Pretend, for a moment, that you're an 18-year-old girl. You've got a child to support, or maybe an interest in higher education, but lack funds. Or maybe you're just curious about the big money available in the adult entertainment industry. And being barely legal, you've got two choices: Either bare it all for a private dance company, or bare most of it by wearing a thong and dancing with a glob of latex over your nipples at a juice bar.
As the rest of the world recently discovered, the City of Boise has an ordinance prohibiting public displays of nudity unless the offending party is under the age of 10, a breast-feeding mother or the display is under the guise of "significant artistic merit." Passed and finally amended in 2002, the ordinance states that-even if you call it "art night"-dancers and other performers can't be nude at a bar, juice joint or park bench. But there's a catch to the law that was established to protect family values and clean up the city when it comes to Idaho's liquor law.
According to both Sgt. Greg Harris of the Alcohol Beverage Commission and Idaho code 23-943, an employee must be at least 19 years old to work around alcohol. And except for musicians, "entertainers" must be over 21 to work in a bar. So a woman deciding to get into the adult entertainment industry-whatever the reason-must be 21 before she can have the security of working for a bar, where Idaho code requires dancers to wear at least a bikini. That loophole exposes younger women to more exposed stripping at institutions that don't serve liquor-or, to the fully-nude, sparsely regulated worlds of bachelor parties and escort services.
"(The ordinance) is discriminating to 18-year-olds stripping barely nude in a bar environment," said "Bambi," who works at the Torch under a different pseudonym. "It's hard on them. It's not healthy."
Bambi has never danced for a juice bar or a private company, and she was older than 18 before getting into the industry. She reiterated many a dancer's opinion: Young girls should not be baring it all just so someone else-the club or dance company owner-will get the money.
"When I was 19, I wish I could have covered it up," said "Jane," also a dancer at the Torch. She said respect is just one of the many benefits to working in a bar. Jane has worked for five "clubs," or institutions where she danced with latex covering her nipples. "Here at the Torch," she said, "I make more money and don't have to take off near as much."
"Donna" has worked in the industry since she was barely 19 and said the law's loophole was "odd," but is justified because it keeps drunk, "handsy men away from young girls and around older women."
But some say that doesn't protect women from the dark side of the business. One dancer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is not healthy for a woman under the age of 21 to be exposed to this industry regardless of whether there's alcohol involved-especially because in Boise, the non-alcoholic topless clubs, like Erotic City or the recently defunct Night Moves, are located next to bars.
Furthermore, she said the law as it stands creates an environment where owners of 18-and-older clubs, as well as more general "adult entertainment" companies, can pick from a slim pool of girls who want to dance. This technicality lets them get away with more indiscriminate interpretations of the law-a topic which Boise Weekly will take up in the near future.
"The law is backward. The more skin you show, the younger you have to be," said "Bob," who has been a D.J. for the past 14 years, working in both bikini and topless juice bars. What's more, he said, "Most girls don't want to work in younger clubs, but if a girl can't get a job at a bar, she'll go to a juice bar."
"I can't imagine being 18 and dancing, that's weird and makes young girls more vulnerable because they're more nude." said "Misty," a Torch dancer. "It's different dancing in a bar because you're dealing with drunk men who act like children or people who actually are." Misty said that she danced at local juice bars, and "I couldn't wait until I turned 21 to come (to the Torch)."
Back to the land of identifiable sources: Matt Morrison, the bar manager at the Ram on Vista Avenue, said the loophole in the law is unfair to those under the age of 21, "But that's where the laws diverge. Everyone's hands are tied ...Being in the restaurant business, an adult environment, (I can say) those who are older have a better grasp about what's going on around them."
Torch owner Joanna Montgomery agreed with her dancers that clubs like Night Moves or Erotic City "aren't any place for an 18-year-old. Think about how young and naive an 18-year-old is, compared with those over 21." She said she has heard stories from her employees about some local clubs that are just "creepy."
"It's a woman's choice to (dance) if she's legally of age at 18, but I would probably have to say I wish the law (stipulated that dancers be) 21," Montgomery said. She has also noticed that many of the girls who go into dancing at 18 end up making it a career. "At least if they have to be 21 to dance in a club, they'll think twice about a career choice."
Efforts made by BW to contact girls under 21 were unsuccessful. A bouncer at Erotic City said the dancers could not speak with the media without the approval of owner, Chris Teague, who is out of town this week. Night Moves recently closed. Calls made to private clubs were also unsuccessful.