This is a sensitive subject in the United States given its puritanical background, and one has to be careful in choosing the right words so as not to give offense. And maybe, I shouldn't even discuss this topic given the possible nasty fallout, but . . . and it should be dealt with since the topic was prominently discussed in the Margolis book, Little Brazil, so here it goes.
There is the impression that Brazilian women dominate the "go-go" dancing profession in the New York Metropolitan Area. In fact, in Brazil they have a nasty joke ("sour grapes?") that the only jobs that Brazilians can get in the United States is "shoe-shine boy" or "go-go girl." The impression of Brazilian dominance is somewhat overstated.
Brazilian women do seem to dominate in many topless clubs in the New York City area, but this is only true during the day shift (from 12 to 8). Brazilian women do not dominate at night, although there are quite a few of them that do dance at night.
The Brazilian women who dance during the day are often older and married or with a steady boyfriend. There are some topless clubs where, during the day shift, all the dancers are Brazilian. In fact, when non-Brazilian dancers start at these clubs, they often do not last very long. Dominated by so many Brazilian women, the Portuguese language is the main means of communication, and the non-Brazilian dancer often feels out-of-place. The Brazilian dominance gives the Brazilian dancers an advantage not available during the night-shift. The Brazilians often openly speak in Brazilian-Portuguese about the customers. They at times will ask other dancers (from across the bar even) about the customers they are with or will even trade insults about the customer(s). (Hey, let's face it, some percentage of the men who come in to the bars like to be nasty and insult the women -- it's their paraphilia, so to speak.) Most of the women are "nice," but it is a profession that is hard on women emotionally.
If one views tapes of Carnival (available at the Tropical Music store in the Ironbound District of Newark), one might better understand why it would seem more natural for Brazilian women to move into the "go-go" business. There are literally myriads of topless dancers on the floats and marching on the street, as well as women in various types of very revealing costumes. If you are an American of a puritanical bent, you are going to be offended, but the United States is the odd-ball here, with the rest of the world being much more sophisticated and natural about the topic of sex.
Does it hurt Brazilian-American and Brazilian women if other Americans know they are so active in the "go-go" business? This is a hard question to answer, because Americans are of two minds as regards sex. On the one hand they officially and publicly have to give at least "lip-service " to the puritanical values of the nation, but at the same time their culture constantly barrages them with sexual messages that makes them very interested in sex (even if they have to be somewhat surreptitious about it).
There is the impression among many Americans that "go-go" dancers are "bad girls." It does seem to be true that many American dancers have psychological problems that draw them to the business. And the business does draw its share of sexual exhibitionists. But many of the women do not like the business and want to get out, but the money keeps them there. And yet when there are so many Brazilian women in the business and so many of them know each other and support each other emotionally, the dancers are more likely to be less psychologically damaged, and more motivated by money.
Speaking of money, there is a lot of lying about how much dancers make. Day-shift dancers are happy when they make their $100 a day. That is a sum that is not going to make them rich. Their wages are kept down by the fact that so many women are available to go into the "go-go" field. It is good for the business owners to have many dancers, because it draws more customers in, but it can be not so good for the dancers. Some businesses now even charge the women to work at the clubs.
Many people morally rage against the clubs because they feel they are immoral. One can agree or disagree with this stance. But there are many problems associated with the go-go business beyond questions of morality. Go-go dancing is emotionally hard on the women. The relationship between men and women in dancing is ultimately a dishonest one because it is based on money. The man never knows if the dancer really likes them personally or just the money, and the woman never really know whether the man likes them personally or just their body. Relationships do develop out of dancing, but probably only if the couple agree to divorce their relationship from the dancing profession. Biologically women were not designed to flit between so many men and so many superficial relationships are emotionally exhausting for many women. Dancers can easily become psychologically "burned-out." Frequent male customers can become more cynical of women because of the superficiality of the relationships. But both the men and women do work hard trying to build some "real" relationships (even if mostly illusory) because it is too alienating not to do otherwise -- it is too destructive of the human spirit.
The following is a sociological discussion of some of the ways in which the men and especially the women in the bar regulate what is an inherently very artificial situation.
