Poles apart for image

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Is lap dancing harmless fun providing entertainment for men and well paid self empowering work for women – in what’s estimated as a £2.1 billion industry?

Or just another tacky excess of a society gone to seed and a way of forcing the sex industry out from the shadows and right in the face of Blackpool’s family market?

Jennifer Hayashi Danns, 26, stripper turned lap dance expose writer, is now dead against the work which funded her university education for two years.

She explains: “I look back and think how pathetic it was. Can it ever be acceptable for women to be paid by men to take their clothes off for their sexual gratification. There’s nothing remotely empowering about it. The reality is seedy and desperate. It can also be dangerous.”

Jennifer is keen, at a time when pole dance classes are even being run at some church halls, to educate younger people. “Adults have become so sexualised they don’t see the harm in kids mimicking movements in a pop video, or challenge older kids about what they see on the internet or their phones. Acceptance is projected in a very passive way instead of making a stand and saying this really isn’t right. I’d like to get into secondary schools and make the pupils more savvy. Blackpool hit the headlines some years ago when a 16-year-old was found to have worked in a lap dance club.

“It means a lot more than just taking your clothes off for loads of money. Young women are drawn to the industry when times are hard. They see the glamour, the bars, footballers, the cash, the whole self gratification and celebrity culture.

“Clubs sanitise what happens and try to make us all feel like prudes about it. It’s even glamorised by pole dance classes and kit sold on the open market and on telly.

“Once you’re in these clubs, and keep whatever you make over the house fee you pay, the pressure’s on. Women compete, particularly when there are fewer punters because of the recession. Boundaries aren’t respected. It’s dog eat dog. If you don’t make money, you think nobody wants to see you naked, so you end up drinking more to shed inhibitions and do more to get more money in.”

The UK’s first lap dance club opened in 1995. Today there are 300.

Until last year’s overhaul of licensing by the Government they only required a premises licence – like any ordinary cafe or pub. The industry argues it offers an everyday service within free market guidelines but last year the Government stipulated lap dance venues should be classed as sex establishments. Local councils now have control over the spread of their activities.

Jennifer, author of Stripped, The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing, which is out on Monday and features several women who have worked in Blackpool clubs. “The breakthrough gives councils such as Blackpool new powers to control lap dancing clubs and closes the loophole that allowed clubs to open under the same licence as cafes. They will be classified as sex establishments and residents can oppose venues as inappropriate in their area.

“Existing clubs must apply for the new licence. They say it will lead to job losses and lower investments. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? I’d like them closed.”

Some local clubs have already applied, with public notices making it clear they are now classified as “sexual encounter venues.” Blackpool is said to have seven lap dance clubs – although one is believed to be closed. They include Wicked on Chapel Street, Eden, Heaven and Sinless, all on the Promenade, and Solid Gold and Club Rouge in Clifton Street.

This week, nightclub chief Trevor Robbins submitted an application under the new system for a “lap and pole dance club at Heaven at Gaiety’s, 169 Central Promenade.” Any representations must be made in writing to the licensing department by November 28.

Blackpool Council has said from May, just four lap dance clubs will be allowed to operate, but officials concede each application will be considered on merit and could be allowed.

If that smacks of mixed messages the licensing authority is unequivocal on what’s permitted. Nudity will continue to be banned, customers must remain seated throughout performances and cannot touch dancers.

Club must abide by 47 licensing conditions including stricter curbs on promoting premises. The new policy doubles the number of premises permitted from the two allowed by the old Tory guard under the previous administration’s clean up crusade.

Coun Paul Galley says maintaining the public protection committee’s new policy “sends out the wrong message – that Blackpool is becoming sleazy.” But Coun Chris Maughan stresses: “In Blackpool they will be highly regulated, I don’t think it will be detrimental to Blackpool at all.”

Mark Marshall, licensing manager for Blackpool Council, says existing lap dance clubs are generally well run. “They suffer a lot less anti-social behaviour and a lot less crime,” he adds.