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Lapdancing research update – The Regulatory Dance

April 5th, 2011

Dr Petra

There are many times in a researcher’s career when you really wish you could have come up with a particular study idea, got it funded, and supervised it to completion.

One recent example for me was the ESRC funded project that aimed to find out more about lap dancing. Over the past year researchers have been talking with dancers, industry management and regulators to capture a snapshot of what’s currently going on with lap dancing.

You may remember how this study started out. It was the one picked up by the News of the World and other media outlets who, perhaps predictably, failed to notice how this work was needed (and how many limited existing studies on this topic were biased). Instead they attempted to make out the research was either smutty or not worthy of academic investigation. (You can read my somewhat ranty response to that coverage here).

Despite this somewhat shaky start, I’m glad to report the research is now in the preliminary stages of being reported by Drs Teela Sanders and Kate Hardy. You can see their initial findings here.

Their key findings are interesting and may surprise you:
* The continuous supply of dancers, rather than the demand for erotic dance, accounted for the expansion of the industry.
* The overwhelming majority of women were satisfied with their jobs as dancers, although they also identified negative elements.
* Advantages included: choosing own hours; getting money instantly; earning more than in other roles; being independent; combining fun with work.
* Disadvantages included: never knowing how much money they would make; keeping the job secret; customers being rude/abusive; competing with other dancers.
* Most women felt safe at work, although nearly half reported frequent verbal harassment and unwanted touching from customers.
* Only a minority of women were solely dancing, most combined dancing with other work and education.
* Dancing was used as a strategy to enable and facilitate career prospects and security in the future.
* Dancers’ status as ‘self employed’ workers resulted in exploitation as they had no rights or recognition in the workplace.
* Overheads were high: house fees, commission on dances, and fines (often arbitrary) for breaking ‘house rules’ reduced capacity to earn and most dancers had left a shift not making any money.
* The current focus on licensing does not consider the welfare or working conditions of the dancers.

You might also be interested in the other ways the researchers have chosen to represent their initial findings. Including this more visual account, reflections on both this study and research-led teaching, and a short piece from the researchers challenging the media coverage of the preliminary findings from the study.

No doubt this study will be welcomed by those interested in research, healthcare and activism related to sex work. It is also of use to those teaching or researching within the social sciences as an example of good practice. Particularly how the researchers have reflected on their work, have reported at various stages of the study, and highlighted how research and teaching can be intertwined.

The problem with writings about lap dancing in the past have been either they’ve focused on entirely positive accounts, or been overtly negative and often hostile to/about dancers. That’s been the case whether it’s media accounts or academic studies. This research is different as it takes the experiences of dancers and discusses their lives in a way that doesn’t flinch from the problems they face when dancing, or the positive (and mundane) parts of their work.

I wonder whether the media will notice how different this research is. Or whether they’ll continue with the standard judgemental approach that combines judgement with sexualising ‘brainy beauties’.

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