One way in which the women try to impose some type of normalcy in the business is to designate certain men as their "customer(s)." This relationship is often imposed without the man really knowing about it at first. The man can be surprised at times when he discovers that he has been designated one woman's "customer." If the man dances a lot with one woman, the woman comes to see the man as "my customer." This has two meanings for the particular dancer. One, it tells the other dancers that they should not try to "take" their customer away from her (thereby setting the man as "off limits" so to speak) and, two, it tells the customer that he may cause a lot of friction between himself and the dancer with whom he "dances" a lot. This limits conflict in the bar because it limits disputes between the dancers and between the dancers and the customers.
Once a certain man has been designated as a "customer" of a particular girl (and as long as this is not disputed by other dancers who have danced with the particular "customer" in question), the dancers help enforce a "code of fidelity" as it were. They try to bring as much stability as possible to an inherently chaotic situation. The dancers try to emulate the standards of fidelity between men and women in the world outside the bar.
The women have several ways of enforcing this semi-fidelity. The most frequent way is that if the other dancers see a "customer" of another dancer dance with another woman, they will inform the woman dancer of the man's "transgression." Sometimes the dancers won't wait for the next time they see the affronted dancer, but will actually telephone her to tell her the gossip -- fofoca, fofoca, fofoca (gossip in Portuguese). The next time the aggrieved dancer sees her "customer," she will mention it to him: "I heard you were in here last Thursday. . . . I also heard that you danced with Vera. . . . How come?"
A short digression on gossip. There is an awful lot of gossiping that goes on in the bar. There is so much of it that it has to be an important regulatory mechanism. In a naturally emotionally-chaotic situation such as the bar, it helps reduce the natural insecurity of the situation. It keeps the women informed of which women "like" which men (and this "liking" could be just motivated by money or by a real fondness for the man(men)). And this helps reduce conflict among the dancers themselves.
And there is a lot of conflict among the dancers. They often get jealous of one another. If a woman is especially popular with many men, the other women can easily get so jealous that they start to become nasty toward the popular dancer. They spread gossip about the woman, often most or all of it untrue. Or they can spread gossip about one or more of her "customers." They can also try to "steal" customers away from the woman by being more sexually aggressive. If they are not as attractive as the popular dancer, they can make up for it to a considerable extent by aggressively flirting, either by word, by exposing more flesh, or by physical touch. If two women are especially hostile to each other, they may deliberately "cut-in" on the other's men. This engenders a great deal more hostility and the dancers can become so angry with each other that they shout at each other in the dressing room. (It is not that common, but they can even come to physical blows.) The other women try to prevent these blow-ups by intervening to soothe the feelings of the dancers, but at times confrontation comes anyway.
And now back to the negative sanctions. The telling-on the customer becomes especially acute if the other dancers know that the dancer in question really likes the customer -- she has some emotional involvement with the customer at some level. Then the women start to sanction negatively the customer more directly. This takes the form of suspicious or dirty looks, informing the customer that his "regular girl" is not in today (a hint that he should leave), or even asking the customer why he came in or why he is staying in the bar on a day when his girl is not in.
Men also limit conflict by not interacting with each other. If they are by themselves in the bar, they tend to stay by themselves, refraining from talking to or looking at other men. If they came with a group, they tend to stay within their group. Men want to respect the privacy of other men, which also limits the chances of conflict between men. Most of the men also tend to be rather quiet in the bar. They do not want to draw a lot of attention to themselves. Again, this avoids conflict between men.
The conversations of most of the men revolve around sex or around impressing the woman so that the man can then talk about sex. This, of course, changes to some extent if the men are "regulars" in the bar. They can come to "know" some of the women and sometimes even know about husband or boyfriend and children.
Some of the customers are real "jerks" as the women say. And the woman can let off steam about these men by telling all the women about these jerks. Women can also protect each other by warning the women about certain men. They will say "You can dance with him but watch out for his hands -- he likes to touch too much." The negative word most often used in the bar to refer to forward men is "safado" (which is translated as something equivalent to "dirty old man" -- a man that is being too sexually aggressive).
Sometimes the women can go too far in their denunciations of customers and this can upset the other women. After all, if the men are all bastards, then it calls into question the dancer's own rationale for being in the first place.
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