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THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING
Aired November 9, 2014 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LISA LING, CNN NARRATOR (voice-over): It's the weekend and five women hit the road. Like more than 10 million Americans, we travel for our jobs. We're independent. We're providers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing is ever handed to you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't rely on any man to take care of me.
LING: Wherever we go, we learn things. Meet new people and hear their stories.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've met doctors and lawyers who want to tell me all their secrets.
LING: We get the job done. But only one of us keeps our clothes on while doing it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's confrontational. It's unexpected. It's hot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any girl who is a stripper is not just a stripper. You can't define me based on my job.
LING: Tonight a window into the world of the traveling stripper.
For centuries, women have used their bodies to tantalize men for pay from belly dancing to burlesque. But full-on stripping, taking off all one's clothes in strip clubs didn't catch on in the U.S. until the 1950s.
Now, this taboo profession is evolving. Women who once set up shop in home clubs are traveling to where the money is, to places and events where men converge in large numbers.
She's a new kind of stripper, taking her show on the road. From outward appearances, 20-year-old Iman and her friend, China, are doing well for themselves.
IMAN, STRIPPER: You will never catch me driving a beat-up car. I want nothing but designer on my face. Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari, Gucci, Versace.
LING: On the weekend they drive six hours to cash in on a once-a-year business opportunity. At first glance, Myrtle Beach is exactly what it sounds like, a beach town. But every spring millions of men flock here for the three-month-long golf season.
There are apparently over 100 golf courses here, and where there are loads of golf courses, there will be throngs of men. And where there are throngs of men, there will inevitably be throngs of strippers.
Tucked amongst the tourist shops and restaurants are more than a dozen gentlemen clubs. One of the most famous, the dollhouse, has been a fixture in Myrtle Beach for over 20 years.
How are you tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. Thank you.
LING: So tell me about this place, The Dollhouse.
Managing partner, David Bohem, wants to get something straight right up front.
DAVID BOHEM, MANAGING PARTNER, THE DOLLHOUSE: We're not a strip house. There is vast difference.
LING: What's the difference?
BOHEM: Gentlemen's club provides entertainers. Our girls are wearing gowns as opposed to I call it, hoochie mama outfits. They're entertainers. They act like entertainers.
LING: What would you say you provide for men here?
BOHEM: I love to watch guys walk out that door going, my God. I'm in love.
LING: Is it kind of a secret that these guys are here on the auspices of being on a golf trip and come hang out here?
BOHEM: Look. You put ten guys on a plane to go play golf for five days? A woman has to know her husband is going to go out and have some fun, get a little crazy, you know.
LING: And that's exactly why dancers like 20-year-old Iman and China are here, to capitalize on Myrtle Beach's golfers and their wallets. During the season, they can double what they make back in their home clubs.
IMAN: I can make someone's two-week paycheck in one night. The most I ever made in one night was $3,000.
CHINA, STRIPPER: I try to save all the money I have. When I first started, I would probably be a millionaire.
LING: As a 21-year-old, do you think you would be able to afford all the stuff that you have doing anything else?
IMAN: No. No way in hell. LING: When in town, they stay with other dancers in an inexpensive
house provided by the club.
IMAN: We don't need that much. We're travelers. We don't need a five-star resort. We need a bed to crash in, a shower to get ready in, and a kitchen is nice to cook so we don't have to go out to eat. We really have figures to maintain, so --
LING: Sharing a room and cooking their own meals helps the girls keep overhead low, and hopefully, profits high.
IMAN: What's your goal for tonight?
CHINA: I'm going to try to push for at least a thousand.
IMAN: That's a good goal.
CHINA: How about you?
IMAN: I want to reach for the sky.
CHINA: The sky is the limit.
IMAN: I just want a Mercedes.
CHINA: We're going to get you one.
LING: As much as Iman loves her bling, most of the money she makes is set aside for something much more important: her three-year-old daughter.
IMAN: Hey, baby. What's up, baby?
The only thing I have to support is my daughter and myself.
OK, baby, I have to get ready for work, so I'll call you later, OK?
LING: Does your daughter have any idea what you do?
IMAN: No. And when it does come time, Mommy, what do you do? I'm probably going to be a nurse or bartender. She doesn't need to know.
