Five nights a week, Mills student Savannah dances under a giant disco ball on a silver-curtained stage at the Mitchell Brother’s O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco.
Savannah started exotic dancing about one year ago, when she and a friend went to the Pink Poodle club in San Jose, just out of curiosity. She had never been to a strip club before but was randomly offered a job on the spot.
“It was fun, I loved dancing,” Savannah said of the 6 months she worked at the Pink Poodle where she was soon fired after missing work during finals.
Working and attending school full time soon became a strain for Savannah.
She finished her junior year at Mills College in fall 2001and took leave of absence after what she considered was a stressful semester. She moved to San Francisco and decided to work full time at another stripe club.
“I went to a Monday night audition at this famous club I’d always heard about, Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theatre,” Savannah said.
” I never in a million years thought I’d get it. I thought you had to be like, ‘Playboy’ [material] to work there.”
According to Savannah the dancers at Mitchell Brothers’ pay a “stage fee” of $360-$450 per night to dance at O’Farrell. This, said Savannah, prompts dancers to do “extras” for money. These include hand jobs, blowjobs, sex and other fetishes of patrons. “Besides me,” Savannah said, “there are probably only 2 dancers who don’t give extras.”
Savannah takes the positives and the negative of the industry with stride.
“There’s good and bad in everything,” Savannah said. “In stripping, there’s a lot of bad but there’s also some good. I need to remember to focus on the good.”
For Savannah, focusing on the good is especially important: She was raped in a private room her first week of work. Mitchell Brothers compensated her $7000 so that she would not file a lawsuit. As a result of the incident, O’Farrell Theatre now has emergency buttons for the dancers in the private rooms.
According to Savannah, the club is not a safe environment. “I always remind myself that I’m not there to make friends. It’s like a whole other world,” she said, “I think of it as playing a character; I even have a different name.”