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Lap-Dance Decision Cheers Strippers, Patrons

Customers hail the City Council's reversal of a ban on the lucrative practice, which community activists say fosters prostitution.

November 23, 2003|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

Tiptoeing around the club in her pointy heels, a blond stripper who goes by the name Hunter darted her eyes at potential lap-dance recipients glued to the sight of her body, which was sparingly covered with a platinum-colored dress.

"I always had faith in us, that we were going to beat this thing," she said later Friday night in a large room lined with plush sofas where dancers pressed their bodies forward and backward for men instructed to keep their hands to themselves.

Hours after the Los Angeles City Council repealed its ban on lap dancing, business went on as usual.

Dancers and patrons defended the practice, which had continued while the ban was considered. They said the lucrative business was harmless and were elated to know it would gyrate on.

At Crazy Girls, a gaudy Hollywood establishment on La Brea Avenue replete with Venetian statues on its roof, men and women crowded the darkened interior to watch girls twirl around a metal pole in skimpy underwear to the sound of blaring hip-hop and rock music.

When asked what drew them to strip clubs, some joked it wasn't for love of modern dance.

"For the lap dances," said David, a 30-year-old patron, who, like almost everyone else who was interviewed, would give only his first name. "They're fun. It takes your mind off stuff. It's safe entertainment."

David said he spent $25 each, not including tip, on five lap dances in the same back room where Hunter worked

"It would be a complete waste of having a strip joint" without the lap dances, he said. "It would defeat the whole purpose and it would kill the girls' livelihood. It would force some into prostitution."

But it's the strip clubs that promote prostitution and other illegal activities, say the community activists who prompted the City Council to unanimously ban the dances in September. Since then, the industry has spent $400,000 to collect 100,000 signatures, enough to have put the issue on the March 2005 ballot.

That forced council members to reconsider, since passage of a referendum in favor of the strip clubs could abolish a number of other laws that have been used to regulate the city's 40 adult clubs.

With Friday's unanimous vote, club owners compromised by agreeing to close "VIP rooms," hire state-certified security guards and renew their permits every year.

Shortly after closing time at 2 a.m. Saturday, stripper Anna Lonnberg waited for her ride home outside Cheetah's, a club on Hollywood Boulevard that serves an eclectic mix of hipsters, curious women, porn executives and nefarious-looking young men who drive their BMWs exceedingly fast.

"The ban was stupid," said Lonnberg, a 23-year-old Swedish immigrant who said she would soon enroll at Cal State Northridge in hopes of eventually becoming a television producer. "That's where you make your money. The whole business would go down without it."

Several strippers said that lap dances account for as much as 80% of their total nightly incomes, which can range from $200 to $500.

Lonnberg, a longhaired brunet, dressed modestly in a pink velour tracksuit, said many of her co-workers had talked about the ban. They had signed the petition against it. But they had been unaware of the reversal Friday.

"Most of us never thought it was going to last," she said. "We weren't worried. But about 80% of my customers would ask, 'What's going on with lap dancing?' "

Indeed, the people with the most passionate opinions were customers.

"It's denying a God-given right to physical pleasure," said Sara, a 33-year-old woman visiting Crazy Girls with a group of friends that included two other women and two men. "It should be regulated like smoking and drinking. It's the decision of consenting adults."

Jamie Jorn, a 23-year-old musician leaving Cheetah's, was more succinct: "There's way more important things to worry about than lap dances."

The aspiring rap artist declined invitations to have a private dance for $20.

"I'm too poor," he said.

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