In 2010, the city of Ogden, Utah threatened to close down the Lighthouse Lounge, a beer-only strip club open since 1958, by enforcing a new zoning law ordinance preventing sexually-oriented businesses from operating near schools or churches. Two women, Tiia Secor and Kandice Craig, both single mothers, spoke about their livelihood and experience as dancers at the Lighthouse.
This story won a third-place award in NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism 2011.
Tiia Secor and her four-year-old daughter Eryn share a kiss during lunch in Friday, June 4, 2010, in Ogden, Utah. Secor works at the Lighthouse Lounge strip club as a dancer and makes enough money to support herself and her daughter and also attend college classes. She is trying to get a degree in graphic design as soon as possible because city officials may force the club to shut down soon.
Secor, who goes by the stage name “Rogue,” hangs from the pole on stage at the Lighthouse. She said there are huge stereotypes about dancers doing drugs or engaging in prostitution, but she herself doesn’t even drink or smoke cigarettes. It’s just a means to an end, a job, and she doesn’t let it change who she is.
A sign out front states the club has been in operation since 1958 but Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey is trying to have it closed or moved. The Lighthouse and one other strip club in town must cease sexually oriented operations under a zoning ordinance amendment enacted by the city council in 2009. It could continue to operate in its present location as a beer-only tavern, but without dancers the Lighthouse couldn’t make enough money to stay open, owner John Chevalier said. “If you don’t have the girls, you don’t have enough clientele coming in.”
Dancers take a break in between sets in the back room. In Utah, women must have at least a g-string covering genitalia and pasties on their breasts to dance at clubs with alcohol, and cannot give lap dances or be touched by customers. Any violation can mean winding up on the sex offenders list. “I’ve seen more scandalous things at regular bars than my own,” said Secor, who herself usually performs in a bra and underwear.
Kandice Craig, another dancer, counts bills backstage after her shift. She generally makes more money in just a few shifts as a dancer than at her previous job as a chef where she often worked 6 or 7 days a week and many double shifts. She supports her daughter Amysia and “domestic engineer” husband of two years who stays at home to care for her child, who suffers from several health issues. “He gets a lot more done around the house than I ever would,” she said.
The dancers at the Lighthouse Lounge keep a “wall of shame” backstage – unwelcome notes from customers. Secor said she’s been asked by both men and women “how much for an evening.”
Craig and Amysia, 10, laugh as they read a book together at their home in Ogden. Both she and her daughter have kidney disease and through stripping over the past few years, Craig was able to pay for all her daughter’s surgeries and medications.
Craig shares a kiss with her husband, Charlie, as Amysia stirs the batter for chocolate chip pancakes. She is content with the decision to dance because she can spend less time at work and more time with her daughter and husband, who is fully supportive of her. “I’m pretty happy,” she said. “I get to work four days a week, and that’s what I prefer. I get to spend time with my family and that is what I want.”
Craig puts on makeup backstage. “It was kind of intimidating at first,” she said of her first time dancing. “But they work with you really well here. They are very sensitive to the girls that just first start. I was not very comfortable. I was very small-breasted and so I was very nervous about taking my shirt off.” She now has breast implants.
Lily, an amateur dancer, performs on stage at the Lighthouse. Dancers are required by Utah law to have a sexually-oriented business license to work at any club, otherwise they must perform in a bikini or other clothing. “I feel like people judge what a strip club is,” said Stefanie Butte, a manager at the club. “Our rules are so strong and strict. Godfrey and the city council have never been in our bar, but they want us to go away.” There is a list of rules posted on the wall.
Although dancing is a temporary solution until she finishes her degree, Secor has certainly enjoyed her time at the Lighthouse. “It’s not just the work, it’s the people for me…a lot of my motivation for staying there is because some of my best friends are, you know, I work with now,” she said.
Secor shares a moment at home with her daughter. “First and foremost my job is always going to be a mom,” she said. “My biggest ambition is to be a good parent and I don’t think anybody can fault me for that one. I do the best i can. It may not be seen as the most appropriate thing to do, but I don’t bring my work home with me.”