As a reporter, you may not get much respect or much pay, but you can have some fun. In the late 1990s I wrote for a local monthly publication titled VMag, published by my friend Steve Murphy. I had written a piece on the strip club industry for Steve (under a pen name as I was working for a college at the time and it would have probably cost me my job) and Steve asked me to do the following story, which never made its way to print until now.
By "Judge" G. Michael Dobbs
With the ads announcing this year's Miss Nude New England Pageant at Anthony’s, I couldn't help but remember when the editor of this fine publication wanted me to cover it.
It was the dream assignment for any red-blooded American freelance writer. "Dobbs, I want you to be a judge at the Miss Nude New England Pageant at Anthony's, " said my editor in the gravest of tones." And I want you to write about it for VMAG." He paused. "By the way, you'll get two free drinks a night."
Not only was this potentially another great clip for the scrapbook, it was another notation on the resume. I was so proud as my friends and colleagues offered their congratulations and I began thinking about how my robes should look.
For the uninitiated, the exotic dance industry is highly structured. Dancers who work regularly at a club are known as "house dancers." House dancers in most situations work only for tips they receive from grateful audience members. There's no salary, no benefits, and in fact, the dancers often must give a percentage to the disc jockey and wait staff. If these women wish to graduate to a more lucrative position, they have to become a" feature," a dancer who travels around the country and can command up to $5,000 a booking because of who she is or what she does.
There are three kinds of features. Because a large percentage of exotic dance clubs in the country are topless only, a number of women fall into the "breast act" category. These women, in consultation with plastic surgeons and structural engineers, buy the largest fake breasts their bodies and budgets can handle and go on the road with names such as "Twin Peaks," "Nikki Knockers," or "Wendi Whoppers."
The second classification is porn stars who use their 15 minutes of notoriety to separate cash from the guys who want to see Nina Hartley or Jenna Jamison up close and personal.
The third group is the women who do pictorials in men's magazines, posters, and calendars, but won't have sex on camera. They use their appearances in print as their claim to fame.
A title can help propel a house dancer into a larger tax bracket. That's why a group of young women assembled at Anthony's in South Hadley the week of May 17. If you are the reigning "Miss Nude New England" that denotes to a discriminating audience member that you are a cut above. While much as changed in adult entertainment since the relatively innocent days of Gypsy Rose Lee, one rule remains the same - "you've got to have a gimmick."
A house dancer can make decent money ($200 to $500) a night by feigning an interest in patrons, having a drink with them, and introducing them to the promised (but never delivered) pleasures of the table dance room. To be a successful feature, you must to something on stage besides whirl around a bit and reveal all for a dollar. You have to have an act.
A pageant such as this one at Anthony's serves two purposes. It gives dancers a chance to introduce or hone an act, and it gives the club the chance to hike up the cover charge a few bucks.
As someone who has seen dozens of feature acts and interviewed many people in the exotic dance industry, I felt uniquely qualified to act as a judge. I was happy to meet my other distinguished jurists on the first night. The doorman brought me over to the special judge seating and introduced me to Judge Chuck and Judge Wayne-o, both fine gentlemen.
The rest of the seats were empty and I soon learned that judging such a contest had a democratic tradition. Members of the audience could also be judges. Unlike Chuck, Wayne-o and myself, these judges obtained their commissions by being the highest bidder in an auction. One gentleman so wanted the honor (plus a calendar, a tee shirt and two free drinks) that he bid $65. His top bid also bought him a vintage Star Wars collectible doll. Free alcohol, close proximity to beautiful nude women, and a doll that could fetch big money on e-Bay – life is seldom better than this!
The club was charged with excitement each of the three nights I attended. Well, perhaps not Tuesday night when there were stretches in which there were more dancers and their boyfriends than patrons. But on Thursday night the place was packed with feature and house dancers, club owners, photographers, booking agents, boy friends, and patrons.
Our charge was to give a score of 1 to 10 to each contestant in the following categories: facial beauty, body, personality, talent, and beauty queen image. The last category was a puzzler because with the exception of Vanessa Williams, no beauty queen I've heard of has showed off her privates in public. However we carried on.
Judges Chuck and Wayne-o struggled as I did in establishing some sort of criteria in judging. Judge Chuck quickly determined he wanted polkas to be played as the accompanying music. Jimmy Sturr polkas to be precise, and he was quite disappointed when the deejay insisted on playing rock and roll.
My standards also evolved quickly. I wanted to see old-time show business. There are lots of beautiful dancers who can get naked on stage, but I wanted to reward someone who actually had an act, who was trying to raise the bar a bit.
Two women immediately led the way. Eva Nicole pulled out all the stops in one act, which concluded, with her sitting in a huge champagne glass mixing a giant margarita. Aside from the nudity, it was something legendary Busby Berkeley might have done with Carmen Miranda fifty years ago.
The winner on my scorecard was Leah Lei, a gymnastic blonde dancer, who clearly put great thought into what she was doing. Her best act was one in which she popped out of a garbage can in a hobo cat outfit to a set of songs about cats. Very attractive and with a sense of humor, she reminded me of the kind of burlesque act I've read about from the golden years of the business.
I wasn't around for the crowning of the winner. After three nights, I had learned that too much is sometimes enough.