I miss you, monkey head. I love you. Bye.
I'm very independent. I just have too much pride to ask for money. I'd rather just work.
CHINA: I'm the same way. I would rather work two jobs than ask for anything.
LING: How did you get into stripping?
IMAN: I had a child when I was 17, and I worked three jobs, so I never really got to see my kid.
LING: Iman tells me it was a friend who suggested she try stripping. IMAN: He said, give it a shot one night, and if you like it, go for
it. You'll get to spend time with your kid and you'll make what you make in a week for in one night so I gave it a shot. My first night dancing, I made $200. I was like, wow, this is like three days of waitressing. Now, I quit all my jobs and strictly just started dancing.
LING: How did you get into stripping?
CHINA: I have five other siblings and my mom is a single mom, and my dad was never around. So just watching my mom work really hard just to take care of us, it kind of was a struggle for me. I just had like high hopes for myself. I wanted to be the first to go to college, and I wanted to set the bar.
LING: How does a young woman become a dancer for The Dollhouse?
BOHEM: We audition every applicant to see if they meet our standards. If they make the cut, we bring them in, we take them upstairs, we explain the rules and we'll see if they got what it takes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, China joining us on Dollhouse. China stepping up on dollhouse pedestal.
LING: China has hit the stage, performing in a field that offers little training. She taught herself these moves, how to work her body to entice. She's a master of seduction. Even I can't look away. I see men mesmerized by her movements, and then I remember, she's only 21. She's someone's daughter.
How did your mom feel when she found out that you were dancing?
CHINA: It's funny because she, to this day, hasn't confronted me about it. We haven't talked about it.
LING: Do you live with your mom, still?
LING: You never talk about it.
LING: Iman, does your family know that you're dancing?
IMAN: My mom and I don't really get along.
LING: What about your dad? Is he in your life at all?
IMAN: He died when I was seven months old.
LING: So neither of you had a dad am your lives?
LING: Two women who grew up without male role model. Watching them, I have to wonder, would they both be here if they had different childhoods?
Now, they're surrounded by men who can't take their eyes off them.
LING: What are you, gentlemen, doing here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Playing golf.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having a good night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some fun, but mostly golf.
LING: So you came here for golf, but somehow you end up in The Dollhouse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you have to kind of enjoy the whole Mecca, you know. We have to good time here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is just fun.
LING: What do you tell your wife when you come here, for example?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I don't tell her anything unless she asks. It's part of human nature. It is kind of like why wouldn't you, you know? I mean, if you're a little kid and there's an ice cream cone, you want an ice cream cone. Now I'm a big kid and there's a gentlemen's club with beautiful, naked women. I'm going there.
LING: How would feel if your daughters were entertainers in a place like this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that's what they want to do and they were -- yes, I'd be OK with that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a theoretical sense, I would not be happy.
LING: Off the stage, Iman tries to earn the big money, doing what's known in the stripping world as the hustle.
IMAN: The hustle is how much I can get out of you in the least amount of time possible. You just spent x amount of money. How much more can I get you to spend?
LING (voice-over): At The Dollhouse, Iman is taking the client to the VIP room. As an independent contractor, she sets her own rates. For a $30 lap dance, she tries to get at least $400, around 10 percent goes to the club. The rest is hers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're very pretty.
How did you know? IMAN: How did you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see. You're from Lebanon?
IMAN: Who are we to judge. We're on poles selling our body, selling a fantasy. We're not doing the most respectable job, either. We let guys touch our boobs and slap our butts and stuff.
LING: Do you get nervous to talk to guys?
IMAN: No. You have to let down a lot of laws, you have to let your guard down. I'm going to have fun, and it's like, girl, you're a bunch of energy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boy.
IMAN: And a lot of guys really confide in us because they don't know us. Who are we to them. I have this one guy that just, you know, Iman, you know, I'm not really attracted to my wife anymore. I have a hard time having sex with her. So they'll talk to me about relationship issues.
LING: So you're kind of giving marriage therapy to guys?
IMAN: We're big therapists in there.
LING: As the hours tick by, Iman and China work the room with one thing on their mind: the bottom line.
CHINA: It was nice to meet you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a pleasure to meet you, too.
CHINA: I'm going to sit down, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down.
