Chiqui Love is a legendary dancer, performer and costume designer from Venezuela. She became a stripper around 17 years ago and now she is here sharing her story with BWG Magazine as an activist fighting for women’s rights, sex workers’ rights, for humanity and for a less judgemental world.
What made you become a stripper?
I started back in 2003 when I lived in London. I was completely broke, I barely managed to keep up with my basic expenses. One of my friends had a girlfriend who was dancing at the time and he suggested that I should meet her. She gave me all the information I needed to get an audition and the rest is history.
Was it shocking to get into dancing?
Being Venezuelan I have always been influenced by Latin American vedettes, the carnival and Miss Venezuela which is huge. We have lots of TV shows where dancing is normally quite raunchy with lots of beautiful women wearing very little, so I guess it wasn’t that shocking for me when I thought about becoming an erotic dancer.
Of course I tried “normal” jobs too, and I say normal because most people don’t consider stripping a valid career. Among those I was an office manager at an architect’s office in London and also worked as an English teacher in the Chilean Patagonia. I enjoyed the experience and it was very good for my mental health as stripping can be quite psychologically draining when you do it for too long. However I found that dancing truly gave me the opportunity to meet some of the smartest, most open minded and funniest people I have ever known and also provided the money to have a decent life.
Has having a “not normal” job changed your mentality or your opinion about the world?
Dancing completely changed my perception of the industry and the people that do this type of work. Stripping attracts the most varied kinds of people from every social class, education level, nationality, age group, motivation… So-called normal girls, students, nurses, hairdressers, single moms, whoever… People that you would never imagine step into a gentlemen’s club and suddenly find themselves in the industry because they need money to pay for their school, their rent, their kids’ education or simply the price of having a normal life in a city! So you learn to never judge a book by its cover and to me that is the beauty of it; you get to see beneath the surface, to feel empathy, respect and solidarity with other humans. The path to exploring our own sexuality or the means to making a living is unique to each individual, so as long as it involves consenting adults who aren’t harming anyone and the decision was made with free will, who are we to judge?
How does the industry treat the girls?
Thanks to what I do I have been able to travel to different countries and I have to say that with very few exceptions, our working conditions and general treatment are quite oppressive. If you complain about anything you are just told to leave. We are expected to blindly follow many rules yet we get none of the benefits of an employee as we are considered ‘self-employed’. If we don’t want to lose our jobs we must accept things like over booking dancers, allowing customers to be rude to us, tiny changing rooms… on top of the stigma attached to our work which makes it hard to rent an apartment for example, or just have a normal conversation about what we do with someone who is not familiar with our industry. This is why I have gotten involved in sex worker activism (even though stripping is not officially sex work it falls under the category). It is just a job and even though it is far from perfect some of us still enjoy what we do.
So what do you enjoy the most about your job?
The people I have met. The flexibility to create my own schedule. The money when it comes. Dancing to my favorite songs on stage and the silly sense of humor that comes with dealing with lots of random situations and slightly dysfunctional characters. Some of my happiest moments are when I get to dance for an appreciative crowd! It is good for both your physical and mental health, keeping you fit and active. I also enjoy the creativity that comes with the job. You create your own dance moves, choreograph to your favorite songs. I love designing my own costumes. Now I don’t have much time but I used to create outfits for other dancers, too. When I started stripping it wasn’t so easy to find nice costumes so I started decorating and altering my own bras and underwear to make them a bit more glam. My pieces became so popular among other dancers that I was able to sell my designs which was fun.
It actually sounds like stripping is fun in general…
It is. It can be. But you have to be strong in this business.
The number of dancers has increased everywhere but not necessarily the amount of customers. The economic crisis, the rise of erotic content on the internet, hook up apps and the fact that it isn’t so much of a novelty anymore have all had a huge impact on our earnings. People expect a lot more for a lot less and even though it has always been a pretty competitive environment, it has become much harder. But rules and attitudes towards strippers do vary from country to country.
I found that it was really fun to work in Australia back in the day. They took really good care of you at the clubs with fair management and the stage shows were produced to a high standard. The UK places have many restrictions on dancing and other types of sex related work while Germany, for example, has a more open-minded and less restrictive mentality.
In general, it is hard dealing with the stigma of the work and not having the right to express our concerns and opinions without being shown the door. This is an industry with a huge turnover rate and most club managers don’t really care about the dancers’ well-being. They make it very clear to us that we are essentially disposable. But I guess that is the reality of most precarious employment where the majority of the workforce are women.
There is a lack of flexible jobs that pay a fair amount – or even enough to live on. Many women are also responsible for childcare, housework or other types of unpaid labor, finding themselves with very hectic schedules. They need more work flexibility than most men so stripping becomes a highly valid and sometimes the only reasonable choice for them.
Now I see why you became an activist.
I find it very important to fight unfair working conditions. That is why I’ve been helping to form a collective of strippers in London and Berlin. My goal is to share our stories and grow the sisterhood. I think our stories are as important as creating spaces where sensuality is more open and diverse.
The current model of erotic entertainment seems dated and quite tasteless. I think we are ready for a revolution in sex work where the people who provide it have more freedom, security and control over their earnings. It needs to be more gender inclusive, more mindful and respectful towards both workers and their audiences.