Have you ever looked at your life and thought to yourself, "If this doesn't work out, I'll just become a stripper"?
It almost seems like the easiest and most fun job in the world. I mean, what could be better than getting to stand up on a podium all night and have men throw money at you? Aside from the impossibly tall high heels, there can't be too much effort required — right?
According to Melbourne dancer Violet Kymber, I'm right about the fun side, but taking to the stage night after night is hardly an easy gig.
"My first shift I was a nervous wreck," Violet told me. "The club was supposed to buddy me up with another girl for the night because I had no experience, but they ended up just telling me to get on stage."
Each dancer had a fifteen minute "set" on the stage before they swapped with another girl and returned to the club floor.
"I remember holding on to the pole and 30 seconds in, all the stigma society has created completely hit me all at once: wow, I'm 19, and I ended up as a stripper," she said.
Violet had been let go from her job at a make-up counter a few months earlier. A struggle with untreated and undiagnosed mental health issues led to her having a "break down" in front of a customer, and a few months after the incident she was still unemployed and lacking confidence in her ability to ever work again.
But on a birthday night out with friends, she bumped in to another client from the make-up counter: this one, a dancer at a gentleman's club. Violet decided then and there that she would apply for a job at the same club, and that's how she found herself clinging on to the pole a few weeks later, realising that her new job maybe wasn't as easy as she had hoped.
"I think the hardest thing I had to work on was dealing with the sting of harsh rejection. The money isn't in doing your 15-minute stage sets, it's in approaching usually-intoxicated men who often aren't there to spend any money, and convincing them to buy a private dance with you," she said.
"The rejection would take its toll some nights. I remember walking up to a rowdy group of young guys who were splashing their cash on girls left, right, and centre. When I approached one of them (to offer a dance) he said no, and straight-up told me that my ass was 'too flat'. Being insulted was a regular occurrence. And as a nineteen year old who hadn't grown in to herself yet, that one stung!"
There was also the client who pretended not to understand Violet's instruction not to touch her during a private dance, and forced his fingers inside her when she was bent over in front of him. A bouncer at the club evicted the man and charged him the equivalent of one of Violet's therapy sessions for the assault, at her request, but the incident still affected her.
"The rude men usually had an attitude about them, as if they felt that because they had the money that they had power over us. Unfortunately for them, it isn't true: come 4am, those same patrons leave with barely enough for a taxi," she said.
For every bad experience, though, there were countless other good ones. In the girls' dressing room, dancers exchanged stories about clients and drank, talked, and laughed with each other as the shift carried on in to the night. Many clients tipped generously, and some paid just to talk.
"Sometimes people are just a little lonely and all they're looking for is connection and they may struggle to find it elsewhere for whatever reason," she said.
"I think my favourite client was a man who had just moved to Canberra and knew no-one here, he would book me regularly and I would make him banana sandwiches while we talked about common interests. He was a wonderful guy, we had a lot of fun together!"
But in case you think there was a never-ending stream of cash, Violet learnt quickly that the industry was unpredictable.
"It often surprises people when I explain that some nights you could come home with $2000, and other nights, $0. Sometimes you could earn $600 a night for a week and then the next week, $50 total. It's an unstable income, so it's important to be responsible with your money and not give in to the excitement of a $1,500 payday," she said.
"You also aren't paid by the hour — anything you earn, you must put in the time and effort required, and even then, if it's a quiet night or your game is a little off, you could still go home with nothing."
And the advice she'd give to any other young woman considering dancing?
"At the end of the day, your mental and physical wellbeing should come above anything else. Your body, always your choice," she said.
"If an interaction with a client feels off, go with your gut and trust that feeling and turn down that dance. Money is abundant, but there is plenty more of it to be made. It can be glamorous, exciting, and the attention from patrons is flattering, but a strong sense of self and worth is more rewarding long-term. There's nothing better than coming home with a big wad of cash knowing that you didn't allow anyone to disrespect or mistreat you, and that you practised integrity."