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Last Updated: Friday, 5 December 2003, 10:50 GMT
The woman rapper taking on lap dancing
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

Once the preserve of seedy clubs and dodgy dives, lap dancing is edging into maintream entertainment. But a British hip-hop artist is staging a backlash against all this bare flesh on show.

Just as lap, pole and table dancing grew out of R'n'B dance moves - only slowed down and sexed up - today's musicians and club promoters are looking to the sex industry for inspiration.

Kylie Minogue claims to be shocked each time she watches MTV - the videos are just too graphic, she says. So the woman who has made a career out of wearing very little has vowed to cover up. Not that it is possible to spot this new, demure Kylie in her latest video.

The rising UK hip-hop singer Estelle, too, has tired of the explicit lyrics and videos of the urban music scene (although she says Kylie should "shut up - she's acting like she never used her bum to get famous").

Estelle's single, Take It Off, gives the men who surround themselves with writhing lovelies a taste of their own medicine. The song challenges them to put up or shut up; to prove that if they want women to strip for their benefit, they should be prepared to do the same. She plans to expand on this message on her upcoming album, due out next year.

As for the women, you should ask yourself why are you doing it? Aren't you sick of being called a ho?
Rap artist Estelle
"Every woman I told about it said 'you've got to make that video'. They wanted to see a bunch of buck-naked men for once. But I decided not to. I didn't want to do anything that would trivialise it," Estelle told BBC News Online.

"As for the women, you should ask yourself why are you doing it? Aren't you sick of being called a ho?"

It was her eight-year-old sister, Sarah, who inspired Estelle to vent her anger.

"She asked me why the women are always naked and the men fully clothed in videos. She knows I'm part of that scene, and didn't like the idea of me doing that.

"I can't condone seeing beautiful women who could do something with their lives supplying what these guys want as a fantasy. I wasn't brought up like that. My mum taught me to do what I want, to not put a man first. I wouldn't call myself a feminist, but I believe in respect for women."

Private dancer

She is however, swimming against a tidal wave of opposing influence.

That sex sells is nothing new. The scantily-clad have long been used to attract attention and loosen purse strings. But until recently, the down and dirty side of sex for sale has been kept behind closed doors.

There were five girls in their knickers, writhing around on podiums - they looked fantastic but it was pretty intimidating
Club-goer Fiona, on topless dancing filtering into mainstream venues
Now irony has given all things sexual a gloss of louche respectability. Lap, pole and table dancing have edged into the mainstream.

A recent video by the White Stripes featured grainy footage of Kate Moss writhing around a pole. Burlesque has made a comeback. Classes which teach pole dancing are packed out. A Birmingham promoter is fighting to open a "women only" lap dance club - in which men will do the gyrating - despite council opposition.

Club promoters and music industry creatives are borrowing ideas from venues which have traditionally offered erotic entertainment.

But not everyone is happy to go along with it.

On a hen night last month, Fiona and her 30-something friends hit the dance floor at Pacha, one of the UK's superclubs.

Dancers in a night club
Customers pay 10-20 for a private lap dance
Dancers pay to work, up to 85 a night in London...
...then hope to make back more than they pay out
"There were five girls in their knickers, writhing around on podiums. They looked fantastic but it was pretty intimidating - none of the female customers wanted to dance near them. I think if you want to see half-naked women, you can go to a strip club."

And that is just what some women are doing. BBC Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox is one of many high-profile women to have paid to see lap dancers perform. "It was a laugh," she told her breakfast show audience last year. "Our boyfriends were away and we wanted to do something outrageous."

At Stringfellows in London, one of the UK's best-known lap dancing clubs, women make up almost one-third of the audience some nights.

This has somewhat surprised the club owner, Peter Stringfellow. "Attractive women like other attractive women. It doesn't mean they want to have sex with them - it just means that they like other girls taking their clothes off." But they also like to see men work it, and the club has introduced male dancers.



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