LING: In the lap of the stranger, China looks poised and in control, but she tells me her confidence is a facade.
CHINA: Even though I've been a dancer for two years, I still get nervous, and then I have to take a shot just to get going, just so I can talk to so many different kind of people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you go to school or what?
CHINA: I'm actually thinking of starting a maid service.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to start from the ground floor, though?
CHINA: I've been cleaning since I was able to clean. So I already have experience.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't go in the housecleaning business, I can promise you that. I would stay right here. LING: But China has bigger plans than The Dollhouse. For her this is
all just a means to an end. One day starting her own business. For now, though, this is the job. To dance, to listen, to seduce.
CHINA: I feel like we're actresses. It's a fantasy. It's not who we are.
LING: Has doing this job made you think differently about men and their intentions?
CHINA: Yes. I kind of don't even think I want a boyfriend sometimes. Or when I get married, it's like I don't even know -- like I want to get married, but -- well.
LING: You both are 21 years old. That's really young. Do you ever think about whether you might regret this decision to do this?
IMAN: I don't think I will, because I embrace it. I'm the type of person, you can ask anyone that knows me, they will tell you, Iman will bust her ass. She will work doubles. She will get what she wants.
I had to keep reminding myself that both Iman and China are only 21 years old. I guess what surprised me most is that even though they make a living by the tips that men give them, they're both fiercely independent and adamant about the fact that they don't ever want to rely on men or anyone, for that matter.
But in the suburbs of Milwaukee, I'm about to meet another young woman who strips with the full support of her family.
SARAH, STRIPPER: Who do you want to be?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: That guy.
SARAH: Who does he look like?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'll show you.
LING: 25-year-old Sarah has a son and a fiance. Two years ago, she left a job as a health care worker to try something different, something taboo. Now, several nights a week, she lives another life as a stripper named Clara, seducing men she doesn't know.
SARAH: I'm really proud of who I am. My theory is if you're ashamed of it, you shouldn't do it. But I don't feel ashamed of anything I do.
LING: Sarah's fiance of seven months is fully aware of her unusual career.
At what point did you find out that Sarah was a dancer?
BRIAN, SARAH'S FIANCE: I knew right from the get-go.
SARAH: Yes, I'm really open with it, like with my family, all my friends. I'm like, yes, that's what I do. I enjoy it.
LING: Were you kind of intrigued by that?
BRIAN: I was. They're all just a bunch of great girls that want to have fun and love dancing.
LING: But while Brian supports Sarah's dancing, he chooses not to engage with Clara, her alter ego.
BRIAN: I don't know Clara, I really don't.
LING: And are you fine with that?
BRIAN: Yes, because the way that I look at it is she turns it off when she talks with me because I know who she is.
LING: Is it sometimes hard for you to think about what she's doing?
BRIAN: Yes. It's difficult thinking about that aspect of it, and that's also why I don't, you know, go and watch her. That was something that we agreed on early.
SARAH: Pretty much right away. It's one thing to know. It's another to be like, know.
BRIAN: I know that she has a line. I know she doesn't cross it. So, it's just big a trust factor too. And I really do trust her a lot.
LING: When Sarah wants a big payday, she leaves her local club and her domestic persona behind and hits the road.
BRIAN: I'm going to miss you.
SARAH: A few days. I'll be back. Love you!
BRIAN: Love you, too.
LING: This weekend she's headed up north on a three-day trip. It's a way for a small-town girl to see something in the world and become someone else, a girl we'll now call Clara.
SARAH: This is a really good opportunity to get to be able to go travel. I'm going to go there and it will pay for my trip, plus make extra money towards bills.
LING: Five hours away is Clara's next destination, Hurley, Wisconsin. Population 1500. It's an old mining town. The kind of place that feels like time stopped. The roadside motel where Clara checks in has looked pretty much the same for the last 30 years.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to the Quinn. Could you fill that out for me, please?
SARAH: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cash or credit?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: $38.85.
LING: Clara pays for only one of her three nights up front, counting on the money she'll make dancing to cover the rest.
SARAH: I think the first time I traveled it was such a bummer and so miserable. You really just learn to keep yourself busy after you've been doing this a while.
SARAH: I just got into Hurley. It was the most boring trip in the world. How was your day?
