A bill that garnered overwhelming support among Louisiana House and Senate members also has made lasting impressions on some South Mississippians who drive across the state line to earn a paycheck.
Louisiana Senate Bill 468, signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, went into effect Aug. 1. The law requires exotic dancers who work in Louisiana strip clubs to be at least 21 years old. Previously, dancers who exposed their breasts or buttocks on stage had to be at least 18 years old to get dressed up to take it off for tips.
Though Republican and Democratic politicians praised the bill, dancers protested in New Orleans as male lawmakers made jokes about adding weight and maximum age restriction amendments.
When the bill became law, it affected more than just Louisianans. Some South Mississippians who make the 90-minute trek to New Orleans to dance could be out of work, too.
Adults can decide
Lance Borries left the world of exotic dancing 10 months ago because he said that world was becoming too much, but he said he still drives down to Bourbon Street to pick up a shift every now and then for extra cash.
Though he called New Orleans a “violent, dirty, nasty town,” he said he doesn’t believe lawmakers should limit dancers’ age.
“There should be no reason anybody 18 years old couldn’t go down there and dance,” he said.
He was 22 when he decided to give exotic dancing a try. He and his then-girlfriend would drive from Vancleave to New Orleans on the weekends. Borries, now 26, danced at several clubs in the French Quarter for two years. He said on his worst night on stage, he left with $300. On busier nights, it would be easy to head home with a couple thousand dollars in his pocket.
And he thinks legal adults should be able to make the decision for themselves.
“If you can wait tables and be in the military, then you should be able to get on the stage and dance if you want to,” he said.
Biloxi to New Orleans
For a Biloxi woman who started dancing in the French Quarter long before her 21st birthday, the new law means helping teenagers learn about decision-making before being introduced to the world of exotic dancing, which she said is hard and fast.
The woman, who chose not to be identified, started dancing right after she graduated high school — but she said she stayed close to home at first.
She took a job at what was then the Lady Horseshoe on Veterans Boulevard in Biloxi, and all she needed to get on stage was proof that she was of age, she said.
“They check your ID, and that’s pretty much all there was to it back then,” she said. The woman started dancing about five years before 2005’s Hurricane Katrina caused widespread damage across the Coast and New Orleans.
She described the working conditions as “horrendous” and said the club was low-scale and demanding.
“They took a lot of the girls’ money from them. You didn’t get a huge majority of what you made because you had to give them a huge percentage of it at the end of the night,” she said. “You had to work until close. There was no leaving — even if it was dead.”
Frustrated, the woman said she noticed several other dancers were going to New Orleans on the weekend to take the stage. And the money they made, she said, was worth the commute.
“The first night I went down there, I made three times what I made (at the Horseshoe),” she said.
She said she felt safe when she worked at the Hustler Club on Bourbon Street — there was security on the premises at all times, and cameras were recording every move. There were even guards outside the dancers’ dressing rooms.
“I would drive down there on Friday, work all night, come home Saturday morning at like 6 a.m. and go back Saturday night and come home again on Sunday morning,” she said. “I would usually average about $1,000 each weekend.”
In New Orleans, she would work shorter shifts, and there was always a crowd. In Biloxi, she had to stay on stage until the bar closed — even if no customers came in.
If there was a special event or a conference in town, she said she could easily make $2,000 in one shift at Hustler. And as a student, she said that money could easily pay her bills.
“I didn’t have another job. That was all I did,” she said. “ I worked two days a week and went to school. I was young and carefree.”
Ex-dancer loves the new law
“I handled it fine at the time, but hindsight is 20/20,” she said. “Looking back on my maturity level, it definitely wasn’t something I should have been doing at that age.”
The woman said it was easy to make thousands of dollars in a weekend during the five years she worked at clubs on Bourbon Street.
But she said she has nothing to show for it today. She said she spent most of the money frivolously and did not save.
If she had started later in life, she said, “maybe I would have been less likely to get into trouble or party my money away after I would get off of work.”
Although the money was good, the woman said she wouldn’t get on stage again, and she said she is glad dancers now have to be 21 in Louisiana.
“It’s a lot for somebody that young to put on themselves,” she said. “You have to grow up really quick and put yourself in some very adult situations you may not be prepared to deal with,” she said.
Drugs and prostitution are easily accessible, she said, and “it’s easy to get into the negative side of it and not just go down there, make money and go home.”
The woman said she was able to avoid the temptations, but she said others did not fare so well.
“There was so many young girls that would leave with clients and would end up getting hurt,” she said. “I knew girls that left with people that ended up missing or killed because they didn’t use their judgment.
“They were so blinded by the idea of making money and going after it.”
She said women will be more mature if they have to wait until they are 21. When she was dancing, the woman said, the older dancers were doing it to support their families and save money while a majority of the younger girls, such as herself, used it to get by.
From the bed of his bachelor pad separated from his mother’s mobile home by a wooden porch, Lance Borries looked up at himself in the mirror affixed to the ceiling above his mattress while telling stories from his days of stripping.
“I always had a pocket full of a fat wad of cash,” he said. “Money easily earned but money easily lost.”
Borries, who was called “Stallion” while on stage, worked at strip clubs geared toward female clients and at gay clubs as well. He worked at the Rainbow Room, Bourbon Bad Boys Club and sometimes at Oz. He said he made thousands of dollars — sometimes in one night — but the lifestyle he lived didn’t leave him much to show for it.
Keeping up his image, he said, was expensive. He was constantly buying new dance outfits from boutiques in New Orleans. He had to pay for hair, tanning and teeth whitening. He used to also pay for networking events, parties and vacations.
“That was just the lifestyle,” he said. “It was a hard, fast life. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. That’s the life.”
It was easy for Borries to make $1,400 in four hours on a Saturday night. He would make more if customers requested private rooms for one-on-one dances. One time, a high-end client paid him $22,000 to travel with her to New York for a week. While he was there, all of his expenses were paid and she bought him clothes and tickets to Broadway shows, he said.
One time while he was on stage, Matthew McConaughey rented a private room upstairs and Borries danced for the women who were with him, he said.
“It was an awesome, awesome job,” Borries said. “I would sit and think to myself, this is the luckiest job in the world.”
He said he would have to pay the clubs just $75 per night to dance plus a percentage of any private rooms booked, so he cleared most of the cash he made. He said men were far better tippers than women.
“I loved it when guys would come through the door ... they would throw $100 bills on the stage,” he said.
Borries identifies as a straight man, but he said he did not mind dancing for men.
“When you’re there, the only thing you think about is making money,” he said. “After a few weeks, that’s all it was. It was a job. You get good and learn how to hustle.”
Back on stage someday?
But it was the hustle, he said, that led him to leave the dance clubs behind.
He said it was too easy to get involved in drugs or prostitution and he started not feeling like himself.
“If (clients) pay the money ... I’ve never seen a stripper turn down anybody based on anything at all,” he said. “I started partying way too much and got into bad things but overcame that.
“It was changing who I was. I started doing things that I wasn’t proud of. Stuff that wasn’t legal.”
Borries now stays close to home and has been doing odd jobs to stay busy. He is very close with his mother and still works out every day. He has a weight bench in his room and keeps a book of modeling photos on a shelf in the entry to his bachelor pad.
Borries said he couldn’t give up the lifestyle completely, though. A storage unit in Vancleave is full of his outfits and other exotic dancer gear.
He said he may go back to the stage one day, but not in New Orleans. He would like to work in a high-end club in Florida.