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Friday, January 30, 2009

Where Glam Meets Business: Behind the Scenes at The Lusty Lady

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 8:19 AM

Behind the alluring, glass-enclosed stage at The Lusty Lady,

North Beach's co-op peep show famously bought up in 2003 by its female

performers, hides a warren of narrow red hallways. Visitors step past the establishment's flamboyant sign, into the long mirrored entranceway guarded by

bouncers and flanked by photos of scantily clad women, and then into one of the

many booths that offers them access to either the live show or a selection of

porn. These folks may never stop to consider the cramped quarters behind

the scenes.

There, the 70 or so Lusty Ladies - each of whom dance anywhere from

four to 25 hours a week - glam up with lingerie, leather, and

impressively high heels. They also chat, run a business, and occasionally hang

out eating cereal in the nude.


I visited the Lusty Lady this past Friday for a

behind-the-scenes tour, where I was greeted at the door by Princess, a petite

but no-nonsense dancer. Two long, voluminous blond pigtails framed her pink

corset. Backstage, we were joined by performers Trixsie Treat, Fuschia Black,

Miss Snow, and Maybaline for a talk about the experience of working at one of

San Francisco's most unique adult entertainment spots.


The mood was light but

professional as we discussed who's employed there (some full-time workers in

the sex industry, but also a number of students and women with "normal" jobs),

the average age of the dancers ("We have a lot of 19-year-olds," Princess

wanted me to stress), and what the current co-op members search for in new

performers. "We're not looking for a specific body type," explained Fuschia,

though there has been some conflict over larger dancers in the past. "We want

to see women who are comfortable and having fun."


While the Ladies pose for shots as if hard at in the office

- bending over desks, or coyly peering into filing cabinets - we discuss the

recession, and how it's actually helped peep shows, since paying $1 per minute

to watch three women dance is a lot cheaper than shelling out $100 or more for

a lap dance at a strip club. Fuschia points out that, if customers are pressed

for cash, they can always take advantage of what she calls the "Valentine's Day

Special," as when both members of a couple decide to squeeze into one booth, they

logically pay only 50 cents a minute each. The Lusty Lady doesn't discriminate:

two women can count as a couple, or two men. Before they can watch the show

though, the pair has to kiss to prove they're not posing to get half-off.


A peek into the dancers' dressing room reveals a wall of

lockers overflowing with feathered boas and bras, decorated with magazine

clippings and photos of friends, family, children. One of the things that makes

The Lusty Lady unususal as a work environment, the women I spoke to agreed, is

a convivial, we're-all-in-this together vibe. Whereas at strip clubs the

performers vie for customers' attention - and their tips - here the women are

assigned shifts, paid an hourly wage, and receive their cut when the business

turns a profit.


As part of a co-op that "strives to establish a positive work

environment embrace equality and individuality," according to the informational

sheet they hand to new employees, the performers and their support staff elect

"madams" as managers and use a checks-and-balances system to make sure everyone

gets a say. "I used to be waitress," Fushcia laughs, "but I was sick of feeling

used. So I came here."


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Bonnie Ruberg


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