Stripping For Success

Peter Smith
When Bob Dylan wrote the legendary lyric, “The times, they are a’changin’” so many decades ago, little did the genius from Minnesota know that his catch-all lyric could one day be applied to the world of adult stars and the enterprise of feature dancing. But yes indeed, along with virtually every other aspect of our society, now that realm is experiencing changes due to economic pressures.

Long has the world of feature dancing been a lucrative one, both for the triple-X stars who hit the road to tread the boards in venues throughout our great, porn-hungry nation, but for those who book the dates. As the adult industry becomes ever more fractured due to the numerous ways afforded the consumer to find niche material in a variety of guises, the mainstay of most stars’ income — video work — has suffered and slowed accordingly.

Thus, more ladies are searching for live dates, and the power of booking agencies is on the rise. While live appearances were once essentially a great way to supplement an already decent income from rigorous shooting at home in Porn Valley, now the road bucks are becoming a helpful way to stay afloat financially. Though actual figures are held under wraps, for top talent, a good weekend can bring in up to $10,000. Lesser-known ladies can still garner $2,000 for two 20-minute sets per night, plus high dollar lap dances and poster and box cover signing cash, and all of that without actual sex.

Though she says her career is holding strong, onscreen and feature-dancing veteran and Zero Tolerance contract girl Courtney Cummz has witnessed the sea change in the business.

“Now a lot of girls ask me if I can hook them up with a dance agent,” states Cummz. “The problem is, they’re over saturating our market, and just because you’ve done 30 films doesn’t mean you should be considered a feature dancer, and they’re seeing that they’re not getting as big of a turnout as those of us who have been in the business for years. But overall, I think it’s suffered from the recession like every other market.”

It all breaks down to the increasingly powerful booking agencies that are ultimately the wheelhouse of the operation.

“The most important person to a feature dancer’s financial success is her agent,” says Ann Marie Hayek of longtime concern Pure Talent Agency Inc. “Without an agent or agency that believes in her, she will have no career. There are only a small handful of booking agents who place feature entertainers on dance engagements in gentlemen’s clubs. Each agency owner is vastly different in personality and character from one another. Being in the business myself for over 20 years, my company has strong relationships in place with club owners across the country from doing business with them for so many years.”

Belief in talent and developing brick-and-mortar relationships are not all a feature-dancing agency needs to be aware of. While it may seem fundamental, there are state-by-state laws that are key to the booking business. In certain clubs, a performer can wear nothing but her smile and enjoy full contact with audience members, yet in others, the local laws sanction only a bikini, and touching is strictly verboten.

“There are clubs in our business where the feature has to stay up to six feet away from the customers,” says Hayek. “A license may be required by a city or town to dance at the local club. How much it costs, who pays for it and how you get the license in time for your booking are all very important facts the talent will need to know about. This is a major reason you need to have a quality agency booking you. If an entertainer does not have the right information going into a booking she could get arrested and this could cause a long list of problems for her.”

As the market morphs, competition is at a premium, says Tony Batman, producer of adult news show A! Entertainment. Batman spent years working for DejaVu and the Hustler clubs, as well as hosting Miss Nude USA, Miss Nude Canada and other adult pageants.

“I think it is very competitive,” says Batman. “I don’t think there’s room for any more agencies, because it would just water it down. I’d put that in the same category as the talent agencies in L.A. for the porn girls, where it gets watered down so much you don’t really know where to go get a girl. Also, the clubs have their favorite agents that they deal with, some are actually exclusive with an agency and they won’t book a girl unless she’s with that agency. And there’s only so many strip clubs in America, and so many weeks out of the year that clubs will do features, some only once a month or every other month. There are only so many dates that can be filled.”

While aspiring agencies may find little footing left, there has been recent movement among established players. Major company Lee Network — arguably the biggest in the field — has undergone a division. Helmer Tony Lee has partnered with LA Direct Models and highly visible agency Lisa Ann’s Talent Management (yes, Lisa Ann, porn’s answer to Sarah Palin) to create a West Coast Lee Network office. Dave Michaels, Lee’s former partner, has opened up his own competitive agency, A List Features.

Though experienced talent such as Cummz know well the ropes of the feature- dancing world, Hayek’s company has offered training for newcomers for nearly a decade, via the Pure Talent School of Dance.

“I found myself on the phone all the time with new talent explaining everything there is to know about the business,” she says. “It was just way too much to cover on the phone. That’s when I knew we had to offer an actual class to thoroughly teach the girls everything so they would not only be prepared for the business but also know how to maximize what they could earn.”

But what about the talent themselves? There are many reasons a porn vixen jets off to personal appearances in the flesh, not all of them financial.

“I get to shake my ass in my fan’s face,” Cummz reveals.

“For one, it puts me up onstage, where I’m really happy,” states Wicked Pictures contract star Jessica Drake. “I love performing, and I think it really gives me a chance to connect with the fans in a laid-back party atmosphere on a more personal level, even more so than at our conventions.”

Of course, live appearances fuel the fan base at a grass roots level, which includes promoting DVDs, selling posters, personal Polaroids, lucrative lap dances and various other merchandise, as well as pushing massively valuable Internet traffic.

“I can talk to my fans in a more intimate setting,” continues Drake,” and get feedback from my movies and hear about what they’d like to see in the future. I also promote my website while I’m on the road. A girl’s fan base can be increased by word of mouth, and when guys get a chance to meet me on the road and really talk to me, I usually end up with more members on my site.”

‘I think every time you meet your fans, say hi, take a photo with them or personalize an autograph, you are strengthening your relationship with that fan,” says Jesse Jane, star of Digital Playground’s “Pirates: Stagnetti’s Revenge”, and one of the top grossing feature dancers today. Jane is all about the buzz her in-person appearances engender.

“The radio, TV and print advertising and editorial coverage gets my name out there even more,” she says. “And I promote all of my ventures, especially my DVDs. I’m all about supplementing my income and using my name and brand to increase profits, and the agencies have excellent relationships with the clubs. They represent you and protect you and negotiate your rate and requirements, and my feature dance gigs are a significant part of my income.”

And yes, Jane also backs up her dedication to the two main ingredients that are the basic essentials to her calling — bucks and booty. “I love dancing, always have,” stresses the blond stunner. “I love being naked, always have. It’s great money.”

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