BRIAN: Same old, same old.
LING: This was life on the road. Low-budget motel rooms and long nights away from her family.
BRIAN: OK, sounds good, babe. I love you.
SARAH: I love you, too.
LING: But Clara won't be lonely for too long. In just a few hours, she'll be surrounded by men.
Welcome to the annual aTV rally in Hurley, Wisconsin, one of the largest such events in the Midwest. Every summer this tiny town of 1500 gets transformed and imbued with the massive level of testosterone. And so, what better place for a stripper to come cash in?
Over 400 four-wheelers, most of them men, have traveled to the annual rally this weekend to show off their favorite toys. But when the sun goes down, Hurley turns into another kind of playground.
Even though this is a really small town, there is a pretty big demand for strippers. There are seven strip clubs on this one little block.
This is Harley's roadhouse. It's both a local watering hole and a strip club. And it's where Clara hopes to make money off the big crowd in town.
SARAH: I'm hoping to make $200, but that will completely pay for my stay here like for the weekend, and if that means I work the day after and the day after, it's more money.
LING: The club is starting to pull in a few patrons. It's a working man joint just right for the ATV crowd. At the jukebox, Clara picks her favorites, songs that will help her make the transition from ordinary young woman to seductress.
LING (voice-over): This is the true heart of Clara's double life. For the next 20 minutes on stage, she is not a fiancee, she is not a mother. She's a fantasy.
SARAH: This is a job where you have to know who you are. You have to have your own confidence.
LING: How has this kind of work changed you?
SARAH: It's made me more self-assured. It definitely a lot more assertive than I used to be.
LING: Clara tells me as a young girl she was socially awkward, insecure and shy. She liked theater and sang in the choir. But in high school, these aren't the things that make you popular.
Did you get teased a lot?
SARAH: God, yes. In elementary school, middle school, high school. Like my family wasn't very well-to-do, so, of course, like girls and boys would cut me down about that. Like can't sing or (INAUDIBLE), you look weird in glasses.
LING: How a shy girl found a courage to enter s strip club and climb on stage is hard to fathom. But when she did, Clara found the kind of validation that escaped her all those teenage years.
SARAH: I love that I get to go to work and be told everyday how pretty I am.
LING: Who are you on stage?
SARAH: I'm someone that doesn't care what people think. I'm this other person.
LING: Why do you like being her?
SARAH: She doesn't have social anxiety. She can talk to anybody, and it's this freedom of, like, this confidence and she knows she's awesome.
LING: The true test of confidence comes at the end of the dance. Unlike the dollhouse, Harley's doesn't have private rooms. To make money, Clara tries to sell $25 lap dances on the floor. When customers don't bite, she hits them up for any kind of tip.
SARAH: You can buy a soda pop for a dollar. But you can see my boobs for a dollar, so I think that's a deal.
LING: Clara is working hard, but it is a tight-fisted crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you all tipping the lady?
SARAH: You're going to get rejected in the night a couple of times. And like that emotionally and mentally, that takes a toll on you. I mean, that's really hard to hear no like four or five times in a row. But you just got to kind of learn to pick yourself back up and have a thick skin and be like, all right. The next one.
LING: Five hours into the night, I check in with Clara on a break.
It's just after midnight. How have you done so far?
SARAH: I've maybe made $50.
LING: Really? That's it?
SARAH: Yes. Nobody is getting dances or anything, so I'm only making money on stage, and the money I'm making is not a lot.
LING: There's a chance you might not go home with that much.
SARAH: Yes, which is the frustrating part and it's also a risk in travel dancing.
LING: It's just totally hit or miss. So how are you feeling?
SARAH: Frustrated. Now I have to go up there and be all smiley, because if I'm not, people really aren't going to want to give me money.
LING: It seems none of the other dancers are having much success, either.
How often is it like this, that you end up frustrated and not making much money?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I worked for one dollar on Wednesday night, and I was really upset.
LING: You walked out of here with one dollar?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I walked out of here with one dollar, and I thought, how ironic. People give strippers dollars and I'm leaving with a dollar. A dollar.
LING: You have two hours to go. Do you just suck it up and go and try to be happy?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what you have to do. Keep pushing on.
LING: With just two more hours before closing, the dancers rally to face a crowd that is not giving.
