Last week, Glasgow City Council became the first council to launch a public consultation into its lap dancing clubs.
It is seeking views on whether to introduce SEVs and, if so, what conditions should be attached. It also wants to know how many — if any — lap dancing clubs should be allowed, and what issues should be taken into in considering where they should be sited. The consultation is to last 12 weeks in the hopes of gathering as wide a range of views as possible. The council appears to be treading carefully because it knows the issue is likely to prove contentious. The Scottish Government is by no means alone in its view of lap dancing clubs as inherently exploitative.
In , Iceland became the first country in the world to ban lap dancing and strip clubs for feminist rather than religious reasons. Under prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, it became illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees. Such views are prevalent in Scotland too.
Penman believes lap dancing fosters the sexually-entitled attitudes of some men, including those who regularly cat-call her year-old daughter. Not everyone agrees, however. There are plenty of women, including lap dancers, who see it as a positive way to express their sexuality and earn a living; they believe a ban would be an erosion of personal choice. Mandy Rose Jones first started lap dancing in Glasgow in , came away from it for six years, then went back for a year between and The first time round, she kept her job a secret, but, now the consultation is under way, she feels it is important to be forthright about her opposition to a ban.
She says a ban on lap dancing clubs would leave many of those who work there on the poverty line. This is how most lap dancing clubs work: the women pay a nightly fee to work in the club; then they dance round the pole for free to entice customers.
Everyone agrees that on a good night, lap dancers can make good money. But on a very bad night they can go home with nothing. The evening I was in Diamond Dolls, there seemed too few customers for 10 girls. All the risk is on the girls. As far as contact with the customers is concerned, the dancers I spoke to were adamant the rules are strictly enforced and that there was no cross-over from lap dancing to prostitution. There are cameras in every booth, they said, and in any case, if the girls were willing to be escorts, then why would they bother with lap dancing? They said the cubicles for private dances were so small touching was almost inevitable and that they have encountered women who have worked as both lap dancers and escorts.
Elizabeth Row, 28, is a student at the Glasgow School of Art creating work around cultural concepts of femininity and the male gaze; but for around a decade, she worked in lap dancing bars in Edinburgh. Well yes. And No. And I suppose, as I dance, I am a prop for him too. Yet the potential for female self-expression is undermined by the way the clubs are run and by culturally-embedded misogyny which shapes the way the women who work there are perceived.
Row says, in her experience, the clubs are mostly safe. Sometimes bouncers are quite attached to the club and, if you are a dancer who is going to kick up too much fuss, you are less inclined to get the protection you need even though you are in the right. If you try to shut them down all you are going to be doing is putting a plaster over bigger, more pressing issues. Men should not be horrible to women regardless of whether they are strippers or prostitutes; they should not be horrible to women full stop.
Row was dancing in the now-closed Sapphire Rooms in Edinburgh when photographer Jannica Honey was commissioned to take photographs of the girls who worked there back in Honey, who is Swedish, spent four months getting to know them and taking pictures of them in the dressing room and while performing. I do know someone who made enough to buy a flat in Edinburgh at an early age. So she got more and more frantic. As for the prospect of cleaning the industry up, Honey is dubious. It is the local authorities, not the Government, that will be caught in the cross-fire between those who see the sexual entertainment industry as legitimate if in need of increased regulation and those who see it as an inherent wrong.
It is the local authorities that will have to pick their way through the complexities of human sexuality and power dynamics and mull over the philosophical questions of choice, self-expression and exploitation. In the meantime, back at Diamond Dolls, Thursday night has tipped into Friday morning. The lad from The Inbetweeners is chatting intimately with one of the girls. Were it not for her outfit, they could easily be a couple.
Beside the basins lies a cluster of toiletries. Hairspray, mouthwash, a few toothbrushes in a tumbler: all quotidian reminders of the ordinary lives behind the vampy personas. By the time I return, the private dance is over. The lad is back at the bar. His girl has vanished; and he is, once again, drinking alone. News you can trust since in Edit Out.
The Diamond Dolls club in Glasgow. up. Thanks for ing up! Sorry, there seem to be some issues. Please try again later. The Western Bar in Edinburgh. The Act came into force earlier this year, with guidance published on 26 April. Scottish Independence.
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