When Madeline began working in strip clubs four years ago, she earned between $600 and $1,000 a night.
“I used to just walk through the bar and men would come to me and ask for a dance. It was easy,” says the 23-year-old.
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“I did really well for the first few years but then it got harder to get guys to buy a dance. It burns you out after a while. I would just go in for an hour or two and then leave.”
Lots of Madelines have left the nightly grind. The number of licensed “burlesque dancers” in the city of Toronto has plummeted in the last decade. There were 1,254 certified strippers in 2007, down from 2,834 in 1998.
The exodus is hurting strip clubs, which now frequently lack both performers and patrons. Up to 10 clubs in Toronto have closed in the last five years.
There were reports last week that the industry’s hard times are behind “escalating” threats against Immigration Minister Diane Finley over Conservative legislation to keep foreign strippers out of Canada. The RCMP increased security around Finley, although the nature of the threats was not specified.
Ask those running the GTA strip joints why their dancers are exiting stage right and they offer these explanations:
>> The prevalence of free porn on the Internet.
>> The influx of illegal massage parlours.
>> The federal crackdown on foreign dancers.
>> The cost of the burlesque licences.
Tim Lambrinos, executive director of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada, says the city’s high licence fee — $348.41 annually — and week-long wait to get it makes it hard for Toronto strip clubs to attract dancers from out of town.
But even in Mississauga, where dancers don’t need a license, strip clubs are losing their dancers and business.
With foreign dancers now restricted from Canada — only 17 exotic dancer permits have been issued since the Conservatives came to power, down from 423 in 2004 — Lambrinos says patrons are noticing a lack of variety on Toronto stages.