Sex in the Salt City

Valkyrie Club girls talk business on their day off

By Sarah Lamar

Inside the double doors, a black woman kneels on a chair as she checks her makeup and long black hair in a mirrored wall panel. She gets up, adjusts her purple fishnet top, and walks past the dimly lit stage, set up and ready for an amateur Cirque du Soleil performance. With each step she takes across the room, which is littered with faux stone walls and flame-imitation lights, the echo of the rolling dice in the heels of her tall plastic shoes follows.

It’s Monday around noon, and Valkyrie Club, a strip joint on North Salina Street, just opened its doors for another day of business. The chairs are empty. There’s no applause, no eager eyes staring at the stage, and no bills thrown. Loud music reverberates across the space. A mini getaway for the club’s clientele is a paycheck for the women working the room.

Downstairs, past the “Do Not Enter, Employees Only” sign, women start to wander in and out of the dressing room as their shifts begin. They don’t don pink silk robes, sequined get-ups, or rock-hard stomachs.Rather, these women traded in movie scenes from Striptease for their personal collections of swimsuits and stage-appropriate Victoria’s Secret garments.

“You don’t have to be a ‘10,’ but you have to be at least a ‘6’ or ‘7,’” says Valkyrie Club owner Suzanne Scheaffer in a raspy voice, evidence of her affinity for nicotine. “You have to do your hair, and you have to do your makeup, and you have to show a little self-respect.”

Suzanne, or Suzi as the women call her, assumes the temporary role of hair stylist. Even in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, this tall, well-proportioned mother of a teenage girl gives off a charismatic air preparing for a hair dying session. One of her girls, Dixie, has the day off and hopes to turn her long, light brunette hair into Reese Witherspoon-esque champagne blonde, without the hair salon price.

Dixie, fresh-faced, sits down in front of the mirror in her pajama pants, turns her sweatshirt inside out, and patiently scrolls through pictures on her phone while Suzanne smokes a cigarette. “I had been debating dancing for six years,” says Dixie. “I really wanted to get into it, really wanted to get into it, because I was like, the money’s really good. You don’t have to work as hard.’’

Dixie scrolls across a picture of a white cake that she recently made for her sister’s wedding. She’s not going to be a stripper forever; she hopes to open up a cake shop someday. In the meantime, she pays for a babysitter to watch her two kids while she works a stripper’s unpredictable shift schedule. She sounds a bit tired and worn, speaking in a monotone voice. “I need to make money today, you know what I mean? I just keep telling myself, ‘I need to make money today,’ and I just get on the ball.”

Most days, Dixie leaves with cash in her pocket, ranging from $40 to $400. Dixie says she has a fairly respectful clientele, 60 percent of whom she knows by name. But she can’t always avoid completely repulsive clients. When they show up, she says, “All you see is green—that was the first thing I was told when I was interviewed. All you want to see is green, but you don’t treat them that way.”

Suzanne agrees as she dabs color into Dixie’s hair and tightly wraps it up into small pieces of foil. “In other words, you don’t smell him, you just smell the money. He doesn’t bathe because his money doesn’t bathe,” says Suzanne.

The “treat them well” mantra always overshadows the “money making" mantra. Valkyrie employs a rule that every woman must talk to every customer who walks through the door because they never know who will end up leaving a big tip or becoming a regular customer. Every nice gesture is aimed at making more money for these women. “We’re learning everyday, something new, ways to make this a better experience for the girls and the customers, as opposed to having them go to other clubs where they are getting treated like a wallet with feet,” Suzanne says as she rolls another piece of foil into Dixie’s hair, which now resembles a metallic mohawk.

In the year and a half since Valkyrie Club’s opening, it has followed a “whatever-works-until-it-doesn’t-work” policy. Suzanne and her manager, Ginger, address problems and create rules when they see fit.

“We got tons of rules don’t we, Dixie?” asks Suzanne.