Well, good luck, Clara.
I don't know if people realize how hard the work is. I mean, I watched Clara tonight, and she was trying to be peppy and filled with life and laughing for endless hours. And when I left had $50 to show for it.
Look, it feels good to feel desirable. And for someone like Clara who spent so much of her life feeling unattractive, I can understand how having this outlet to be uninhibited and adopt this alter ego can be appealing. But when that is your sole job, you really run a risk. Some nights you could go home with an exorbitant amount of money, and some nights you are at a loss.
Clara ended up with $146, enough to pay for the motel and her gas home. For her, it's an average night. But more than 900 miles away, that kind of money is chump change for a veteran stripper who has been on the move for a long time.
LING (voice-over): 42-year-old Antonia has just arrived from the west coast.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a convention in town right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
LING: She's been a traveling stripper for over 19 years.
ANTONIA, STRIPPER: I dance in San Francisco, Hawaii, Vegas, L.A. The job is that you wander in when you need money, and then you leave. We're transient by nature.
LING: Antonia takes regular trips to a place where money flows -- the big easy. A big convention town, New Orleans hosts nine million people every year, some come for work, while others are here for the party.
ANTONIA: New Orleans is the most exciting city in the United States. When I land here, I feel like I'm home. It's going to be all about pink and black tonight.
LING: Before Antonia heads to the club, she invites me to join her in a ritual. So what is this place?
ANTONIA: It's a candle shop.
LING: It's not like a candle shop I've ever seen.
ANTONIA: It's a magic candle shop. The spirit of New Orleans has to bless you in order to be here and do well here. Usually I get this one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's good for luck. He's also good for money, but I think you might want to go more towards one of his girlfriends. This is the spirit that rolls over love and beauty and abundance.
ANTONIA: She sounds like the lady I need.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, she's a beauty.
ANTONIA: This is something I only do in New Orleans.
LING: Why is this something you feel like you like to do here?
ANTONIA: Strippers particularly, we have our beliefs, and it's so much about bringing attitude and luck and attention. And you're going into a really, really dark, seedy place, and you have to bring light. I can use all the help I can get.
LING: When you go out there sometimes, do you feel like you're doing battle?
ANTONIA: We go to those dark places where people are really showing a vulnerable, maybe reckless side of themselves, the more animal side of themselves, and we are dealing with that and we're confronted so directly with that. That's a lot of weight to carry.
LING: Antonia's background is the French quarter. And come nightfall, it is dozens of gentlemen clubs light up for business. Around every corner is an invitation to fulfill fantasies.
This is the penthouse strip club and it's the premiere strip club in the city. We're told that by 9:00, this place always gets packed with people from all over the country and all over the world. We're doing this now because I can pretty much guarantee that later many of the men won't want their faces on camera. But it is not just the customers who travel here. At lot of the dancers themselves are from other places, but they're here to do business.
Above the dark dance floor, women begin their night primping in the penthouse dressing room. I expected the styling products but not the home-cooked meals, the spaghetti and meatballs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the best club in New Orleans. That's Marty, our house mom. She's an amazing cook.
LING: Is this normal? I feel like I'm in a kitchen and living room.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a pretty posh dressing room.
LING: So you arrived from L.A. today.
ANTONIA: Yes. People come from all over. They come here from Mississippi. I know a girl who came here from Slovenia. They come from all over because New Orleans is a stripper's paradise.
LING: And so, how does it work? You just kind of drop in whenever or do you let them know you are coming?
ANTONIA: No. It's a process. You have to audition and you might not get hired, but there's so many different strip clubs to work in in New Orleans that chances are you'll get hired somewhere.
LING: Will you be taking everything off tonight?
ANTONIA: On stage, I will take my top off and go down to a g-string, but it's not a totally nude club.
LING: Do you have a number in your head, and you don't necessarily have to share it with me, that you'd like to reach tonight?
ANTONIA: I always have a number in my head. It's always a thousand. Stripping is very much about personality. You won't find, like, a quiet, withdrawn wallflower stripping. It does take a certain amount of moxie to be able to take your clothes off for money. You have to think you're the (bleep).
LING (voice-over): Antonia has hit the penthouse floor. She has no idea how much money she'll bring in or what surprises the night holds.
