Dance Circuit Stars: 1

David Houston
At 9 o'clock on a recent Saturday night, Usher's "Yeah!" blasted over the sound system at the Spearmint Rhino strip club in Oxnard, Calif., and porn star Nikki Benz strutted onto the stage in a pink plaid schoolgirl outfit.

For the next 10 minutes and three songs, men threw wads of cash at Benz while she peeled away the plaid and pretended to make out with three of the club's regular dancers positioned strategically on the contours of the stage.

Benz's performance is best described by what she did not do: she did not allow the men to paw her perfectly sculpted 36Ds; she did not offer to grind on their laps in one of the club's plush velvet cubbyholes; and she did very little pole work.

"I'm the promotion," Benz, star of "Urban Angel" and a series called "Strap-On Sally," told XBiz.

Every weekend, female adult film stars fan out to many of the nation's 3,000 strip clubs where they are paid to appear as feature dancers. Clubs take out ads in the sports pages of the local newspaper, or in an alternative weekly, ballyhooing the stars' appearances. And the stars often appear on local sports talk radio shows to promote clubs. Top actresses appear on Howard Stern's syndicated radio show when they are dancing in New York.

Fantasies In The Flesh
Men, and not a few women, drive for miles to see their fantasies in the flesh. They pay to have stars pose for Polaroids with them or sign copies of their latest DVDs. The clubs pay the actresses by the show, typically nine 18-20 minute shows over Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, plus hotel and travel expenses for themselves and a personal assistant/bodyguard called a roadie.

Compensation varies wildly, depending on the actress' star power. Actresses with the dimmest wattage typically receive $150 a show, or $1,350 a weekend. A handful of big names under contract with one of the studios like the much vaunted Vivid Girls receive as much as $3,000 a show, or $27,000 a weekend.

"Some of the clubs are lucky to break even over a weekend like that," said Dave Michaels, whose St. Pete Beach, Fla.-based Lee Network Inc. is one of the biggest adult film star agencies in the business.

"I tell the clubs these girls are not a one-shot deal," Michaels said. "They're going to pull a lot of new faces into your club that normally wouldn't be there and those people will come back after the girl is gone."

The actresses also make tips and sell merchandise and autographs. They pay their agents 12 percent of the club fee. They also must pay their roadie a fee that is negotiated privately.

"There's quite a bit of money in it if you can dance and put on a show," said Jacklyn Lick, who headlines clubs roughly 30 weeks a year.

The clubs seem to buy into the theory that the actress is worth her fee in promotional value.

Spearmint Rhino, which has 22 clubs in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Russia, lists prominently on its website the scheduled appearances of its star headliners. Vivid Girl Savanna Samson recently appeared at the Rhino's flagship club in the City of Industry, a Los Angeles suburb. "Three nights. Six shows. Come see for yourself," a website banner teased.

A bouncer at the Oxnard Rhino boasted that when Tera Patrick made a recent appearance at the club the response was enormous.

"This place was packed," he said. "We had a line around the building and we had to turn people away."

Adult film companies traditionally have had an arms-length relationship with strip clubs. Only recently have they joined in a mutual effort to fight increasing governmental attempts to regulate and censor adult entertainment. For the first time, a strip club owner now sits on the board of the Free Speech Coalition, the adult film industry's lobbying arm.

"We weren't a united front and we weren't un-united. We just weren't involved," Mara Epstein, a marketing executive with Metro, said.

Even now, film companies tend to steer clear of direct participation in their actresses' strip club appearances. Michaels said the companies happily provide the clubs with promotional materials but stay away from the intricacies of booking.

"As long as it doesn't interfere with shooting schedules, we don't care," Epstein said. "The actresses go out and get one-on-one with the consumer and that promotes [film] projects."

For the actresses and their roadies, life beyond Hollywood and the porn industry's San Fernando Valley base can be a grueling and bizarre — if incredibly lucrative — trip.

"Outside of California, they view me as a celebrity, and it gets kind of weird," said Benz, who was under contract with Jill Kelly Productions.

Stay tuned for part two and our continued look at how adult stars are prospering on the feature dance circuit.