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Off the Strip and into the strip club

“I’m sick of customers asking me for drugs!” whined a tan, blonde stripper in a grating, high-pitched voice to a fellow dancer. “I’m from California; in California, everybody is happy like me!”

“Honey, when you’re in a profession like this and you’re happy all the time, people are going to ask you for drugs,” her coworker replied in a soothing and sane tone.

“Topless on all three stages, gentlemen!” boomed the emcee. With fog swirling around their breasts and thighs, lithe dancers strutted and twirled around gold poles.

Men clustered around the stages with fistfuls of cash in utter awe, worshipping the beautiful topless women who crawled across their pedestals.

Amid the typical strip club customers sat directors, producers, filmmakers and actors, many in town from cities like New York and Los Angeles. For some, it was their first encounter with after-dark Vegas. Everyone seemed to be acclimating well.

“It’s a staple of Cinevegas,” said festival art and online coordinator Eric Tsou. “It’s a great party, we have it every year. Everyone loves to get down here.”

This year, the annual CineVegas strip club jaunt included appearances from actor Sam Rockwell and CineVegas chair Dennis Hopper.

A dancer straddled the star of Vegas: Based on a True Story. She ran her fingers through his scruffy hair, cutely popped her bikini top off and rubbed her small, natural breasts in his face.

Another went to work on the director of Beautiful Darling, a movie about the transgender beauty Candy Darling, who was muse to artists and photographers like Andy Warhol and Paul Morissey and star of a bizarre and luminous subculture.

“Dancing is like being an artist,” mused Darling director James Rasin after the dancer had left him in a contemplative mood. “You can do what you want without worrying about consequences. … The end result is to entertain people and stimulate people. They work hard, they are laborers. I respect them. Art is about freedom of expression and personality. Art is beauty and creativity and hard work.”

Some may see an intellectual, independent film festival being at odds with the sexy, seamy world of Sapphire, but the flawed beauty of the dancers, the male desire for them, the real human emotions pulsing in public and the need to connect and matter—the place might as well have been a movie set.

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Jennifer Grafiada

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