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Elizabeth Waterman’s Dark Angels


Although statistics about sex workers and the sex industry are notoriously unreliable, those regarding strip clubs are a matter of public record. There are currently more than 4,000 such establishments in the United States, generating more than six billion dollars annually and providing livelihoods for about 58,000 dancers, bartenders, and other employees.

Exotic dancers give stage shows for both male and female patrons, typically demonstrating “tricks” on stationary or rotating poles, lap dances, and acts in private rooms. On a good night, a dancer can make two thousand dollars or more.

Popular media has long characterized strip clubs as gritty dens of depravity and ill repute, but there are many dimensions to the story. Exotic dancers are highly competitive athletes; they are consummate actors; they are young mothers paying off student loans.

The photographer began this ongoing project in June 2016. The images are from clubs in the outer boroughs of New York, namely the Bronx and Queens, as well as downtown Los Angeles. Each dancer has given her permission to be photographed.

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