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March 17, 2003 11:47pm
LV Dancers Take Off Gloves
Source: Washington Post
by: Rene Sanchez

(LAS VEGAS, NV) -- Facing Crackdown, Las Vegas Dancers Take Off the Gloves - Showgirls Organize Against New Rules. Andrea Hackett is dancing only a few times a week these days, too busy to give the besotted playboys who stalk the Strip any more cheap thrills.

She has so much else to do: Keep tabs on how women on other stages around town are being treated. Pressure local leaders to back their cause. And organize what is surely one of the country's most unusual new labor movements.

"We're under siege, we're getting exploited," she said. "It's time for fairness."

There's big trouble in Sin City. It is in the throes of a showgirl uprising.

Think Capitol Hill is swarmed with lobbyists? Or that L.a. Is gridlocked by would-be starlets? Get this: There are at least 15,000 dancers working full-time in the gentlemen's clubs, cabarets and revues crammed around the fabled Vegas strip. And they are ticked.

It all began last fall, when Clark County decided to crack down on how the girls, as everyone here calls them, ply their trade. Seems one of the city's popular pastimes -- lap dancing -- was getting out of hand. Officials said some performances had become fronts for prostitution, or were more lewd than even Las Vegas was willing to tolerate.

The county decided to restrict how and where dancers could touch their customers. It banned dancers under 21 from working in clubs that served alcohol. It even prohibited dancers from receiving tips in their G-strings.

"We had to recognize how this industry has changed," said Kathleen Janssen, a deputy district attorney in Clark County. "A lot of the old provisions that we had were vague or talked about dancers being on stage. Now, most of the entertainment here is occurring off the stage."

But dancers are cursing the new rules as a witch hunt. They have formed a group called the Las Vegas Dancers Alliance and are fighting back with a vengeance.

First, they persuaded the county to repeal the ban on G-string tipping. "That was like saying you can't throw beads at Mardi Gras," Hackett said.

Then they talked the county and city out of a proposed restriction that would have forced dancers to pay several hundred dollars for business licenses and criminal background checks. Mayor Oscar B. Goodman saw no need to burden the girls with more bureaucracy.

"He thought it was ridiculous," said Elaine Sanchez, his press secretary. "This is Vegas."

And that was just the beginning. This week, dancers are launching a campaign for a ballot measure that would overturn nearly all the county's new restrictions on how they can perform. Hackett is confident of victory. Who's going to say no to a stripper petitioning for voter signatures and support?

Hackett is also close to cutting a deal to offer health insurance through the alliance to dancers, who now work as independent contractors at clubs and receive few, if any, employment benefits. She recently sent 900 dancers questionnaires about their working conditions and wants to rally them into a political force that endorses and campaigns for candidates who embrace their agenda. Her alliance distributed its first voter guides to dancers last fall. At the urging of the alliance, several hundred dancers have registered to vote for the first time.

Hackett, 49, who has been dancing in Vegas for six years, said she eventually wants to turn the group into a union that negotiates collective bargaining agreements for local showgirls. There is precedent for that.

In January, dancers at the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco, who became members of the Service Employees International Union a few years ago, won their first contract. They had threatened to strike and had staged protests, chanting a singular battle cry: "Two, four, six, eight -- pay us more to stimulate."

Vegas dancers are a long way from that kind of triumph, but they are gaining important allies. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is denouncing the county's new regulations at strip clubs as a "colossal waste of everyone's time." it also contends the rules may be unconstitutional, because courts have ruled that dancing is a form of free speech.

[For the rest of this story please follow the link below]

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