Bands-a make him dance

UB student recalls his past as an erotic dancer

The Spectrum

For most 18-year-old students, a fake ID is just a license to party. For one UB student, it was a license to work the pole.

For this UB student, assuming the identity of "Danny Rivera" was the only way he could make his own money - by taking his clothes off.

Clad in nothing but a pair of Calvin Klein briefs, "Danny" - who prefers to keep his real identity anonymous - pretended to be the 26-year-old on the fake ID he used to get into bar in order to work as an erotic dancer in New York City's Greenwich Village. Danny fell into stripping by accident after getting drunk at a gay bar with his best friend. He worked as a dancer for 10 weeks the summer before his sophomore year, making enough money to get by following an estranged relationship with his parents.

Now, Danny is 21 and a junior at UB - he hasn't stripped semi-professionally in years but holds no shame in his sensual past.

"It's not like a disgusting, immoral thing that I did that I'll regret for the rest of my life - I have no regrets," Danny said. "I can't go around telling everyone I was a stripper because there are certain representations I need to protect. Most of my friends know [and] if a stranger overheard the story and asked me, I have no shame in saying, 'I was an erotic dancer. It was a f**king fun job and I loved it.'"

Danny, who identifies as straight, went to a gay bar with his best friend during the winter break of his freshman year. Determined not to pay for any of his own drinks, Danny decided to turn on the charm and make the most out of his first time at a bar that had go-go dancers. At first, he laughed at the absurdity of being surrounded by men up on pedestals who were "flashing their junk" to the crowded dance club.

In his pursuit of free drinks, Danny wound up flirting with the bar's owner. The owner of the club saw Danny tearing up the dance floor, and he told Danny he could go up to the pole if he wanted and keep all his tips.

He made $170 on a Tuesday night. He was amazed.

"I'm a straight man who was raised Catholic and I was at a gay bar with my best friend," Danny said. "There was a serious sense of just dropping the inhibitions and once that kicks in, you just go for it."

Danny went to a back room, stripped down to his underwear and hustled the pole for two hours, mimicking the erotic dancers around him.

He admits he was somewhat of a natural. But following winter break, he returned to UB to finish his freshman year. After that, he spent some time abroad, but once back in the states, he was couch surfing and staying with friends. That was until he contacted the bar owner he met in the winter to set up working regularly; he started to embark on a summer of sensuality in order to support himself.

Louise Shepard, a junior health and human services major and one of Danny's best friends, wasn't too shocked when she found out Danny started dancing. She described him as extremely eccentric, recalling how he openly had a crush on her mother. He even put a picture of Shepard's mom as the background of his phone.

"For that reason, I was not surprised in the slightest when he called me one summer day and asked me to venture into the city - I'm from Long Island - to watch him strip," Shepard said. "An invitation I politely declined."

Danny worked two to three nights a week for about three hours a night. Most nights he would make about $200 in tips and $40 from the venue. He was able to sustain himself, making more money than he ever had before.

"If I had a home with my parents, I probably would not have wound up in the village dancing semi-professionally," he said.

Despite the circumstance, Danny loved it. He said it's the least stressful job he has ever had and it was never a chore for him to go into work. He was able to sublet an apartment with a coworker, afford food and enjoy a summer in the city.

With the job came an elaborate lie. He set up a bank account with his fake name and stolen ID so he could deposit the checks written out to him from bar managers. The setup put Danny in a great position. He looked young (because he truly was young, unbeknownst to his employer) and was able to market himself to work "twink nights." A "twink" is a term used in the gay community to describe young-looking men with slender builds.

Danny's fabricated story involved him pretending to be bisexual and having a girlfriend in Boston - this lie was to subdue the people he worked with. He said everyone he worked with was having sex with each other - something he was never interested in partaking in.

"Everybody wants to bang you - the people you're working with, the people at the bar - your job is to be the sexiest person in the room, so you are," Danny said.

For Danny, mental preparation for a night dancing was alcohol. He said getting a "solid buzz" made the work easy. It helped him "pretend to be a homosexual for four hours a night." And while he had a little experience in theater as kid, he calls that summer his greatest acting gig.