“Oh, yes,” replies Dixie.

“Tons of rules,” says Suzanne.

“They’re endless. OK, least favorite: that the girls can’t go out to the stage while there is a dancer on stage,” says Dixie, looking into a mirror lined with notes reminding each girl to keep her panties on.

“As long as there’s two or more guys, another dancer is allowed to come talk to that second guy.” The rule that a woman could not walk into the stage area while another was on stage was ridiculous, explains Suzanne. No other place has a rule like that; they recently got rid of it.

The one thing Suzanne has zero tolerance for is drinking or using drugs while on the job. This rule seems slightly unnecessary since the bar doesn’t serve alcohol—in New York, full-nude clubs cannot serve alcohol. Yet, as Suzanne later points at pictures of women on the club’s website who left because of drugs and alcohol, you get the sense that this is a problem. There is a high turnover rate of women and only one of the original dancers still works at Valkyrie.

In the past, Suzanne encouraged women with drug problems to enter a facility. “This one girl is the only one who actually really kind of did it. The rest of them just went to other clubs that don’t have a problem with the drugs and the alcohol.”

Suzanne doesn’t like to hire women who have danced at other clubs; she prefers women who have “clean slates”—the Madonna-whore complex. If a woman wants a job at Valkyrie she has to have a personality and be attractive—but not too attractive. “Tens” clean sweep the house.

Suzanne and Dixie agreed that these women tend to be people who have depended on their looks their whole lives. “A lot of times, your super-hot chicks are just mean, and bitchy, and spoiled, and they don’t want to talk to that guy,” says Suzanne. “They don’t have a personality. They’re just too good to talk to someone.”

Talking comprises half the business. Shy women don’t cut it. “Guys want someone they can actually have a conversation with, someone they can kind of bond with,” says Suzanne.

Customers come to the strip club to escape. “Even if it’s temporary, they have some place where they can go where they don’t have to listen to their wife bitching at them,” says Suzanne. “Or, if they don’t have a wife, they don’t have to go home. That will kill a person.”

Whether it’s paying $25 for a lap dance or $100 for a rubdown, these guys do whatever it takes to fill that void, and the women are more than happy to help as long as these guys keep filling their g-strings with singles. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

After hours of applying hair color, intermixed with some smoke breaks, Dixie went from a light brunette to a slightly redder brunette.“Oh goddamn, this is not an allday affair,” says Suzanne, realizing the developer she was using was the wrong color number.

Another stripper walks down the stairs. She has her beautician’s license and offers to help dye Dixie’s hair to the right color. In exchange, Suzanne promises her one free picture in the club’s upcoming promotional shoot, and then walks upstairs to the club. The other woman makes a list of items Dixie needs to get from Sally Beauty Supply.

“We can give you that wild look, like Cameron Diaz,” the woman says.

“[Suzi] wanted like Reese Witherspoon,” Dixie says, but then agrees after the woman explains that she shouldn’t over-process her hair.

Dixie puts on her sunglasses and twists her hair up in a clip. Suzanne returns after a few moments to negotiate the costs of her help and the products, and then Dixie heads back upstairs.

A few men with graying hair sit at the bar chatting with some of the dancers. The woman with the purple fishnet top finally takes the stage. The dice in her shoes roll to a stop as she waits for the bartenders to pick a song she likes. One man comes and sits down in a chair against the back wall, using the other chairs as a buffer between him and the stage.

The music finally starts, and the woman begins to dance. She inches up the pole and then gracefully slides down it. She twists and contorts her body, crawls on the floor, and ends with a half-split. Near the end of her two-song set, the woman moves towards the very front of the stage. She holds her gaze on the man despite his efforts to distance himself. She continues glaring. The man doesn’t move or put down a tip. The music finishes and she walks across the room.

“Hey, sweetie,” she coos. The man folds a few bills into her thong.

Illustrations by Andrew Casadonte.