Support Your Local Stripper: A Recap of the PDX Strippie Awards

On a bitterly and unseasonably cold evening in the midst of a cold snap in Portland, women with sparkly dresses, stiletto heels, faux fur jackets and a plethora of tattoos milled around in front of the Star Theater. For a few years now I’d wanted to attend this event, but something always came up, but on this night my friend and I are frozen, but we were ready.

We were going to the annual PDX Strippie Awards, an award show that celebrates Portland’s Strip Club Industry.

This is an appropriate time to invoke the saying: “only in Portland”.

Rocket, a former dancer, and Hezzy Tayte, former Portland-stripper turned Los Angeles burlesque dancer, started the Strippies four years ago to showcase the positive side of the industry, and the immense dancing talent the city has to offer. Hezzy hosted this year’s event along with Dante’s mainstay, comedian Ed Forman.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in strip clubs doing research for my thesis over the past few years, but I still wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this awards show. Once Stripper of the Year nominee, Austin Wilde, took the stage in a biohazard suit I realized I was in for a hell of an entertaining night.

Besides the physical feats these dancers achieve on the pole and stage, the dancers on stage on this night take costuming and artistry to a whole new level. Last year’s Stripper of the Year winner, Soren High, did a dark, creepy, high-concept routine reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, complete with a pig mask and strategically placed blood. Berlin started her “Reign in Blood” performance at the top of the pole, gliding as slow as possible down during the intro, and fan danced to the fastest, thrashiest parts of the song. About a half a dozen onlookers in leather jackets near the bar, head banged along to show their approval. Male dancers were showcased when MoNika Ell did a sensual routine to Godsmack’s “Vodoo”, slithering across the stage and pole in time with the vocals, eliciting high-pitched screams from the women in the room. Two time Best Costuming winner, Ivizia, did a routine complete with sequins and old-school roller skates, and 2011 Stripper of the Year and Pole Palace owner, Ozzy, did one of the most technically advanced and skilled routines I’ve ever seen, moving as slowly between moves on the pole to demonstrate her core strength.

The whole night had very few dark spots, but one too many production miscues resulted in some awkward moments, including when Soren was performing her second song and had a wardrobe malfunction of the worst kind for an event like this happened—her bustier got stuck. A few lighting, music and timing miscues also ended in her performance being abbreviated, and a few moments of improv by Ed and Hezzy had to occur throughout the fashion show section of the event.

From an outsider perspective, I was pleasantly surprised to see the level of support everyone was offering each other, regardless if they lost in a category, if a rival club won, or if they even knew the winner. Other dancers stood in the middle of the floor to get a good look at showcase performances, cheering loudly for each other, commenting on particular pole tricks and generally seemed to really support each other. You just really got the feeling that everyone was happy to have a reason to be out, partying, celebrating and honoring each other.

Something else very interesting happened as I walked around the venue. By comparison to most of the nominees and their friends, I was fairly underdressed, but I started to find both men and women flirting with me as I stood in line for drinks or the bathroom. No one was being aggressive or creepy about it and I find myself wondering why this feels so different than other interactions I usually have at bars across the city. But the more I thought about it, I figured it out; these are men and women who work in the industry (including bartenders, bouncers and DJ’s) and the boundaries for acceptable behavior are clearly defined at work, thus they take that out into their everyday lives. Also, stripping has a high-level of emotional labor involved. It’s the ultimate customer service job. So while the vast majority of the dancers at the show were not dancing for tips that night, I was constantly, and genuinely complimented on my shoes, my leggings, my skirt and my hair.

At one point, Hezzy gave a small speech to the crowd, saying them they have no idea how lucky they are to be dancers in this town. “I moved to LA and believe me, there is nothing like this there. We have an amazing community here.” After observing the whole night, I think she easily could have replaced the word community with family.

Despite what many may think about this line of work, it’s nice to see that the people within in it—that are so often stigmatized—are able to take time out to say to each other that they are all truly talented, physically skilled and extremely entertaining up on the stage.

The winners this year were:

Stripper of the Year:
– Austin Wilde at the Kit Kat Club

Club of the Year:
– The Kit Kat Club

Best Male Dancer:
– MoNika Ell at Silverado

Best Stage Performance:
– Layne Fawkes at the Kit Kat Club

Best Floor Work:
– Trinity at Club 205

Best Hair:
– Brodie at Devils Point

Best Physique:
– Brodie at Devils Point

Most Beautiful Face:
– Rodeo at Pirate’s Cove

Best Costuming:
– Ivizia at Devils Point

Miss Congeniality:
– Lynsie Lee at Casa Diablo

Most Sensual:
– Austin Wilde at the Kit Kat Club

Best Waitress:
– Mel at Club 205

Best Bartender:
– Kerry Irwin at Club 205

Best Bouncer:
– Matthew Wright at Pirate’s Cove

Best DJ:
– Chris at Club 205

Best Cook:
– Jeffrey at Club Heat

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