While grinding the pole, Danny performed "patented booty drops," which people "normally lose their sh*t over."

"You have to realize you're dealing with men now, and men on twink night are looking for a tight body [and a] tight ass," Danny said.

But what a lot of people don't realize is how much physical strength is needed for a night of work. Danny wasn't expecting to be "sore as hell" the first time he straddled the 12-foot pole.

"The hardest dance moves would probably be supporting your weight on the pole and then working your body while staying up on the pole and moving up and down the pole," Danny said. "When you're standing on the ground, you can pretty much do anything."

Between his booty drops and suspending himself on the pole with his legs out, the patrons would say things like "I'm going to f**k you tonight" or "get over here, pretty boy."

Danny said the verbal harassment never fazed him; it was part of the job.

"It's fine, say what you want," Danny said about the men. "Just put the money where it belongs and I'll keep doing my job."

Danny took the adoration of the patrons as a compliment - to him, the attention and being naked was "just a blast" - but erotic dancing isn't his passion.

He has a 3.97 GPA and plans to pursue a Ph.D. and a career in academia. Shepard described him as "hands down the smartest person I know and essentially the reason I passed Chem 101."

For him, stripping wasn't a low point in his life - he knows a lot of people won't understand that.

"There are a lot of people who think that for someone to make that decision, they're sinking really low, but any day of the week, I would have rather utilized my skills, my physicality and my looks and charms than f***ing flip burgers at McDonalds - I think that's sinking low," Danny said. "If you have the ability to do something much better than what you are doing and you work that sh*tty part-time job - that's sinking low."

He explained a lot of strippers aren't strippers because they are forced to be but because they found the opportunity and stuck with it. He knows women often get the brunt of the stigma. It's seldom the stereotypical "she's a single mom and her life is horrible" situation, according to Danny.

"Some women are just strippers because it's a job and it's a damn good job," he explained. He said he has met female strippers with master's degrees who simply enjoy working in the industry.

People have lost jobs and even the custody of children "because someone decided they were less worthy [and] less moral as a person because of having taken their clothes off for money," according to Christine Varnado, a visiting assistant professor of global gender studies.

"I think [the stigma] is because of a larger discomfort with sex - particularly with any sex that's outside of the mainstream - in our culture," Varnando said in an email. "It leads to a lot of judgment and people can get kind of hysterical about it."

Danny doesn't expect stripping to become less stigmatized. He knows in order to be successful in his career, he can't reveal his identity - and even though he said, "There is a finite chance I'm on the Internet naked or in my spanky pants up on a pole" - but all of those possible images are attached to "Danny" and not himself.

He emphasized his time as a dancer wasn't like Magic Mike - and there is a divide between men who strip for women and men who strip for men. He was in the club to enhance the experience and called himself a decoration. He didn't have choreographed dances or come out wearing a fireman's suit.

He normally danced for young men on the club scene but "wasn't surprised to be accosted by someone over 40."

Strip clubs offer many things to their patrons, according to LanceRintamaki, an associate professor of communication who specializes in health communication. He explained that men crave the "sexual novelty" of going to a strip club.

"In addition, [patrons] can often access these entertainers for varying degrees of sexual titillation (e.g., private dances) without relational hang-ups or fear of being rejected," Rintamaki said in email. "As long as they treat the entertainers respectfully and have the cash, they're welcome."

Shepard said the girls who Danny goes after don't seem to mind his past. She thinks he's a good catch and described him as a "ladies man."

She said he enjoys wine, cooking Italian and playing guitar topless - she even pointed out that he has a "pretty sweet six-pack."

Danny isn't currently working in the sex industry. Danny can't even imagine stripping for a straight crowd.

"If I'm back in New York and looking for a side job, I'd probably [dance again]," Danny admitted. "But at this point, I'm finishing college. I'm going to have a solid, real job. I'm never going to need the money again."

Danny doesn't communicate with his parents often, but they do know about his time spent as an erotic dancer. At the time, it made the most sense and he said he wouldn't have wanted it to play out any other way.

He was just working his assets.