ANTONIA: It's like the world of a gambler. It's different every night. One night I can go into work and feel like I can't go wrong. And another night I'll go and people grab me and are awful.
LING: She starts every night the same way, attracting attention by working the pole center stage.
ANTONIA: Generally, it's a sexy dance, and you just kind of get into the mode. When the music plays, you go. And, you know, you become an animal. You become part of that world, like a sensual world of heat and sleaze.
LING: What do you think it is that propels women to want to take off their clothes for money?
ANTONIA: I think it's hot and empowering. I think our culture tells us it's bad and that is inherently degrading, but I don't subscribe to that. Have you ever taken your clothes off?
LING: Not for money.
ANTONIA: Our bodies are gorgeous and your sexuality is beautiful and something to be celebrated. Is it more degrading to not be able to pay for your kid's diapers?
LING: Of all the clubs I visited, this is the biggest by far. There are four floors, and tonight over 50 women working here. And I see that for each of them, the night has a kind of pattern. Seduce from the stage and then start working the room.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, baby. I'm good, how are you?
LING: Antonia spots a client and moves in.
ANTONIA: I usually look for somebody who is alone. I try to figure out, how drunk are they, where are they from, what are they doing here? And then I just try to meet them where they are. I'm panhandling in my underwear on one level, and other level, I'm having a really sophisticated dance of seduction, and that's a powerful drug. It's confrontational and it's hot.
LING: Do you feel any sense of arousal at all when you're doing this?
ANTONIA: Of course. I'm a human body. I'm not a robot. It can feel good, it can feel bad. If they're good at it, it can be arousing. If I'm super tired and not into it, it feels very much like a job.
LING: On the other side of this intimate encounter, just what are the men thinking? A few patrons are willing to speak to me on camera, and then I find norm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been going here about 10 years, so a lot of the girls I know on a personal basis, so they all come up and say hi, and I ask them how they're doing. It's kind of like -- remember the old show "cheers"?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When norm would walk in and everybody would say, hey, norm!
LING: You're norm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm norm.
LING: What do you get out of it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excitement. It's a fantasy, obviously. All these girls are beautiful and I'm old, and they're talking to me.
LING: Antonia is in hot demand tonight, spending most of her time in the private lap dance rooms at the top of the stairs.
We have been trying to follow Antonia around but she keeps disappearing in the private rooms but that's kind of the goal here to get guys in a room because that's where the big money is made.
An hour in a private room can bring in $550. While a portion goes to the club, Antonia pockets most of the money. Club staff check I.D.s and remain outside for the dancer's safety.
Do you have a sense of what percentage of the girls may engage in activities outside of the clubs, like sex work, for example?
ANTONIA: I don't really know for sure. But I do know some girls do extras outside of the club. It's a different job. Hooking is a different job than stripping. It can be really dangerous. You don't want to leave the club with anybody. That's how the girls end up chopped in little pieces in garbage bags.
LING: It's happened before. Over the past five years, several dancers in the French quarter have lost their lives following money outside the club. Horror stories that ended up on the news. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: A man who has been considered a suspect
in connection with the murder of a bourbon street dancer for months faces a new warrant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Authorities say Lockhart was seen leaving a French quarter club.
LING: It must be difficult to turn it down when somebody is throwing money at you to, you know, give me a little service outside of here.
ANTONIA: It takes a serious person to turn down that faucet once it's full blast. You got to draw the line in the sand and just say, you know, no.
LING: But Antonia tells me she's crossed her own line several times.
ANTONIA: Having sex for money wasn't something that I always thought I would do, and then I did it a couple of times when I was in a dark place in my life.
LING: How did you feel when you did?
ANTONIA: I felt empty and kind of sad. And I realized from that experience that, you know what, I can't handle it. I just emotionally can't handle it.
LING: Do you like stripping?
ANTONIA: Sometimes. Yes. But I've liked it for a really long time and I'm ready to like something else. I've quit about 10 times and I always go back.
LING: Is it just the money that draws you back?
ANTONIA: It's not just about the money, but it is the money.
LING: As the hours pass, I meet other girls who have traveled here to work. Girls like 29-year-old Mitzi from one of the poorest states in the country: Mississippi.
Why do you feel you need to come to New Orleans to do this?
