By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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The silver pole squeaks between her pale, toned thighs as she lifts her 110-pound frame high into the club's rafters. Her strawberry blond hair tumbles loosely over her blue tie-dyed string bikini to her thin waist. The pumping music goads, "Party like a rock star," and her eyes roam into the flashing red and blue lights. She doesn't look at the crowd.
From her perch, she flings off the bikini top, which lands in a limp heap onstage. Right ankle looping the pole, her body dangles upside down like a Raggedy Ann doll, to which she bears some resemblance. Sliding down, she closes her act in a handstand before flipping upright to saunter offstage.
It is an otherwise drab Wednesday afternoon in June. The 23-year-old dancer accompanies the free buffet at the Pink Pony, a strip joint in a Doral warehouse on an industrial block where you can also find good deals on marble.
Her pole tricks are worth the visit, even if the shriveled strip steak is not. When the music stops, she looks at me. Her eyebrows rise as if to say, "What did you think?" I smile and silently clap, impressed by the acrobatic mastery of this day shift dancer, who calls herself Kamren.
"I'll be back," she mouths before approaching each of the seven men in the audience, some wearing visors, some in button-down dress shirts, all suddenly immersed in their beers and averting their eyes from her black-gartered hips as she swings them for tips. She returns to a chair across from me and sighs.
Kamren arrived on a Greyhound bus two weeks ago. The only makeup on her face is a smudge of mascara that has melted under her eyes. "Can I have a dollar? is the most annoying part for a stripper," she laments. "Even more annoying is when they turn you down."
The Pink Pony is among a bevy of Miami strip clubs open at noon. While some poor chumps swing by the Wendy's drive-through, their friskier frugal counterparts are wise to the cheap eats and eyefuls offered at these clubs. Where there's hunger, someone is bound to feed it.
The dancers served up with the buffets include mothers, students, and women striving for some semblance of a normal life in a hustler's profession, which many hide from their families. Many prefer the less drunk, less grabby clientele that frequents clubs when the sun is still high. Others like the practicality: Raising children, fetching the dry cleaning, and picking up groceries is easier when you're not disrobing at night.
"It's just like any job," says Heaven, a 24-year-old dancer at Miami Gardens' Tootsies Cabaret, whose mouth is glazed in lipgloss. She smells like bubblegum.
Day strippers don't like to be thought of as B-team dancers. Kamren, for one, says she feels unappreciated. "I wish more people would come and watch me during the day, because I do actually put on a show."
I compliment her pole tricks, adding, "I wanted to clap, but I wasn't sure of strip club etiquette."
"You could have. Some people do applaud," she assures, her eyes downcast as she leans against the table, making me wish I had.
The thought of entering the Magic City's nude dancing world by myself made me squeamish. I'm not one of those cool girlfriends who escorts her man to clubs. I was raised Lutheran. I needed a warmup, a place that felt like home — a corn-hemmed nook of 18,000 in Illinois, where the local strip joint, the Silver Slipper Saloon, was conveniently situated just off I-80 and pandered to truckers and union laborers.
Driving along I-75 in North Florida this past May, my fiancé and I spotted signs for a joint offering trucker discounts, and I knew I'd found the place. At Café Risqué, patrons can ogle naked ladies over waffles and eggs 24 hours a day. (And, in a cruel twist, they must do so completely sober. Café Risqué doesn't serve booze because a local ordinance bans the combination of liquor and total nudity, according to Donna Smith, the café's general manager.)
My fiancé could not contain his enthusiasm, shouting out each billboard for the club while we were en route.
"We Bare All!"
We pulled into wee Micanopy, about 20 minutes from Gainesville, on a sunny Memorial Day afternoon. An ancient mall competes with Café Risqué — a white and blue building that looks like an old Arby's — as the best thing going in town.
A ruddy potbellied man dressed in black greeted us at the door.
"Locals, truckers, or just passing through?"
"Uh ... just passing through."
The door opened to a room lit like a blue and pink neon Wal-Mart. A sign near the door pointed to the right: "Truckers Showers."
The six dancers outnumbered the four homely customers facing the narrow, mirrored stage. Three women sat and chatted with the thin audience while the other three danced. A stringy-haired blond, who looked about 16 years old, swayed, her small breasts lolling haphazardly. An older brunette with a lumpy midriff and a dimpled behind gyrated in front of no one.