MITZI, STRIPPER: The money is the best here.
LING: Does your family know that you're stripping?
MITZI: My mother knows, and I know that the rest of my family does not agree with what I do.
LING: How long do you think you'll be doing this?
MITZI: Hopefully not much longer. As soon as I say I'm a dancer, it just completely changes. I can't have a healthy relationship. My family doesn't understand, and I'm pretty much on my own. It's very lonely.
LING: Has it been worth it, though?
MITZI: Sometimes in life you just have to do what you have to do, you know.
LING: I've now heard how hard it can be to live the double life of this profession. But the cold, hard cash keeps these women in the game. And now Antonia wants to see where she stands.
So how did you do tonight?
ANTONIA: I'm not sure. I'm going to count this. It looks like $575. Five hours. About a hundred an hour.
LING: So that's pretty good.
ANTONIA: It's pretty good.
LING: So it's 2:00 in the morning and I'm exhausted. Are you going to go, too, or are you going to stay?
ANTONIA: I don't like to leave money on the table.
LING: What does that mean, leaving money on the table?
ANTONIA: It means there is a roomful of men down there with money, and that if I were to leave right now, I would be leaving money on the table. I'm going to push through.
LING (voice-over): It's 4:00 p.m. in Myrtle Beach. While most people are out enjoying the day, Iman and China are just waking up.
CHINA: Wake up. It's time to get ready. Wake up.
LING: After an 11-hour night at the club, they catch up on sleep during the day and then start all over again. For the makeup and hairstyling, they tally up their profits.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like 50s.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like 50s, either.
LING: By the time the three-month golf season ends, it's possible these girls will pull in as much as $50,000 apiece.
So do you have a plan, you don't want to do this for --?
IMAN: I'll milk the cow for as long as I can, but it's not something I'm going to die doing.
The top age I'll do this is 30. I want to invest all the money I make in properties and live off them. That's what I want.
LING: While Iman and China continue to make the most of the careers they chosen, Clara has taken things to a whole new level, adding circus acts to her act.
SARAH: And that is really what I want to do long term. I love the artistic side of it. I love the performing, it's choreography, it's entertainment value.
LING: How long do you think you can do this?
SARAH: I just want to do it until I stop having fun with it. When I stop enjoying it, then yes, I'm going to quit.
LING: Antonia has been working on her own plan, a plan to leave stripping behind.
ANTONIA: I've always been a writer. And I just I never had this all self esteem to pursue it. I never valued my writing skills until later in life.
LING: Five years ago, Antonia started to write on line about sex work.
ANTONIA: I kept writing about it and writing about it. I couldn't not write about it and I ended up with a book four years later.
LING: Now a contribute to an online magazine like salon, and he author of the Memoir, Antonia want to make and writing teaching her full-time career.
ANTONIA: My next brave move is to break into academia.
ANTONIA: So what works on the scene?
LING: She's been a visiting professor in the past, and today she's teaching a one day writer's workshop.
ANTONIA: I love everything about teaching. I love conveying wisdom, I love doing research, I love thinking about what would make a fun lecture.
What would make writers to write a great sex scene. Forget the fancy words and just tell it straight. Your characters want to get laid more than anything, and what happens when you want to get laid more than anything is sometimes you or your characters get rejected. It's earth-shattering insecurity. That's what I want to see in your characters.
LING: Where will we see you in 10 years?
ANTONIA: Hopefully you'll see me as a traveling author and instructor. Hopefully I'll be ridiculously happy and teaching.
LING: For now, though, stripping is still paying the bills.
Do you feel like a lot of dancers get trapped in this world?
ANTONIA: Absolutely. Every stripper I know had gone into this with the idea like, I'm going to do this six months and quit, and they're there ten years later. It's the one industry in which women make more than men hourly, and it's largely untaxed. We just stack dough. It's a hard job to leave. It's hard to do something else.
LING: My road trip with strippers has come to an end. I'm heading home today, and some of the women I spent time with are also going home. Some of them are headed to their next destination. But I've learned a lot about this world.
Even though this is the one industry where women overwhelmingly make more money than men, it is not a glamorous job. I don't know if people really realized how hard the work is. She definitely have to have a certain set of skill that go way beyond taking off your clothes.